Seoul to become a global city
Being a long-term resident, I often think back of the living conditions in Seoul in the early 1990s. During those days, Seoul was not an easy place for foreigners. Imported food articles could only be found in hotels (at astronomically high prices) or in the underground markets of Namdaemun that sold stuff that had somehow made its way out of the stores of the U.S. base in Yongsan. Expat housing on offer was a far cry from the luxurious comfort you can experience today.
In my first place, I had to make it through winter with changing LPG gas bottles every two days for heating. More often than once, when I switched bottles on a freezing morning, I realized that the spare gas bottle delivered to me by motor bike delivery also turned out to be an empty one. What a relief when the entire city of Seoul was given a central city gas distribution system around 1995.
Due to the wide-spread use of clean natural gas for heating at home, in all taxis and in most buses, the air quality in Seoul has dramatically improved, in stark contrast to for instance, Hong Kong that has seen increasing levels of smog in recent years. Public services are now much more accessible to foreigners, with special foreigner desks in the city’s Gu offices and a vast array of services being offered by Seoul Global Center, created in 2008 by the Seoul Metropolitan City.
The Center opened a new Global Business Support Center on December 16, 2011 in Yeouido, inside the brand new and purpose-built Seoul International Financial Center (SIFC) building, to assist foreign entrepreneurs through free business counseling and research. With the consecutive opening of three new foreign schools (YIS, Dulwich and Dwight), schooling for expat kids is no longer a source of complaints by foreigners.
Transportation systems have vastly improved over the last 15 years. Back then, buses had no air conditioning and foreigner taxis did not exist. Seoul did not have many recreational parks either, nor did the tourism organization have much information in English language. That has all changed and we today can find a wealth of tourist information in English, Japanese and Chinese, both in print form and on the internet. Korea has become a lot more attractive as a tourist destination today, thanks to many new all-year round active resorts popping up all over the country.
“Sol Beach Hotel” on the East Coast, Vivaldi Park’s “Sonofelice” and Pyeongchang’s Alpensia Resort come to mind. With Korea hosting international events such as the G20 Seoul Summit in 2010, Yeosu 2012 World Expo and upcoming Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, Korea is quickly becoming further globalized.
I hope that the public will embrace globalization as an opportunity for Korea and not as a threat. For a nation that is so highly reliant on trade, the Korean people will be better off when seeing free flow of goods and services as an opportunity. After all, Korean companies have become incredibly competitive in world markets and should feel more confident today.