Letter from Korea, May 2011

Suwon, South Korea

 Dear Ireland,

The summer is upon us. Of course we all have different ideas of what the summer is. For me, it’s the holidays. This June, I will be working through my summer holidays but don’t worry; I have two months of holidays so working through them isn’t as big a catastrophe as it might sound. This summer I will be in Dublin (What of the letter from Korea?  Well perhaps I’ll compromise). Every summer Dublin fills with Europeans students who come to study English. This summer will be no different. I make a living out of this.

At the same time, every year thousands of Koreans leave Korea to study in English. Recently I have started trying to figure out how to get more Koreans to go to Ireland. According to the God of Statistics there are only around 1500 Koreans in Ireland and most of them are language students. Working as an English language professional here in Korea I have been exposed to, what I’ve heard and called myself, the obsession, craze, determination to learn English on a national level. So why isn’t this number bigger?

Of course, being involved in education my perspective is perhaps obscured. The fact that wealth is so disproportionately divided in Korea means that, while the wealthy and middle class fork out for extra education (whether some can ‘afford’ it financially or not is another day’s discussion), not everyone is as fortunate to be able to afford the luxury of extra English classes, foreign university study or what have you. Those that do, do so with vigour – a lot of vigour.

I am determined to get a slice, or at least for Ireland to get a slice, of this vigour. I am disheartened constantly when I hear how much people want to go to study in the United States, a place which appears to be the be-all-and-end-all for education in Korea. Of course there are those who would like to study in the UK or Canada but it is the US which tops the pole in terms of the place where English ability can be improved, which is a ridiculous concept in my opinion.

Of course I’m taking a biased view on this issue and also doing my best not to turn around and accuse anyone of being narrow minded, whilst humbly accepting any criticisms against myself. This isn’t a question of just deciding that the US is the best, it’s a question of not knowing any better. A nicer way of putting it is that people are not aware of the alternatives. In this case Ireland is a very significant alternative.

Ireland as a location for students to come and study for a relatively long period of time has more to offer than many other countries, and in fact it probably has more. While I don’t want to go into a big advertisement about the quality of the English language schools in Ireland – they can do that themselves – I do want to go into the advantages Ireland holds in comparison to its competitors.

Mostly, Ireland is recognised above the competition for its nature and lack of people. I suppose this is thanks to the most recent films which featured Ireland and were successful in Korea – P.S. I Love You and Leap Year. This is unfortunate.

Ireland has much more to offer to Koreans. For starters Ireland is close to Europe (duh!), has great night-life, great countryside, not many Koreans, and it is has many students from countries all over the world. On top of this it you do go for over a year you can work, you can find relatively affordable accommodation if you share with other people, and Dublin, for example, is no less expensive than any other major city in the western world, and I haven’t even trumped the pros of the schools. According to the study which I’m finalising for the Irish embassy in Seoul, Korean university students aren’t even that concerned about Ireland’s weak points such as weather, distance from home, or food (or in this case a lack of Korean food).

So that’s great, right? Well it is and it isn’t. There’s still one big question hanging over Ireland. The advantages of coming to Ireland as a student for Korean’s are shared by many competitors, especially if they locate to a large city in the US or London. The big question that is needed to be answered is why would Koreans choose to come to Ireland ahead of anyone else? What has Ireland got to offer that other countries lack?

Perhaps I shouldn’t be asking this question. I’m always going to say ‘Ireland is great’ … well maybe not. Those who know me know I have plenty to say about Ireland’s less attractive elements – and I’m not talking about 150-230 days of rain a year.

But, I definitely will say that Ireland is a lot better than the other places. That’s what is keeping me going in this effort to get Koreans to go to Ireland – it might be a mess and run by a pile of cowboys whose only interest is the sound of their own voices and how long they get to listen to themselves as being the voice of the nation. Despite these clowns it is populated by over four million determined and passionate people who worked hard to succeed from practically nothing and who want to see Ireland back as one of the best places in the world to live which has the ability to produce top class individuals who make the world a better place.

There are probably a hundred thousand quotes that reinforce what I want to say here about nations, or countries is a nice way of putting it, and the people that built them, but I really dislike those quotation farmers who pull out overly idealistic quotations with no context attached to them, so I will dispense. These people in Ireland are the reason that I want Koreans to come to Ireland. I want them to realise that there is more to the world than what the one-sided perspective forced on them has shown throughout their lives.

What is clear to me is that Ireland has something to offer that I believe stands above the rest of the countries that speak English. I want Korean people to realise this physically and not just in pipe dreams. I want them to open their eyes and take a look around the world, to realise that life does not begin and end with the dollar and how much you sound like you spent trying to sound like you grew up to the sound of The Star Spangled Banner, turkey Thanksgiving dinners and a Cadillac in the driveway, or something to that effect. Frankly speaking, there a plenty who believe this is the only alternative and they are welcome to it, I don’t want them turning their noses up at where I’m from.

But the people who don’t know better but who are searching for an alternative to the suffocation of Americanisation on their culture, well, all I can say is Céad Míle Failte!


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