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World Reporters on The Second Public Diplomacy Week

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

“BTS, Ambassador of Korean Culture”, a lecture among Public Diplomacy Talks was held on Friday on the sub-stage of The Second Public Diplomacy Week by Mr Deokhyun Jung, culture critic. Mr Jung started the talk with statistical and economic references by explaining the “value” that BTS, currently the most famous Korean pop group in the world, have for Korean economy and Korean culture promotion overseas. However, the focus of his talk was trying to uncover why do BTS, among many other Korean acts who had gained overseas popularity before them, have such an unprecedented and, at the same time, crucial effect for the representation of Korea abroad. The answer, according to Mr Jung, lies in the fundamental difference between the concepts of “Korean standard”, which he explained as “result-oriented’’, and “global standard”, which is “process-oriented’’. The core of the overseas success story of this particular Korean group seems to be their process-based constant growth, which people from all around the globe can easily recognize and familiarize with, thus making the “Korean content” offered by BTS so relatable and widely accepted. BTS have, therefore, managed to break the barriers between language and race, idols (Korean artist concept) and artists, while provoking human compassion along with becoming one of the most recognizable Korean “brands” around the world. To support this, during the Public Diplomacy Week there were hardly any lectures that went without mentioning them as ambassadors, recreating the image of Korea in the eyes of the world.

Shortly after, one of Friday’s main stage talks, “US Views on Korea”, was held by Dr. Jiyoon Kim, foreign policy commentator, and Mr Karl Friedhoff, fellow in public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs. The two presenters, having worked together on a number of researches before, explained US-Korean public diplomacy connections from both sides of the coin. They put great stress on the tremendous difference between civilian-based public diplomacy practices that form a certain opinion about Korea in the US, and national leaders’ political practices with the same agenda. In reality, the two show very different, in some cases nearly opposite results, according to the data of Kim and Friedhoff's own research. In the Q&A session and discussion that followed, the speakers defined some of the key words in the future of public diplomacy between the two countries to be “online”, in Mr Friedhoff’s view, and “compassion”, according to Dr. Kim.

In the next part of the program of The Second Public Diplomacy Week, a group of 5 foreigners and a Korean had an interesting talk about things foreigners can’t get used to in Korea, which we could easily relate to. The representative of Bulgaria has been living in Korea for over 2 years, yet he still can’t get used to how Koreans plan in advance what to eat every day. Compared to Bulgaria, Korean restaurants are specialized in a certain kind of food, and as a result, famous places that serve a particular dish can be easily found on the internet or the social media. It seems that this originates from the war time when Korea was poor and restaurants could hardly manage providing a single option.

Meanwhile, India's representative said she was surprised by the huge numbers of advertisements about plastic surgery she has found herself surrounded with in Korea. She thinks that beauty standards are quite high in Korea, which indirectly forces some women to go under the knife. Compared to India and many other countries, plastic surgery is quite common in Korea. Both Koreans and foreigners expressed hopes for a lesser emphasis on beauty standards so that people (especially Korean women) would feel less burdened.

At the same time, Egypt's representative spoke about dating culture in Korea. Besides couple rings, which are common among engaged or married couples in Egypt, Koreans have developed other couple items like T-shirts, sneakers, etc. Young couples nowadays easily express their love in public and dating in Korea usually follows a similar pattern: going to a restaurant, to a café and then seeing a movie. If you don’t have a partner, you might feel a bit lonely if you decide to visit Korea during Christmas, Valentine’s Day or… any other day!

South Africa's representative, on the other hand, still has a long way to get accustomed to student-professor relations in Korea. Due to the widespread Confucian principles in the Korean society, professors have to be given respect to and sometimes it might be considered rude to disagree with them about ideas, unless you are expressing your opinion carefully and politely.

Kazakhstan's representative thought she looked much older when a middle-aged waitress addressed her with the title 'older sister'! Later she realized that was how women working in restaurants politely refer to the customers, regardless of age. Those kinds of titles are meant to express respect and a sense of a closer relation like we are all one big family.

The talk was followed by a discussion with the audience where they could share their opinions and ask questions. Giving a platform for both foreigners and Koreans to talk and express their feelings about Korea is essential for achieving mutual understanding of multicultural aspects. which is an essential step towards a culturally diverse Korea.

The Friday part of the program finished with a spectacular performance entitled "Viva ASEAN". As the title speaks for itself, the main participants of the so-called ASEAN Cultural Roadshow were performers from the ten member countries of the Association. The Seoul act was the third one of a total of five shows scheduled to take place in different locations across the country such as Busan, Gwangju and Cheongju. The grand display of performing arts is part of ASEAN Cultural Year 2019 celebration which main moto is "The Best of ASEAN: Oneness to the World".

The show consisted of three parts, including both individual presentations of each respective country as well as group-performances, thus promoting diversity and appreciation among the member states. It began with all artists appearing on stage in their national costumes, all of which were not only authentic, but also evident of each country's unique spirit and cultural traits. After the prologue, Act I: The Ten Shades of Joy was where individual performances gave us a glimpse of the original tunes of each of the ten ASEAN countries. The composition of the show gradually shifted from individual specifics to common philosophies, with Act II: All Roots Lead to One. In this segment group-performances illustrated artistic and cultural specifics shared between different regions within ASEAN, divided into three categories: Ramayana, Bamboo and Coconut Shell Rhythmic Dance, and Tari, Ronggeng, Joget. Shifting the focus of the event even further more in the direction of unity, Act III: Unison for Unity was the culmination of that concept. The grand finale again involved all participants in their national costumes, this time dancing together to a newly composed song which combines melodies from all member countries, manifesting the perfect harmony of oneness in diversity.

One of the Saturday's sessions of the event went under the topic "K-pop - The New Pop?" and was held by the Billboard K-pop columnist Jeff Benjamin. During the talk he introduced the history of his relations with K-pop, giving an example with 2008, when BOA from Wonder Girls became one of the first artists to draw attention to Korean music in the US. That was followed by the hit song “Gangnam Style” in 2012 which should not be considered as just a funny single. On the contrary, by working with co-stars, Psy was able to create a community of Korean artists who came under the spotlight throught his music videos. After “Gangnam Style”, the views of K-pop videos on YouTube grew from 2.2bn to 7bn views in one year.

Another important public diplomacy actor who was mentioned during the talk, is Rap Monster from BTS. The speaker highlighted his Instagram approach: by tagging the museum where his photos were taken, RM actually attracts his fans to Korean art. Lastly, the speaker noted that BTS differ from other artists by being open not only about their music, but also about their concerns and principles, which brings them closer to their fans. The increasing 'personal' part of the image of Korean idols is going to be the driving force for the further growth of K-pop.

One of the final sessions of The Public Diplomacy Week under the title “Discovery of Career in Public Diplomacy” was where Korea Foundation (KF)'s staff members 코니 (“Koni”) and 나그네 (“Nagnae”) shared their experience working in the field of public diplomacy. It was divided into three main parts, namely, SPECs (the word Korean people use regarding all types of extra qualifications) sharing, employment process and specific tasks at KF. Once gotten to know the subject of public diplomacy, one quickly realizes that the field is not only interesting but also very meaningful. People working in that area can become representatives of their own countries to the international community. To increase their chances, future candidates are advised to participate in as many diplomatic activities as possible, especially abroad. Besides, cultivating a global mindset, improving foreign language skills, studying the backgrounds of various cultures, are also among the recommended ways to help you understand public diplomacy in depth and prepare you to become a part of this field. If you are interested in such a challenging career, make sure to start your preparation early!

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