Costly Changes Impress Few Seorae Residents
By Ines Min
Seocho-gu is spending 5 billion won on a street reconstruction project in the French expatriate village of Seorae Maeul this year ― one of the costliest endeavors by an administrative district to develop a foreigner community.
The project, aimed to create a more inviting space for foreign residents, will cost roughly the equivalent of 6.3 million won per resident.
The money is included in the budget for the government-run Seorae Global Village Center, a cultural exchange organization that helps foreigners adjust to Korean life. The figure surpasses that of Yongsan-gu's 325 million won budget spent on their Itaewon-Hannam Global Village Center in 2008 and the first six months of 2009.
The project is focused on renovating a 540-meter-long section of Seorae Maeul's main street, where the culture center is located. The project will rename the section the "French Specialized Street."
Construction manager Jeung Suk-gu said the design will make the area more "comfortable" for both Koreans and expatriates. Construction began last month and is slated for completion in December.
Wider pedestrian walkways, a narrower road and more street lights are the centerpiece of the project, according to a press release from the Seocho-gu District Office. Street signs will also be replaced to include French translations.
A small support group of foreigners were consulted by the design team, but some villagers are unaware of any changes at all.
French national and Seorae Maeul resident "Tika" has been living in the area for the past five years. Preferring not to reveal her full name, the French-language teacher at the nearby international school said that the village is already a "really pleasant" area.
Tika said the road did not need any changes, especially not the narrowing of lanes for wider sidewalks.
"We need the road because there's a lot of traffic," she said, adding that Seorae Maeul was already suited to her needs, evident from her long residency. She plans on living there for the next three years.
Tika's long-term residency is not typical, according to the manager of Seorae Global Village Center, Lim Hyeon-Ok.
"Most residents are here for two to three years," Lim said, but long-term residents are in the minority. This contrasts with other expatriate communities, where most foreigners reside for at least several years.
The constant turnover in the French village can be seen in the international schools. Children of French residents usually attend only elementary or middle school in Seoul because they return to their native country, Lim said.
Comparing the expenses for the reconstructed French road to other district offices' costs on foreigner community development, Lim said that she believes Seocho-gu has invested the most time and effort.
She believes Seocho-gu has been the most proactive in reaching out to foreigners and making the area attractive to newcomers, but the number of foreigners remains fairly constant.
"More can come, but it's almost always the same," she said.
The entire village holds 792 residents, compared with Itaewon's foreigner population of 2,182, last recorded two years ago. Yongsan-gu currently has no concrete development plans for the expat community areas.
Officials at Seocho-gu said the 2010 budget for the Seorae Global Village Center has not been decided yet.