▲ A tentative land-use plan for the Jeju Global Education City shows clearly defined limits and protected zones. Photo courtesy Jeju Global Education City
Chaperoned by the loyal presence of Mount Halla in the distance and tightly hugged by natural gotjawal forests, the future site of the Jeju Global Education City is less than a five-minute drive from the picturesque southern coast. This setting might make Daejungeup seem like an intentional choice for Korea’s first self-sufficient English education city.
In reality, the physical environment had little to do with the selection of the location, and was in fact far from ideal at the onset.
“From the perspective of a developer, this land is not attractive,” said Clay Jang, deputy director of the Edu-City Department of the Jeju Free Inter-national City Development Center (JDC).
“There is so little land that can be developed compared to all the open land. If you are a developer, you want efficiency, but we are only allowed to develop this much.”
Because of Jeju’s ecological environment, many restrictions exist for land development. In building the education city, the developers, in conjunction with the JGEC committee, were made very aware of what could and could not be touched.
“There are species of trees that were specifically identified and so space has been cleared as natural space and green space for them,” said Christopher Bogden, project manager for JGEC.
Despite this hurdle, Jeju was the obvious choice for the placement of the school for economical, rather than aesthetic reasons.
In its quest to become a “Free International City” and promote global investment and businesses, the island province jumped at the opportunity to host the JGEC. Both local and foreign investors enjoy tax benefits and exemptions unique to Jeju, making the creation of the JGEC a smoother task than it would be on mainland Korea. In addition, the JGEC will boost Jeju’s leading industry of tourism. With so many economical motivations, nobody needed to stop and think about the best potential physical environment for the city.
Although Daejungeup’s lush surroundings may have had little to do with the placement of the project, the benefits of the setting have certainly been realized.
The original obstacle of limited usable land will actually assist in creating a fully-functioning entirely English city, the overall goal for the JGEC.
“By law, there can be no distracting buildings surrounding the school,” Jang said. This means that home-stays and other shops, which could compromise the opportunity of learning to survive in English, will not spring up in surrounding areas. “It could be very dangerous if you can’t control the boundaries. Hazardous facilities or businesses could be built around, and that’s not what we want.”
The location of the JGEC will require some travel time from other cities on the island. Consequently, students will not be easily tempted to revert back to Korean society and language with a simple stroll down the street. Also, by being outside of the island’s existing cities, the safety of students will be more easily monitored, a major concern of any parent with a child studying away from home.
The natural beauty of the area has certainly not been forgotten. “In an environmental sense, the land is very attractive,” Jang said. “There is so much natural environment surrounding the school.” In addition, people living on mainland Korea see Jeju as an exotic place that should be visited at least once in life, increasing the appeal of sending a child here to be educated.
The environment surrounding the JGEC offers an array of extra-curricular opportunities. Horseback-riding, hiking, golf, sea kayaking and scuba diving are all available within a short distance.
Despite the surrounding appeal of the land in Daejungeup, leaders of the JGEC project are not letting trees and coastal views distract them from creating a world-class educational environment. “Rather than focusing on ‘Why Jeju?’, we want people to look at ‘Why Jeju Global Education City?’,” said Park Chul Hee, director of the Edu-City Department, who has visited many private educational institutions around the world. “There are so many other schools that provide a similar natural environment. We are choosing to let the JGEC schools themselves be the attractive force to come.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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