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High-quality Korean language learning for a multicultural JejuAn interview with Kim Jeong Woo, director of the Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center
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승인 2012.07.25  10:53:57
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▲ A friendly day of multicultural interaction between husbands, wives, children as family units. Center coordinator Joe Ok Ran oversees the event. Photo courtesy Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center

Jeju Island is no longer an isolated place. According to 2011 statistics released by the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province’s Gender Equality & Family Department, there are 8,499 non-Koreans registered as official Jeju residents.

Since 2006 the population of non-Korean residents on Jeju has increased by 321 percent (then 2,645 people). At this rate within a year or two the number of non-Korean on the island will reach 10,000. As Jeju continues working towards becoming a multicultural society, integration and adaptation are going to be difficult yet important tasks for both communities to achieve and the Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center hopes to make this transition a little less bumpy.

“The key to a multicultural society is having a mutual conversation between both parties,” said Kim Jeong Woo, center director of the Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center in an interview with The Jeju Weekly at his office in the Nohyeong area of Jeju City. “It should not be done in a unilateral way by forcing one party to assimilate into another. A mutual understanding of each party is the key to a fully developed multicultural society.”

▲ A foreign-born woman receives a certificate from an officer of the Jeju District Court recognizing her as an official court translator. Center Director Kim Jeong Woo looks on in the far right of the photo. Photo courtesy Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center

And one of the surest ways to promote understanding between two different cultures is to ensure that they are talking in the same language. Because of this necessity, the center’s main function is to teach Korean to multicultural families.

“Learning Korean is the fastest way to adapt to Korean society. That is why we put a lot of emphasis into Korean education. It is especially pivotal to women for their children’s education,” Kim said. “At the same time, we also provide Chinese and Vietnamese language courses to increase the understanding of different cultures.”

Kim emphasized that multicultural residents should pursue Korean education even after having learned the basics of the language. Presently only a few of his students who have graduated from the center’s beginner class are enrolled in the intermediate level.

This worries Kim, he said.

”People ignore you when you cannot speak the local language. Worse than that, your children start to ignore you.”

▲ A Korean language class at the Center. Photo courtesy Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center

He explained that the children of multicultural families who attend school and make friends pick up the language quickly. And If the parents do not do the same language as the community their child learns within then a rift could develop within the family.

“It is a great humiliation for a parent when your kid scorns you because you are not fluent in Korea. Sadly, it frequently happens to the multicultural family members,” he said.

Meet Director Kim Jeong Woo
▲ Director Kim Jeong Woo. Photo by Kim Hyo Jeong
When going over his daily schedule, it is hard to believe that Kim Jeong Woo, director of the Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center, is 73 years old and not a man of a much younger generation.

He explained to The Weekly that he wakes at 4 a.m., goes to church, then takes an hour walk around Hall Arboretum before going to his office. He does this every day.

“I do not get tired easily. My employees might be under stress because I am too energetic,” he smiled.

It is this energy that has prevented him from just simply settling into an armchair to relax during his twilight years.
Though having worked as a public school teacher for 40 years, and had finished his career as principal of the Jeju Dong Girl’s Middle School, those who know him don’t associate Kim as an educator, they see him as a social worker.

After having retired from teaching, he found his new path on Oct. 1, 2003 while volunteering for a government program that saw 300 Southeast Asian immigrants working in Seoul and Gwangju visiting the island. It was during this program that he realized that Jeju society is not yet ready to fully embrace Immigrants. He realized something had to be done.

“I organized a Jeju Multicultural Family Support center by getting aid from the local government since 2008,” he said.

Kim has worked at the Jeju City Migrant Worker Support Center since 2003 and then he became the center director in 2008. He then changed the name of the center into the current one.

He launched a Jeju Immigrant Center in 2008 and the center was designated as the multicultural family center by the Ministry of Justice for the three-year term. “Ministry of Justice designates the trust center for the multicultural family every three year. Our immigrant center has been selected as a trust center for the multifamily twice in a success,” Mr. Kim said.

His effort for the local society brought him the Happy Senior Awards from the Hope Institute in 2011. Mr. Kim was chosen as one of three seniors in Korea who actively contribute to the society by overcoming the age limitation.

Kim hopes that more multicultural parents will become enthusiastic about learning Korean, and not just for themselves but for their children. “The language ability of children is mostly affected by their parents. The children of immigrants are easily ostracized from their peer groups because they are lacking in communication skills and are unable to follow their school classes,” Kim said.

Another worry stemming from Jeju’s transition to being multicultural, coupled by the fact that it is seeing more tourists (especially Chinese tourists), is that this trend might act like a deterrent making it less necessarily for non-Korean residents to learn Korean.

“Especially, when it comes to the Chinese, they are not eager to learn Korean since scores of restaurants and cosmetic shops hire Chinese for the increasing Chinese tourists.”

▲ Language books used at the Center. Photo by Kim Hyo Jeong

Currently the Multicultural Support Center is providing Korean language courses at the basic, beginner, and intermediate levels. The center also provides TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) courses for levels 1 through 6.

“If an immigrant wants to have a moderate job or enter a university in Korea, at least TOPIK level 4 certificate is needed,” Kim said. “To be fully integrated into the Korean society, I wish immigrants do not settle for their current job or language ability but keep challenging themselves.”

In addition, the center provides the Korea Immigration & Integration Program (KIIP) organized by the Ministry of Justice. This hurries the process of becoming a Korean citizen and awards extra points to those applying for permanent residency status.

The Korean classes are open to those passionate to learn Korean. Whether a visitor, student, or preparing for citizenship, an Alien Registration Card is all that is needed to enroll, free of charge.

▲ Joe Ok Ran. Photo by Kim Hyo Jeong
Though the the center offers these classes, Kim said that studying Korean for two hours twice a week is not enough to become fluent. He advises to “Keep talking with your spouse or other Korean co-workers and expose yourself to the exterior environment.”

Joe Ok Ran, a Chinese national who has lived in Korea for 10 years speaks Korean as perfectly as a native Korean. She now works in the Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center to help immigrants from China. Joe approaches her clients’ problems with first-hand experience of being an immigrant, and recommends they “be diligent learning the language. This is for yourself and your kids.”

Anyone can register for the Multicultural Family Support Center Korean class between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The spring semester starts from March ends in July and the fall semester starts from August ends in December. There are two two-hour classes per week. The first to the third week in August is a vacation period.

If you would like to know more or to register for the Korea Immigration & Integration Program go to or call 064-712-1140.

(Please note the telephone number and URL for this story have been updated. -- Ed.)

Schedule for the Jeju Multicultural Family Support Center Korean class


Basic class

Monday, Wednesday

10 a.m.~12 p.m.

Beginner’s class 1

Tuesday, Thursday

10 a.m. ~12 p.m.

Beginner’s class 2

Monday, Wednesday

10 a.m.~12 p.m.

Intermediate Level

Monday, Wednesday

2 p.m. ~ 4 p.m.

TOPIK Preparation class


2 p.m. ~ 4 p.m.




7 p.m. ~ 9 p.m.



7 p.m. ~ 9 p.m.

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