After the presentation of the Teach North Korea Refugees a part of the group decided to visit the meerkats café and to join an excursion to the Dutch embassy in Korea in our last free afternoon in Seoul.
After we entered the café we were stunned with the cuteness of meerkats, baby kangaroos and cats. In this café you can enjoy a drink while these animals keep you company. There is even a little playground for the meerkats where you can pet and play with them. After only 20 minutes it was back in the road again and racing to the second destination of the afternoon: the Dutch embassy.
The embassy excursion was an unofficial excursion, organised by a couple of students who randomly met an embassy employee in a bar. Funny coincidence: the organising committee had contacted the same person by email months before!
What was initially planned to be an small excursion of around one hour quickly became two and a half hours. I will try and provide the main highlights of the presentation given by the Senior Science Technology Officer of the Dutch Embassy.
When people think of the embassy they mainly think about passport exchange and arrangement in foreign countries. While this was the main task of the embassy a couple of decades back, recently the focus has shifted to more economically beneficial practices. 27 people are employed in the Dutch embassy of Seoul. Many people may think these are only Dutch citizens this is not the case: only 9 of them are Dutch citizens.
The main functions of the embassy nowadays are as follows:
- Trade importance
- Diplomatic importance
- General talking point for Dutch citizens in Korea
- Arranging of passports and visas
- Economical importance
- Cultural importance
Its main purpose nowadays is to generate revenue for the Netherlands. This is mainly done by arranging meetings or contact info between companies/contacts to South Korean companies/contacts.
An important piece of history for Korea is the Korean war between South and North Korea. It is often an underestimated war in European history and general knowledge. Since the Netherlands helped South Korea in this war by sending troops, Koreans (especially elderly) are still grateful for the Dutch help. Sometimes they even thank embassy employees for their help in this war. While strange to hear at first it fits the general Korean culture well.
Some random and not so random facts about Korea :
- The average income of an South Korean was 67 dollars per month in the year 1953, and from this period on wars both North and South Korea have seen a sharp increase in the average income. North Korea could roughly match the increase in average salary till the end of 1970.
- Samsung alone is responsible for 17% of the national product of south Korea.
- 70% of the country landmass is mountainous and therefore uninhabitable. Therefore about 49 million people live in about the same area as the Netherlands.
- About 23.6 million people live in the size of Noord-Brabant, the city of Seoul and its surrounding areas.
- About 10.000 military attributes are aimed at South Korea by North Korea
- Swimming is considered more an sport then an activity. Korean people do not learn to swim for safety reasons (as is custom in the Netherlands), but mostly as sport. This is the reason most beaches close at 19:00, and almost every beach has life guards.
- Korean people are very punctual and hard-working: it was very normal for employees to begin earlier than their boss and leave after their boss had left.
- Extracurricular activities are very normal for pupils, and some even start to do extracurricular activities at their fifth year.
- During the annual final exam no flights are allowed to leave or to take off for 30 minutes, in order not to distract the students.
- Bosses instruct their employees to come to work later on this annual exam date, in order to minimise traffic.
- If for some reason you oversleep on this important day, you can call the police and they will give you an private escort to your school.
- The stereotypical Korean student is very well in learning “from the book”. During their studies not a whole lot of attention is paid to thinking out of the box.
After the excursion to the Dutch embassy, we were off to the hostel to grab the transfer to the airport. The flight was smooth and fine and while people caught up on their sleep on the plane the larger part of the group did some relaxing on the one-hour flight.
After arriving at our final destination Jeju, we departed to our hostel. This time we did not have an transfer to pick us up. Instead we went by the “normal” bus! Although it was a bit cozy in the bus everything fitted and we arrived at the hostel in one go.
Since this is my final blog, I would like to say that if you have any questions you can just ask me in Het Walhalla. I will be sure to tell you about this amazing tour and especially this amazing day.
Bye from South Korea!
– Martyn van Dijke