Posted : 2013-03-18 19:06
Updated : 2013-03-18 19:06

'I am Korean'

Linton captures spirit of noblesse oblige working on behalf of multicultural families

By Shim Jae-yun

Medical doctor John Linton is tall, with blue eyes and sandy brown hair. He is evidently not Korean, at least in terms of appearance.

However, after talking to him at Yonsei Severance Hospital, I was convinced he is as Korean as I am, with his fluent command of the dialect of Jeolla Province in the southwest of the country.

He describes himself as a "countryman" from Suncheon, where he spent most of his boyhood after he was born in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province in 1959.

He is proud to the bone of being Korean. He said, "During my childhood I learned all about the Korean culture of "ondol," the heated floor on which people sit and chat. There I was taught about morality and a code of conduct, cherishing respect for the elderly and showing love to younger people, among others."

Experience of Korean "jeong"

While being raised in the local village and being cared for by his nanny called Ok-ja, he experienced "jeong" a unique emotional bond between Koreans. "Jeong is a very particular sentimental attitude that is without equivalence in other countries of the world. It is unique to Korea. It is difficult to translate into English because it is a special one that goes beyond mere affection and loyalty," he said during an interview with The Korea Times at his office in the hospital, Wednesday.

Sister Ok-ja was always supportive of him when he was a child. She never prohibited him from doing what he wanted to do, always staying beside him to protect him. She never lost happiness and kindness toward John.

Linton, who has the Korean name, In Yohan, achieved his long-cherished dream of becoming a Korean national last year, after obtaining a government permit to become naturalized. "The decision came with the passage of a special law at the end of last year. I was so happy because it meant the government recognized our families' contribution to Korea."

The Linton family has lived here for four consecutive generations after his grand grand-father-in-law Eugene Bell (1868-1925) first came in 1895 as an American missionary to engage in medical and evangelical activities.

"(Before acquiring the citizenship) I had felt 2 percent lacking as a Korean. Now I have a certificate as a Korean national and can expand social activities including political participation," he said.

Linton took part in the transition team of President Park Geun-hye as vice chairman of the committee for national integration.

"(Serving as the vice chairman) I could have precious opportunities to meet people from various sectors of life such as civil activists, police and government officials to discuss ways of solidifying social integrity," he said.

He said he emphasized the need to establish an immigration ministry to deal with the fast increasing number of foreign immigrants that will likely reach 3 million by the year 2020, from the current 1.4 million.

"While serving in the transition team, I strongly called for the establishment of an immigration ministry. I cited the need for the nation to tackle the ever growing number of migrant people amid Korea's rapid development toward becoming a multicultural society," he said.

"Korea has a virtuous tradition of offering warm hospitality for guests. For instance, the current immigration office has been teaching languages, providing places for wedding ceremonies and hosting bazaar events for multicultural families, which is hardly seen in any other nations," he said.

Multicultural families, N.Korea

Linton emphasized the need for Korean nationals to change first and make further efforts to embrace multicultural families and defectors from North Korea.

"How to accommodate North Korean defectors can be the litmus test for Korea to cope with the rapid trend toward a multicultural society. Basically, Korea is probably the most competitive society in the world. As the multicultural families and the North Korean defectors are less competitive, the Korean people should first change to embrace them more warmly," he said.

Linton himself has been to the North 27 times to engage in projects that treat people suffering from tuberculosis there along with his elder brother Steve Linton, who is chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation. So far, they have managed to cure some 150,000 tuberculosis patients.

Despite the current increasing tension along the border with the North having threatened all-out war, Linton said he felt when he visited the North in November last year as if the North wanted to join hands with the South to explore its natural resources including coal.

"There are many major coal mines in the North and they expressed regrets that South Koreans were not able to take part in mining projects in which only Chinese and Russians were involved," he said,

Linton's grandfather William Linton came to Korea when he was 22 and engaged in the independence movement as well as establishing medical, educational and missionary activities for 48 years while his father Hue Linton set up some 600 churches in remote areas of South Jeolla Province.

Linton once became a target of expulsion by the Korean government in 1980 when the Gwangju Democracy Movement took place for his role as translator for the foreign press on behalf of the then civilian army.

"I was much disappointed at the U.S. government's decision to cooperate with the then military regime of Korea to expel me. Then general consul asked me to choose either leaving here or returning to the hospital without engaging in the uprising any longer. As I hated leaving here, I had no choice but to discontinue involvement in the civil resistance," he said.

Wrapping up the interview, he introduced this reporter to remodeling being done on the International Clinic of the hospital which he has been leading. He noted that more than 50,000 foreign patients visit the clinic annually, besides the 20,000 who undergo medical checks to extend visas.

"There has been an explosive growth of foreign patients and we need to expand facilities further to accommodate them. We also need to prepare for the increasing number of foreigners coming here for medical tourism," he said.

On the way to the construction scene we encountered two "irregular" laborers who solicited Linton to persuade the hospital authorities to grant them "regular" worker status. In reaction, the passionate Linton said, "I will surely break the irregular system. I won't allow such a system."

After marrying a Korean woman, who is a dentist, Linton has three children and has become an icon of "noblesse oblige" working on behalf of multicultural families in Korea. Having acquired Korean citizenship, he has increasingly come under the spotlight for his role in working for the vulnerable in his soulful fatherland —

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