|A foreigner purchases donuts at a street bakery run by Chinese immigrants at Wongok-dong, Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.|
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Ansan is test bed for multiculturalism
The Korea Times is launching a year-long series under the title of “Multiculturalism: The Great Experiment.” The series is designed to highlight the influx of migrant workers and brides into the country in pursuit of the “Korean dream.” Korea is rapidly moving toward a multicultural society with growing racial and cultural diversity. In promoting multiculturalism, the nation is undertaking a great social experiment, the success of which depends on whether Koreans can quickly become cosmopolitan in their outlook and tolerant in accepting people from diverse cultures. The following article is the first in the series, reporting the story of migrants in the industrial city of Ansan, south of Seoul. ㅡ ED.
By Park Si-soo, Rachel Lee ANSAN, Gyeonggi Province ㅡ Ariyanto Shi from Indonesia makes stockings at a factory here from early morning to late at night six days a week and is paid only 1.5 million won ($1,340) a month.
The constant use of chemical materials and heavy tools has covered the palms of the 29-year-old with dried calluses. His outfit smells of sweat. But he has a bright smile on his face.
“This is the smell of my expanding dreams,” Shi said in Korean in an interview with The Korea Times, while leaving his workplace in this industrial city on the southwestern edge of Seoul. “My life in Korea has been tough but I’ve learned a lot from it, which will help realize my dream back home.”
With a degree in chemical engineering, Shi arrived in Ansan in November 2009 on a working visa. His dream is to establish his own chemical company in Indonesia.
“The money I’ve made in Korea will be spent in setting up my company,” he said. “The most valuable thing I’ve learned in Korea is factory management, which is much more efficient than in Indonesia.”
He relieves work stress by attending free taekwondo lessons at night at a local community center for immigrants and taking photographs on the weekends.
“I will miss Korea when I return home because I’ve had so many good memories,” he said. “I will remember Korea as a country paving the way for me to achieve my dream.”
Shi’s experience may remind many older Koreans of what they went through in the 1960s and '70s as they raised themselves up from poverty. Back then, many Koreans went to the United States, Europe and the Middle East to seek better-paying jobs, even if the work was physically tough and the hours long.
The money they sent home to their families and the experience they gained working overseas helped transform South Korea from a nation that was on the same economic level as Ghana and Egypt into Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Now Korea is importing people instead of exporting them and providing people from emerging countries with the opportunity to improve their lives in the same way that Koreans once did by going abroad.
At the end of 2012, an estimated 932,000 foreign citizens from 184 countries were classified as long-term residents, according to the Ministry of Justice, which oversees immigration affairs. The number jumps to 1.42 million when short-term visitors are added.
Registered foreigners ㅡ normally referring to long-term residents ㅡ make up around 1.8 percent of the total Korean population of an estimated 50 million.
Nearly half of them, about 524,400, are foreign laborers, like Shi, who often do the so-called 3-D jobs (dirty, difficult and dangerous) that Koreans avoid. They normally work for a few years in Korea then return home.