By Bae Ji-sook
Foreign students selected kimchi ― fermented cabbage seasoned with red pepper ― as the most representative of Korea, a recent survey showed.
``Hallyu,'' the new wave of Korean pop culture, often proves to be a key factor to pique their interest in Korea. And the longer they stay, the more they become attached to kimchi.
The survey was conducted by the Sogang University Language Education Center and asked 101 foreign students about what item they most associate with Korea.
Thirty-three of the respondents started studying Korean language because they liked its pop culture, mostly TV dramas. However, when asked what the most memorable and impressive thing in Korea was, 42 respondents picked kimchi.
Sogang University suggested that, besides the spicy flavor of the fermented cabbage, kimchi represents Korea's dinner table culture.
"Many students told me that they were impressed by our social and family gatherings, where we grill meat and eat it with a glass of soju. Unlike many parts of the world, we share the food from a big bowl, share drinks and glasses, make friends and have a great time. At the end of the day, we all end up feeling like a large family," Prof. Lee Dong-il of the center said. "Since kimchi is a staple side dish at these occasions, they link it with Korea."
Choi Jung-hwa, director of the Corea Image Communication Institute, said kimchi represents Koreans. "There is nothing like kimchi. Fermentation requires time and patience, which also applies to the characteristics of Koreans. It is also spicy yet very humble. Once you get used to its flavor you instantly notice that it is the essence of the Korean spirit.
"Also, the survey results show that people define a country by its food. Kimchi, one of the most unique foods in the world, is just right for symbolizing Korea."
Meanwhile, the state-of-the-art information and technology as electronic gadgets were the second and third things that came to their minds regarding Korea, the survey showed.
It said that pronunciation was the hardest part about learning the Korean language.
The students said their favorite Korean terms included "heobeolagae" (extremely) and "aigo" (oh my goodness).