The visit of European fellows to South Korea within the exchange programme for journalists between the Korea Press Foundation (KPF) and the European Journalism Centre exceeded the expectations of both groups.
European fellows discovered a thriving country, met with interesting people and were showered with attention by the organisers, who went well beyond their host duties.
The impression made on all the fellows was that of being surrounded by a group of friends who are competent and always available and willing to answer all sorts of questions.The South Korean team was highly professional (a special mention for the two co-ordinators Kim Jihyuk and Kang Haejoo and the very competent interpreter Lee Sohyun) and succeeded in creating an atmosphere of wellbeing. Their abilities shone even in the presentation of the varied, succulent (and, why not, extremely colourful) menus that became for all fellows the real surprises of this somewhat under-publicised country.
At the end of the visit fellows expressed their understanding that they had just scratched the surface of a complex country, one with some problems particularly connected to the issue of potential unification with North Korea, but also determined to transform efforts into resounding achievements. Combined with the professionalism and the courteousness, fellows discovered a passionate country, with its eyes firmly fixed on the future but with its heart still anchored to an old but incredibly tangible past.
The visit coincided with the funeral of former President Kim Dae Jung, a man much loved by the Korean people. The first signs of a gradual reopening of contacts between the two Koreas were a godsend for journalists participating in the programme who thus had good material for their reportages. Clean, green, restless and sleepless, Korea has been showing its most amazing characteristics in a very unassuming way, as if it was normal for example to have immaculate streets even after hundreds of thousands of people had lined them to honour their deceased former President or to have markets and shops open until early in the morning with crowds shopping into the small hours. Even a simple recent tradition such as the fixing of a small padlock on a railing in some spot of scenic beauty – launched by an Italian film a few years ago (Luis Prieto’s “Ho voglia di Te”) – has become in Korea a frenzy, with thousands of “love-locks” attached to the gates surrounding Seoul Tower as a lasting remembrance of a romantic evening.
The series of lectures and meetings lined up by the KPF covered a whole series of interests: from Foreign Trade Agreements to nuclear proliferation, to questions of national security linked to the difficult relationship with North Korea; from technological innovations to the ubiquity of high-speed Korean internet provision, from the visit to the Demilitarized Zone to the several “green” initiatives that signpost the future course of Korean development.
By Maria Laura Franciosi-Thuburn, senior EJC correspondent.