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The Image of Korea as Viewed from Abroad

In spite of the amazing industrial revolution achieved in the Republic of Korea in the post-independence years, the impact from the images of Korea in instructional materials in Jordan and Arab Countries was very limited until the late 1960s, because of the absence of any form of bilateral commercial, intellectual or cultural exchanges, unfortunately. Then, the information about Korea in the school curriculum remained almost marginal or even negligible in Jordan and in Arabic countries in general, perhaps, except some simple references in Asian history or geography in the textbooks.

In 1980s, with the development of communications, the influx of the Korean companies and workers into the Arab countries to participate in the construction and infrastructure projects, and the Koreans entering the Middle Eastern markets, people in the Middle East came to open their eyes to the Koreans – but only related to its industrial capabilities and potential, rather than its people and its culture.

It was only after the spread of the Korean wave, “Hallyu”, in 2000s, which played a significant role in spreading the Korean culture and civilization in the world as well as in the Arab countries, when people began to learn more about Korea. “Hallyu” was, clearly, one of the most important elements of the soft power utilized by the Korean government to promote the Korean culture abroad. “Hallyu” also became one of the most important cultural phenomena in the Arab world and has made a great contribution in spreading the image of Korea, not only as a country with great advancement in its industry, science and technology, but also as a country with a long history of human civilization, as well as rich culture and history.

The Korean movies and drama series, K-pop songs and music, entertainment, fashion, make-up, and food trend have all spread rapidly throughout Jordan and the Arab countries. The young generation in Jordan started to watch the Korean movies and drama series, follow up with the news of the Korean singers and artists, including the singer “Psy” and his famous song “Gangnam Style”, Big Bang, Super Junior or Girls’ Generation, all of whom became very popular in Jordan, and all of which encouraged people to search into, explore and learn about Korea and its culture. The interest of the people in Korea and its culture helped them to learn more about the history and civilization of Korea, including the Miracle of the Han River.

As for the audience in the Arab world, they were very impressed and captivated with the fascinating visual images and sceneries featuring the beauty of the Korean nature, but what also touched and attracted them more were the strong plots and storylines with the dialogues and lines of each character, depicting full of emotions, innocent love, human values and unity of the family, the basic elements that touched the primary feelings of people, as they resemble those of the Arab culture and social values.

I, myself, cannot forget the fascination and the popularity for the unforgettable historical drama series, “Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace)”, that initiated what is more than the “K-drama Syndrome” worldwide, especially in the Arab world. With “Taeyang-ui Huye (Descendants of the Sun)” and many other drama series and movies, that achieved a great success in the world and produced many re-makes in other countries, many young people around the world started using Korean expressions of respect, while enrolled into Korean language courses at schools and private institutions, with their dream to visit Korea.

The role of the media and the internet in wide-spreading the Korean wave cannot be ignored, through which the Korean people were depicted as well-organized hard-workers with respect for time, and with full of love and energy, through the lifestyles or the daily routines and behaviors of the characters in the Korean programs. This way, the humanitarian aspects of the Korean people were introduced, along with the rich history and ancient civilization of Korea.

In the business and commerce sector, the popularity and high demands for the Korean-branded products with their high quality and modern designs, of Samsung, Hyundai, Kia and LG, have greatly improved the image of Korea, while the management services, such as hospital, administrative, educational and modern systems, in the service sector, have proven that Korea is more than just a country with developed machines and industry, in Jordan and the Arab world.

The Korean cuisine became well-known in the Arab countries as “healthy food” with the vegetable-based ingredients and a wide variety of choices, and the population of which encouraged people to establish a number of Korean restaurants in the cities of their respective countries, spreading the popularity of Kimchi, Bulgoki and Bibimbab among the general public as well.

Through “Hallyu”, people came to learn about what is beyond the “wave of the Korean culture” - the simplicity of a Korean, who loves life and people, follows a clear plan in all aspects of his or her life and work, finds happiness in relationships, families and friends, celebrations, promenade, love and marriage, etc.

As a diplomat being dispatched to and stayed in Korea for almost two years now, I came to believe that the Koreans have the capabilities, skills and potential to do anything, with no exception on the further improvement of its image abroad. On the same note, I would like to share some of my insights and make some suggestions.

First, I believe the Korean Government should conduct a comprehensive study of the target audiences, to ensure successful entry into the societies with the respect of their values and traditions. The Korean government and the concerned institutions should open more cultural centers that promote the Korean culture abroad, while organizing more cultural activities and festivals in the other countries, especially in the Arab countries on an annual or more frequent basis, to boost up the interest of the people. Furthermore, since I am from the Arab culture, I would like to remind the importance of paying a special attention in avoid posting or broadcasting the Korean programs, movies or drama series depicting sex or violence in the Middle-Eastern markets with the respect of the culture and traditions of the people, while focusing more on the expression of Korean values and emotions, to appeal to the Arab world with the charm of the conservative and/or traditional image of Korea.

In his book “Asian Brand Strategies”, Director Martin Roll noted that there are many challenges facing future forces, and those who want to succeed should focus on making more use of their brand opportunities, and focus on creativity and innovation. I strongly feel that the Korean government and the relevant Korean institutions can use certain tools to implement such recommendations and proposals, including the use of the internet and smart-phones, hence focusing on the digital and mobile media and artificial intelligence (AI), especially with Korea’s strength as one of the most developed countries in the world, in such field. Similarly, the utilization of the distributed media, that is based on publishing information on the screens of the smart-phones at ultra-high speed, as well as the audio through normal and smart mobile devices, are some of the technologies and gadgets that would much benefit the even-more spreading and sharing of the image of Korea and “Hallyu” worldwide at this Digital Age.

[Excellence Prize]
Adel Adaileh

(Country of Activity : Jordan)

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