Jeju residents better get used to having maple syrup and ice hockey infiltrating their culture – Canadian influence and presence is on the rise here, and not likely to recede anytime soon.
From Nov. 13 to 14, Canada’s Ambassador to Korea, David Chat-terson, was on the island looking to improve the bond between the Great White North and the “Island of Peace” by ushering in Jeju’s first ever “Canada Day.” Ambassador Chatterson sat down with The Weekly following a reception at the Shilla Hotel in Seogwipo City a day prior to the Nov. 14 “Canada Day” to outline its aims and purposes.
▲ An ice sculpture of the Canadian emblem, the maple leaf, greets visitors at the reception held on Nov. 13 at the Shilla Hotel in Seogwipo City. Photo by Darrl Coote
“This event was an attempt to bring a little bit of Canada to Jeju,” explained Chatterson. “To reach out, meet people, get a better under-standing of what goes on here, and explore opportunities for cooper-ation. Canada is working to establish a profile in Korea. We are often overlooked by Koreans who look at North America and see the ‘America’ part, but not the ‘North’ part.”
It’s no different from when Canadians skip over Korea for China, Japan, and India when thinking of Asia, he added.
“Whatever we can do to raise each others’ profiles in each others’ eyes is good for us both,” said Chatterson. In addition to the consular services the Canadian Embassy provides to tourists and expatriates, there is much more to their involvement in Korea than just assisting travelling Canadians with passport and visa issues.
“We’re here to advance Canadian interests by building Canada’s profile, strengthening our brand, and helping Canadian companies.”
A product of this endeavor is the recent partnership between Jeju Olle and Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada, which saw segments of these famous hiking routes becom-ing “friendship trails.” Chatterson noted that this particular move was a rather natural connection to make since both Jeju and Canada are known for their pristine nature.
Admittedly, Chatterson and other Canadian Embassy officials don’t visit Jeju often. But as partnership opportunities grow, so will Canada’s presence in the self-governing province.
“Jeju’s got interesting tourism, commerce, business, and education systems in place, and the combination of them all intrigued us to come,” he said, adding that Canada is currently in an “exploratory phase” to see how they can work with the island.
In particular, Canada — an energy rich country — is very interested in exploring opportunities in the island’s energy sector.
“Korea is energy dependent. They import 96 percent of their energy. There’s great opportunity for us to work closer together, particularly on the investment side,” he said, elaborating that in the last three years alone, Korean companies have invested CAN$6 billion (6.5 trillion won) into Canadian energy.
▲ Canada’s Ambassador to Korea David Chatterson. Photo by Darryl Coote
Currently on Jeju, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is working with researchers at the Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER) on energy storage, solar, wind, thermal-hydro, and hydrogen — essentially, all things power. The other sector Canada is interested in working with Jeju on is education.
“We have some of the best education systems in the world, without question. Koreans understand and appreciate that. Branksome Hall coming here is emblematic of that notion ... I think it’s going to be a huge success.”
The newly opened Branksome Hall Asia is the Jeju campus of the prestigious Canadian all girls’ school in Ontario. It will set up a yearly exchange program with its mother school that will see its high school students travel between the two campuses to experience the different cultures.
As the North American economy continues its painstakingly slow recovery, many Canadian workers have left Canada to find gainful employment. In fact there are 25,000 Canadians in Korea; 200 of them are in Jeju, including the two dozen teachers and staff that have joined Branksome Hall Asia.
Others on the island own small busi-nesses, run restaurants, operate tourism activities, and work in journalism, to list a few examples. But is it good for Canada to lose such a volume of workers to other countries?
“I don’t think it’s good or bad,” Chat-terson argued. “I think it is what it is. I’ve met a lot of Canadians abroad while living outside of Canada, and I haven’t met anyone who’s spent two or three years abroad and thought it was a waste of time. They all became stronger, broader, and more interesting people instead.”
He continued that those who come to Korea have the opportunity to gain experience, earn capital, and return to Canada in “much better shape” from their adventure than when they left.
“The more Canada and Canadians go out into the world, the better we all are for it.”
However, Chatterson remains con-vinced that Canada is the best place for people from all over the world to do business, Koreans included.
“Canada has been assessed by inde-pendent evaluators like World Bank [Group], Forbes, and Economist Magazine as the best place in the world to do business,” said Chatterson. “In terms of access to capital, registration, and access to quality employees, we’re as good as it gets.”
The next taste (literally) of Canada that will hit Jeju is the Canadian Food Festival, which will take place in the Shilla Hotel from Nov. 11 to 24. It will be a rare and unique opportunity for residents of Jeju to try some of Canada’s highest quality cuisine. Canadians pining for a taste of their homeland will no doubt delight in the chance to sink their teeth into fresh lobster, blueberries, and other delectables from home.
Canada and Korea will also celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations next year with an event called “Celebration 2013.” On Jan. 14, the activities of the event will be announced live on the Internet at www.korea.gc.ca. The celebration is expected to feature political, strategic, defense, and academic exhibitions, and will also showcase visual and perfor-mance arts.
In spring, Canada will be commemo-rating the Imjin River hockey game, played between Canadian soldiers during the Korean War in the early 1950s, with an annual memorial tournament near Seoul.
Dave Cunning is a freelance writer from Kelowna, BC, Canada. Read his blog http://davecunning.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter: @davecunning
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