Multicultural families have become an essential element for the development and diversity of Korean society. The following is the first of two articles on multicultural families’ role for Korea to become a more mature and open country. — ED.
Ho Dha Da Dhu, left, a Vietnamese immigrant wife, explains a medical program to a Vietnamese patient at Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong, eastern Seoul. She aids communication between Korean doctors and Vietnamese patients as a medical tourism coordinator.
/ Courtesy of Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong
By Kim Rahn
Ho Dha Da Dhu, a 29-year-old Vietnamese woman who tied the knot with a Korean man, is a medical tourism coordinator at Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong, eastern Seoul.
The immigrant wife who came to Korea in 2006 helps Vietnamese patients communicate with Korean doctors as an interpreter. Starting work as an intern, she has worked for the hospital’s international business for eight months.
“I also translate the hospital’s website into Vietnamese. Recently I appeared in the hospital’s advertisement and introduced its state-of-the-art medical equipment in my mother tongue,” Ho said.
She learned Korean at a multicultural family support center and Ewha Womans University Language Center. Her Korean is not perfect but she has no problem in interpreting for Korean doctors and Vietnamese patients, helping the hospital attract foreign patients.
The mother of a five-year-old plans to become a naturalized Korean this year.
Ho is just one of thousands of immigrant spouses and multicultural family members who play bridging roles between Korea and their home countries.
Korea is seeing a growing number of multicultural families following increasing interracial marriages.
As of January last year, the number of immigrant spouses and their children reached 309,800, accounting for 0.36 percent of the population. The figure is expected to exceed 2 million by around 2050, taking up 5.1 percent of the population, according to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
Multicultural families are becoming members of the society.
“Members of multicultural families, both immigrant spouses and children, can become valuable assets in the labor market and cultural exchanges in the globalized era as they speak at least two languages and have multicultural sentiments,” said Kim Jung-youl, the director of the multicultural family division at the ministry.
On top of the language aspect, Kim said having new, varied members can benefit society, because it creates a social and cultural atmosphere that recognizes diversity.
“Such recognition also makes a society more open to others and helps people develop innovative, diverse ideas,” he said.
A big challenge
The ministry’s survey conducted last October on 1,500 adults also showed 79.5 percent of people were positive to the growing number of multicultural families, saying the increase will bring more openness and tolerance to Korea, which used to be a homogeneous nation.
Kim Yi-seon, a researcher of the Korean Women’s Development Institute, also said the increasing number of multicultural families indicates the sphere of Korean society is becoming larger in the globalized era.
She said “multi-culture” is a big challenge but also a new opportunity for the country.
“We discriminate against someone because we don’t acknowledge his or her different aspect from ours, because we think the difference is wrong,” she said.
“Now the country has people who are different from traditional Koreans, having different appearances and cultures. Forming good relations with them will provide momentum for Korean society to mature. If we can properly cope with the challenge of new relationships, Korea will make a considerable leap,” the researcher said.
Ministry director Kim also pointed out the economic benefit that immigrant people bring about. “An influx of foreigners can supplement the nation’s decreasing labor population. It can create new jobs and expand the economy.”
To maximize the advantage of multicultural society, experts said efforts to abolish discrimination against multicultural families should be made, because such discrimination can sometimes cause a fatal result like the recent shooting spree in Norway by an anti-Muslim extremist.
“The situation in Korea is different from Norway, with the ratio of the foreign population here far lower than that in the European country. But the number of foreigners and multicultural families will grow.
To take advantage of multi-culture and prevent discrimination, Koreans need to develop positive recognition of multicultural families and schools should teach coexistence of various cultures,” the director said.