FEBRUARY 20, 2008

PHOTO CHALLENGE (open to all entries) — Taken at Namdaemun gate, at around 11 p.m. Feb. 10, this shot captures the intensity of being a firefighter, and also the sadness and loss for the Korean people.
Paul Walker/ www.flickr.com/photos/pwalks

Expat living is a page dedicated
to the issues that affect foreigners' daily lives. It is your page, where you can share stories about your life in Korea. Send story ideas to Matthew Lamers at mattlamers@heraldm.com

Letter to the editor

English-only in classrooms
Surely, if schools offered the immersion experience without the need for leaving the country, it would be beneficial. By their statements, this is exactly the issue that President-elect Lee and his Cabinet are trying to address. Contrary to South Africa, where teachers from all eleven language groups are educated in colleges and universities, and can thus provide mother-tongue education in any of the official languages, Korean teachers are educated in Korean. Even teachers of English are educated using the grammar-translation method, and so their knowledge of English as a subject is good, but their skill at presenting this subject in English is limited. Outside the classroom, there is no incentive or opportunity to engage in English conversation or use. In South Africa, a child who is taught English as a second language finds herself surrounded by the language. It is in the movies, on television, on the radio, in the streets, and he will know at least one child, probably more, who speak it as a mother tongue. It is the language of commerce and advertising, of interaction across race and tribe, and so it takes a child less than a year to become a speaker of the language, even if not wholly fluent. There is no similar situation in Korea. Unless English is made an official language, where there is a real need to use the language and understand it, all the educational strategies will struggle with the fact that, without practice, no fluency will develop. Even if English is adopted as a second official language, the fact that Korea is homogenous as far as language is concerned will still hamper conversational opportunities. Before further debate is undertaken, the question about who needs to learn English and why should be answered. And, if education does need to be reformed, the place to start would be training centers for future teachers, to prepare them as bilingual individuals who can then go and teach the future generation. Most importantly, make better use of the skills of English speaking teachers in schools by allowing them to conduct classes solely in English. At least this, while not ideal, will provide children with the challenge of having to understand the language for at least one hour a week. Leonie Overbeek is an English teacher in a Gyeonggi Province middle school. — Ed.

UNESCO dreams up in flames?
Sungnyemun: Mourners still gather by Sungnyemun gate to pay their respects to the fallen monument. Legendary Korean musician Kim Duk-soo, the founder of SamulNori, was at the ruined gate on Sunday, performing a binari, a form of rural percussion music. Kim and his fellow musicians wore traditional Korean funeral attire — unusual for a binary, which is usually performed to pray for prosperity and happiness. Cultural Heritage Administration head You Hong-june has already fallen on his sword to take responsibility for the fire. Now, it appears the CHA’s plan to register Seoul with UNESCO as a “Historic Town” has taken a hit. The agency had initially planed to apply to UNESCO in 2010, fol-

Robert Koehler on Talking Points
lowing the restoration of Gwanghwamun Gate in late 2009. This would have been approved during the UNESCO World Heritage General Assembly in 2011. Now, however, it appears the agency will have to wait until restoration work on Sungnyemun Gate is complete to apply. Rebuilding Sungnyemun Gate is expected to take three years. English in English: English class will be taught in English! Or at least once a week it will be. In Seoul. The Seoul Office of Education has announced a plan to gradu-

ally get Korean English teachers to teach in, well, English. From this year, at least one one-hour class a week will be taught in English. Grammar, at least for the time being, will be taught in Korean. If all goes according to plan, elementary schools will be conducting their English classes in English only by 2011, and middle and high schools by 2012. According to office, some 60 percent of Korean English teachers have the ability to teach in English. Which is a good number, one supposes, since a Ministry of Education survey taken in 2006 revealed that nationwide, over half of all English teachers in Korea couldn’t. Oh, and fear not — in order to keep “unqualified native speak-

ers of English” from getting hired, the Seoul Office of Education will tighten its screening of academic credentials by receiving official transcripts directly from universities. Drug-smuggling English teachers: The fondness of certain segments of the English teacher community for mind-altering chemicals has been wellreported in the local press, but still, it’s always nice to put numbers to a phenomenon. According to the Korea Customs Service, a full 10 percent of drug smugglers caught last year were foreign English teachers. Overall, 225 people were caught trying to smuggle drugs in Korea in 2007 — 144 Koreans, 18 Americans, 15 Chinese, 12 Canadians and 12 Filipinos. Some 22 of those, however,

were English teachers, which included eight Americans, eight Canadians, four Britons and one hapless Australian. Overall, methamphetamine was the drug of choice, accounting for about half of the seizures, although one would imagine marijuana accounted for most of the English teacher busts. Oh, and international post accounted for the majority of drug seizures, so if you’re thinking of having a friend in (insert home country HERE) mail you a “care package,” you may wish to rethink it — the authorities are not that stupid. Robert is the editor-in-chief of SEOUL magazine, and the administrator of The Marmot’s Hole blog (www.rjkoehler.com). — Ed.

In focus: HDR explained
By David Smeaton

In photography these days, everyone’s raving about HDR. What’s the big deal with HDR? — Josh, Cheonju One of the benefits of digital photography, without doubt, is that new techniques such as HDR photography are created. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range imaging and it has become a very popular photographic genre. It’s where a photograph is composed to give the full range of available light and color. When composing a photograph, some areas will be dark, some light. Some colors will be vibrant while others are more dull. HDR images have all the best elements combined into the one photo. This allows for a very dynamic and colorful composition, which is almost impossible to achieve otherwise. Usually, HDR photos are landscape, cityscape or panoramic photos that have no moving subjects. When shooting an HDR photograph, you need to take three identical images. This is where your tripod comes in handy. Each of the three images should have a different exposure. One should be underexposed, one should be overexposed, one should be a perfect exposure. The three photos used for HDR are a natural bi-product of bracketing. Even though two shots are over and underexposed, those photos still have a range of visible elements. An underexposed image will have good detail from bright clouds or shining lights. The overexposed image will reveal detail that was hidden by shadow or darkness. Those elements are combined with the perfectly exposed photo. In post processing, use your software to combine the three images. Photoshop has a “Merge to HDR” tool which is quite good, but does have limitations when dealing with moving subjects. There are also a number of plugins and tools available for Photoshop and Gimp. Most of these do a good job as well. Or, if you are keen, you can do it manually, by combining the photographs yourself. Send David a message at davidsmeaton@gmail.com or visit his website at www.davidsmeaton.com. If you want to be a part of the weekly Photo Challenge, join the “Seoul Photo Club” group at flickr (flickr.com/groups/seoulphotoclub). — Ed.

More should be done for refugees
By Lairam Vapual

Just one day before a serious medical operation, Dan gets a call from the immigration office, informing him of the rejection of his refugee application. He is also told that a letter confirming the rejection will be on the way to the hospital. Feeling hopeless and frustrated, Dan sits on the hospital bed, nervously pondering his uncertain and unpredictable future, with a critical surgery just around the corner. Fleeing political and religious repression and other human rights abuses back home, Dan took the risk to journey to South Korea to take refuge, only to find his refugee application rejected. It took the South Korean government more than four years to come to its conclusion. He has had to make a living by working at a factory because, as an asylum seeker, he could not get any financial aid or material support in any form, as is the case with most asylum-seekers here. “I wish the immigration office had made an early decision on my application, not after four years,” complained the young man. Esther, a young Asian woman, is no longer a stranger to the Hwaseo Immigration Detention Center in Gyeonggi Province. Having been cooped up there since August 2006, a year after she set foot on the Peninsula, she has managed to make herself at home amid the abusive remarks that usually accompany people in physical detention. This blunt, outspoken woman tries hard to fight against her long detention, many times not without frustration and desperation, compounded by her longdrawn-out application for asylum status. A woman of perseverance, her biggest concern is being deported to the country she has fled. Initially, she had legally stayed with a South Korean pastor and his family for about one year; they facilitated her entry into the country. But abusive and embarrassing working conditions forced her to flee the pastor, who kept her passport and travel documents, forcing her into illegal conditions that finally led to her arrest. Even intervention by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Amnesty

International Korea, and another non- alone, Canada resettled more than ment programs in Asia and Africa. But it profit NGO so far has not solved her 10,000 refugees. And, in 2007, it became is ironic and paradoxical that, once those case, which has been in legal limbo — one of the top 10 donors to the UNHCR, refugees find their way to South Korea’s tied up in bureaucratic red tape — for with contributions totaling more than shores, the country fails to demonstrate years. $35 million. the same commitment. This kind of situation is not hard to Australia, the 17th-largest economy in Thirdly, as one of the leading innovaimagine for deprived, desperate people the world, with half the population of tors in the field of information technolsearching not only a better life, but also South Korea, has taken in about 69,000 ogy, and the home to some of the safer living conditions in South Korea people as officially recognized refugees. biggest corporations on the planet, — where they can exercise basic huBut South Korea, the world’s 13th- South Korea boasts relatively high livman rights, and who otherwise would biggest economy, with a population of ing standards. With this high status have been met with violent suppression around 50 million, has just over 60 legal- comes a responsibility to share its and imprisonment in their own coun- ly recognized refugees. wealth with developing countries. So tries. According to the Korea Immigration far, healthcare services, financial assisNo wonder an increasing number of Service, of the 717 people who applied in tance and educational programs are refugees, in search of security and pro- 2007, only 13 were granted the status, virtually non-existent for the 66 offitection from different kinds of oppres- and 111 were rejected. Approximately cially registered refugees, let alone the sion, flee to a democratic and open coun- 1,200 refugee applicants were currently rest of the hundreds of non-North try like South Korea, where they feel their voices will be heard. Australia has taken in about 69,000 people as refugees. But But the reality is South Korea, the world’s 13th-biggest economy, with a population that South Korea has not yet been ready to of around 50 million, has just over 60 legally recognized refugees. live up to international expectations regarding the issue of refugees. waiting for a decision on their fate as of Korean refugee applicants. It would not Statistics compiled by an Amnesty Jan. 21, 2008. be a waste of wealth for South Korea, International Korea refugee team Since South Korea became a signatory one of the four Asian Tigers, to use show that South Korea has seen a to the United Nations Convention some of its resources to help these peosteady increase in the number of Relating to the Status of Refugees in ple. Rather, it would be seen by the inrefugee applicants since 2002 — when 1992, the main international refugee- ternational community as symbol of only 34 people applied for the status. protection instrument, 66 people have genuine care for people who suffer poThat number more than doubled to 84 been granted the status, 336 have been litical, social and economic deprivation in 2003, followed by 148 and 410 in rejected, and 53 have been given permis- — the same bitter experience that 2004 and 2005, respectively. In 2006, sion to stay here on humanitarian South Korea itself endured not so long the number decreased to 278, only to grounds. ago. dramatically skyrocket to 717 in 2007. There are a number of healthy reasons NGOs in South Korea have done a According to the team, the total num- why South Korea should open its doors good job so far in helping refugees and ber of refugee applicants as of January wider to refugees, as most other devel- asylum-seekers. Now it’s up to the gov2008, since Korea first accepted oped countries have, instead of imposing ernment, which has the final say on refugee applications in 1994, is 1,804. tougher rules and regulations to admit providing security, protection and othThough South Korea has so far tak- them. First, as an important attribute of er assistance, in accord with the en in more than 10,000 people from a mature and democratic country, and as refugee Convention, to aliens on its North Korea, and has given them ba- a prosperous and highly educated na- own soil. sic job training, healthcare services tion, it has a responsibility to help people These refugees ventured here, fleeing and financial subsidies, it has yet to coming from countries less fortunate the same political, social, economic and show the international community than itself. In so doing, this country religious repression which South Korea that it is serious in recognizing at would further show its real commitment rooted out not longer than two decades least 100 non-North Korean people as to the prosperity and development of oth- ago. refugees. er nations. According to the UNHCR Canada — Secondly, South Korea has played an which is the seventh-largest economy in increasingly pivotal role on the world’s The writer is a foreign resident in the world and has a population of 33 mil- stage. It has an active global role at the Gyeonggi Province. His e-mail address is lion people — that country has given United Nations, and in war-torn regions indochina777@yahoo.com. All names of more than 151,000 people refugee status. such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and has refugees in this report have been changed It is remarkable to see that, in 2006 taken a lead role in regional develop- for their protection. — Ed.