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00707012
2012.08
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KOREAN

Looking to the Future with the Eyes of Youth/Talk with Delegates to the Korea-Saudi Youth Forum

“The youth of Korea and Saudi Arabia will gladly join in the effort to search for innovative solutions to brighten our future. Through the practice of our plans and realization of our visions, we will be able to improve the quality of our life.”

At 11 a.m. on June 26, the clear voices of young delegates from Korea and Saudi Arabia resounded through the International Conference Room at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, in eastern Seoul. Some 90 people were attending the closing ceremony of the Korea-Saudi Youth Exchange Forum, which was held from June 17-27 under the auspices of the Korea Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of both countries, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Korea-Saudi Arabia diplomatic relations.

The forum brought together 53 university students from the two countries to increase their understanding of each other’s culture and to discuss the future of the information-oriented society. As the delegates read the messages to their respective national leaders and the U.N. secretary-general, they brimmed with a sense of confidence and optimism. The closing ceremony was followed by lunch at the Hall of Professors, where I interviewed two forum participants ― Hong Eun-jung, 22, of Ewha Womans University; and Norah Y. AL-Ajaji, 21, of London School of Economics and Political Science.

How did you come to participate in this forum?

Norah:While I was traveling to and fro between London and Saudi Arabia to work on public projects after majoring in business administration and journalism at the London School of Economics and Political Science, I got a message from my government. Since I majored in media studies, I was interested in the theme of this forum ― IT and communication ― and especially I had great expectations to visit Korea because this is my first visit to East Asia. It took some time for me to be selected, though. I had to do two interviews (laughter).

Eun-jung:I applied for the forum after seeing an announcement on our school’s homepage that the Korea Foundation was recruiting participants. I found it so appealing to exchange ideas with young foreigners of my generation. I was a little worried because the announcement said that the Foundation would consider school grades and majors, but fortunately I was selected by surviving a competition of about 10 to 1.

I understand you have had a very tight schedule of daily debate sessions. What did you mainly talk about and what did you think about the sessions?

Norah:We talked a lot about the influence that the IT industry, such as smart touch, will have on modern society. At first, we were quite passive and shy, but as time went by, we opened our hearts and had candid talks with each other. In the process, I got a strong impression about young Koreans, who are very bright and passionate. I didn’t feel any cultural shock.

Eun-jung:I once lived in a foreign country and visited a Muslim country. But I was surprised to find out that young Saudi Arabians actually have quite different ideas from us. Predisposed by the Western press, we tend to think of horrible terrorist groups when we hear the word “Arab,” which shows our prejudice. For example, I had thought that women’s human rights are never considered in Arab society, but during this forum I could see how actively women contribute to the discussions. They explained that wearing a hijab to cover one’s face is not much more than a simple act of respecting their longtime tradition.

Have you ever heard about hallyu before this visit?

Norah:I haven’t personally experienced it, but I heard that Korean pop songs are popular in Saudi Arabia. In London, one of my friends attended a K-pop concert organized by the Korean Embassy.

Talk with Delegates to the Korea-Saudi Youth Forum

What did you get from this forum?

Norah:Most of all, I made friends, who I hope can be my companions for life. In addition, the forum gave me an opportunity to get motivation for my self-development. Now, I have a desire to contribute to the development of IT technology when I return home.

Eun-jung:Above all, the forum provided me with a perfect opportunity to think outside of the box and to have a balanced, new perspective about the Middle East. The young Saudi Arabians who participated in this forum were very different from what I had thought. They showed an open-hearted way of thinking and were fluent in English. It is needless to say that I made new friends.

Is there anything more that the forum could have provided?

Norah:Although I visited Insa-dong and Gyeongbok Palace, I wish I could have more chances to experience Korea’s traditional culture.

Eun-jung:Since the theme of this forum was IT, they selected students mostly majoring in science and engineering. So, the program was not so easy for students with other majors, like me. If there had been more activities to share cultural experiences freely with each other, instead of having such a tight schedule, I think I could have learned even more.

Talk with Delegates to the Korea-Saudi Youth Forum

No wonder they both have such wishes. They made visits to many places such as Samsung, LG, and Seoul National University, during the day and then in the evening they had two-hour discussion sessions until 8 p.m. Yet, when asked whether they would recommend this program to friends, they both answered: “Yes, surely!”

If the future of the Korean-Saudi relationship is as bright as the faces of these two young people, who wrapped up the interview hurriedly to catch the bus to their accommodations, it seems that Korea has made a positive connection with at least one country in the Arab world.

Kim Sung-hee
Adjunct Professor, Department of Media and Communications
Sookmyung Women’s University

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