While many of Korean people still are not feeling that Korea has become a multicultural society, it is true and a fact by any measure including the recognition of United Nations. It may be a common observation that not only Korea but also most of countries are getting different groups of people in their communities reflecting a trend of globalization of the 21st century. But in the case of South Korea, such a phenomenon is being accelerated due to its economic ascendance and a lowest birthrate. At the same time, colleges and universities are trying to increase the number of foreign faculty and staff as well as international students in their campuses. Even in elementary and secondary schools, they have native-speakers of the target language as the instructors or teacher-educators of the foreign language programs through whom majority of the students are starting being exposed to different language speaking people.
Then, is it also true that Korean people and society are doing well in the transition of Korea from the traditionally perceived monolingual and monoethnic state to a globalized multilingual and multicultural society. To be able to give a positive answer to such a question, it seems that Korean society should make more serious efforts. Korea’s future and its quality of life will depend on whether Korean society is capable of accommodating this kind of demographic change in a constructive manner and take advantage of its benefits. Fortunately, the spirit of time seems to cooperate since it is finally individuals’ creativity and diversity that are more and more appreciated and necessary for a country’s continued survival and prosperity. Each country as well as international community is now facing unprecedented daunting tasks such as environmental changes, global financial crises, and international terrorism in addition to human kind’s old problems like poverty, diseases, regional conflicts, and the gap between the rich and the poor still observed in many parts of the world.
In order for Korea to move onto a more humanistic and prosperous society while dealing with such formidable tasks, it should be able to mobilize every individual member’s capacity and their contribution as well as encourage them to remain as creative as possible. According to creativity literature, creativity grows on diversity. Individuals’ different resources and ideas will help provide more effective and efficient solution to a new problem. Korea is now getting rich linguistically and culturally so that it has the priceless source of diversity. As far as Korean society is openminded and flexible enough to be ready to accept this fact, it may be in a better position than ever in promoting humanism setting an example of realizing a dream country in which a truer level of civilization will be achieved. One of the first steps will be made with attitude change regarding non-Korean speaking people in the workplace and neighborhood as equally respectable members of our society regardless of their language, race or original nationality. Meanwhile, the people who are not comfortable in Korean language and not used to Korean culture should be taken care of through language -and cultural- exchange programs. Up until very recently, there was a tendency that those non-Korean speaking people were taught Korean language and culture so that they were able to adjust to Korean society as soon as possible without their language and culture being recognized or appreciated. Such a oneway assimilation policy would not work in the long run in terms of fostering cross-cultural understanding which should be the ground on which we will be able to build up our future together.
Each era has posed its own problems and the previous generations had to do their own homework. Likewise, Korea currently faces various complicated domestic and international problems along with the forecast saying that it is soon to be the oldest country. To solve out all those new and complex problems, the diverse ways of thinking and viewing the world will be a great assets that the non- Korean speaking people would contribute to making the collective wisdom of Korean society deeper and more insightful. Thus, rather than pushing them to learn Korean stuff in the cost of losing out their own, Korean society should be able to help them keep their language skills and cultural identities so that they can continue to provide newer perspectives and questions. Korea was once a victim at the dawn of the 20th century and its colonialism, but now it is a major player of globalized world of the 21st century as far as we are not afraid of changes and taking them not only as a challenge but also as a new opportunity for a better future.
-Professor, School of English