By Kang Hyun-kyung
Foreign travelers staying at five-star hotels in Seoul have fewer opportunities to taste local cuisine than they do in Tokyo with Japanese food, as only four out of 18 luxury hotels here serve Korean cuisine.
Experts believe this is one of the stumbling blocks to the globalization of "Han Style," a campaign for branding traditional Korean goods such as food, clothing, housing and other cultural products.
During a seminar to explore the potential of Han Style as a global cultural presence held at the National Assembly, "hallyu" (Korean wave) experts and foreign participants pinpointed Koreans' loss of cultural confidence and ineffective public diplomacy as two major obstacles to globalizing home-grown cultural products.
Kim Noh-soo, president of high-end Korean restaurant Yonggusan, said Koreans' dedication to and expertise on seasoned foods were good enough to attract foreigners.
"The first thing that we should do is to know more about our traditional cuisine," said Kim.
Hallyu specialist Park Jung-sook described the branding effort as a drive for neo-hallyu.
"The campaign shedding light on our awesome culture will help improve Korea's image in the world," said Park, a professor of the Institute of International Education at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.
Foreign participants, meanwhile, said Han-styled products are popular in Japan, China and Southeast Asian countries, but that people living in the rest of the world including the United States, Europe and the Middle East know little about them.
Mametkulovs Mansur, a Russian actor who appeared in the MBC drama "Great Queen Seondeok," said Korea's inactive public diplomacy is probably responsible for the obscurity of Korean cultural products in his home country.
"Russians tend to come across global business giants such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia and Daewoo when they think about Korea. But few people actually know what Korean culture is about," he said.
"I think this is because few events for promoting awareness of its culture take place in Russia. Korean celebrities and singers perform concerts or have other forms of occasions to reach out to fans in Japan, China and some Southeastern countries but they do not come to Russia for these purposes. If those kinds of events take place in Russia, I think we Russians, would take more interest in Korea and its culture," Mansur said.
Nguyen Thi Thu Huong, a Vietnamese student attending a university in Seoul, said that Koreans are less open-minded to foreigners and that it is probably because the country is based on one ethnic group.
"Koreans that I know are friendly to foreigners from advanced countries, but their attitudes toward people from less developed countries are very different. I know several Koreans who confessed they had bad impressions of migrant wives from Vietnam," she said.
Huong said Korea doesn't deserve to be called a mature society as long as Koreans hold a racial- and ethnic-based bias.
Christina Confalonieri, an Italian who chairs the Yeoksam Global Village Center in Seoul, said Europeans know more about Japan and China but they know little about Korea.
"I think that this is because tourism pamphlets and country information about the two former countries are found everywhere in Europe but relevant information on Korea is scarce," she said.