Connecting cultures

With 2014 marking the 65th year of the Philippines’ and South Korea’s diplomatic relations, now, more than ever, Hallyu—the Korean Wave—has become a phenomenon that’s truly swept the country.

Whether in the form of popular Korean music (K-pop) or koreanovelas like the famous “Winter Sonata” and “Coffee Prince”, the Hallyu phenomenon has enabled South Korean culture to seep its way into the hearts and minds of Filipinos, educating the latter about Korean culture, society and language in such a way that an actual trip to Korea would.

Indeed, the growing strength of the Philippines’ diplomatic relations with its neighbor in Northeast Asia is evident in the increasing tourism arrivals from both countries. According to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), Filipinos comprise 400,686 of the 12.17 million foreign tourists that visited Korea last year. Similarly, an interview with Department of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez held last December revealed that Korea is currently the Philippines’ biggest market for tourism. “They will clearly exceed over a million in 2013. Koreans consider the Philippines a premium destination, even more than Thailand,” shares the Secretary.

[caption id="attachment_100257" align="aligncenter" width="576"] CPI participants from the National Theater of Korea.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_100256" align="alignright" width="300"] Korean culture initiation of CPI participants.[/caption]

Bridging The Culture Gap

It is no secret that South Korea is quite aggressive when it comes to promoting Korean culture in the global arena. A recent “Cultural Partnership Initiative” presentation of the Korean Culture and Tourism Institute (KCTI) to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) also reveals, however, that the country is just as keen on learning about different cultures, including that of the Philippines.

Monica Bae, Secretariat Head of the Cultural Partnership Initiative or CPI, shares that the primary goal of the CPI program—an enriching cultural exchange project that invites sports, tourism, art and culture experts from countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and Africa to Korea for six months—is “really mutual exchange,” she says. “That’s the key premise. For this to happen, such exchange must necessarily be of mutual benefit. The CPI allows us to be a mediator for foreign culture acceptance, allowing us to drive awareness and appreciation of Korean culture in this era of globalization, and vice versa.”

The initiative, which started in 2005 with 57 participants from 17 countries, has since attracted over 700 participants representing 75 countries. In 2013, over 70 participants from 36 countries underwent cultural immersion in Korea while “sharing” their talents and capabilities in 17 host organizations. “The CPI has provided a platform in Korea through which diverse cultures can merge and mix together,” Bae says.

More PH Participants This Year

To date, there have been 51 Filipinos who participated in the program, including JR Igno, who works in the Department of Linguistics of the University of the Philippines-Diliman. The CPI, Igno shares, was a “life-changing experience. It was a tough decision to join the program back in 2007, as I had to leave my work as a research associate. I went there to study the Korean language for six months, as well as conduct research on the language and what we can contribute to promoting the Korean language in our country. Aside from professional growth, the program opened a lot of opportunities—from friendships to cultural partnerships with the other delegates and the Korean people.”

Before participating in the program, Igno admits, “I didn’t like Korean people. But because of my immersion program there, I was not only able to break down the barriers of language, but I also understood their culture and traditions.” Today, Igno teaches the Korean language to students in UP. “When I started teaching the language in UP, I’m proud to share that the number of students has since increased from 40 in 2008 to around 150 every semester. I think this is a product of the CPI because I was also able to impart the knowledge I learned in the program to younger faculty members,” he says.

According to Bae, such accomplishments of the CPI should shed light on the necessity of expanding cultural partnership between the two countries. In fact, with the 65th anniversary of Philippine-South Korea diplomatic relations happening this 2014, Bae shares that the CPI is now working closely with the Philippine Embassy in Seoul to make sure that more Filipinos can qualify and participate in the program, which will run from June 1 to November 30 this year. The KCTI has also chosen the Philippines to organize the first CPI Alumni Organization, headed by Filipino alumna Patricia Santiago.

“In the eight years during which the program has so far run, the CPI has seen talented individuals drawn from the cultural, arts, sports and tourism sectors participate each year. What has been particularly good to see is the way the participants have begun to carry out their roles as decision makers of cultural policy in their native countries,” Bae shares. “This is truly a unique opportunity to build personal networks, forge respect for diverse cultures and meet opinion leaders in a way that create a new cultural exchange,” she adds.

NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon, who was at the presentation, supports Bae’s statement. “I think what KCTI is doing, through its CPI program, is helping us define what is Asian culture. Because when you say Asian culture, it’s difficult to pin it down to one country/culture. And Korea aiming to be the hub city for Asian culture…that’s a very big idea, very complex, so gathering these different cultural partners from across the globe in one place will really contribute to expanding our understanding of what exactly Asian culture is about,” de Leon says.

To apply and learn more about the Cultural Partnership Initiative and its host organizations, e-mail cpi@kcti.re.kr or visit www.culturefriends.or.kr. Like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cpiworld. Deadline of 2014 CPI applications is on March 31, 2014.

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