People-to-people exchanges in the education sector are one of the most important ways to connect two countries.
To further this practice, the Chilean Embassy recently announced the winners of its language contest.
The road to the final three winners started in January before current ambassador Hernan Brantes took the reins of the Seoul mission.
“Contests like these are very important for the future of the two countries and I hope other Latin American countries will do the same,” he told The Korea Herald.
The first place $2,000 prize went to Song Ji-sun of Ewha Womans University. Taking home second place and the $1,000 prize was Seoul National University student Bang Jin-man. Kim Gwi-ryu from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies won third place and $500.
Song, the first place winner, was born in Korea while Bang and Kim were born in Spanish-speaking countries.
Chile Ambassador Hernan Brantes at the embassy’s Spanish writing contest. Pictured with Brantes (from left to right) are Bang Jinman, Song Ji-sun and Kim Gwi-ryu. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
The theme for the first Chile Embassy Spanish Writing Contest was about Chile-Korea Solidarity.
Around 30 students applied and were judged on the theme as well as spelling, grammar, usage of the language and ― just as important ― the proper use of accents; something that can be tricky for even native Spanish speakers.
“We wanted to see how well they managed to write in Spanish while following the criteria set about Chile-Korea solidarity,” said Brantes.
The ambassador noted that he will conduct the same contest next year with a different theme: the role of women in both countries.
One thing that surprised Brantes, who was also one of the judges, was the contestants’ extensive knowledge of Chile. Furthermore, none of the winners had ever visited Chile, one of South Korea’s most important Latin American trading partners.
“It would have been impossible to know what they wrote about without doing some serious research,” said Brantes “because they went into great detail.”
The educational sector is slowly becoming an important player in the overall relationship of both countries.
Currently, there are about 50 Chilean students furthering their education at the post-graduate level in Korean universities. Out of those 50, only five are here under a Korean government sponsored scholarship.
“It is very hard and a lot of effort,” said Brantes for the 45 Chilean students studying in Korea on their own money.
Brantes said that there are also many Chileans of Korean descent who send their children here to study Korean.
Koreans in Chile formed Latin America’s sixth-largest Korean diaspora community as of 2005, according to the statistics of Korea’s Foreign Ministry.
Between 1997 and 2005, the Korean population of Chile grew by one-quarter to 1,858 individuals, surpassing in size the community of Koreans in Peru. Today the Korean community in Chile has ballooned to more than 2,500.
“So there are many Chileans of Korean descent learning Korean and speaking the language with a Spanish accent,” said Brantes.
The embassy organized the contest for the simple reason of winning the contestants hearts.
Brantes explained that in the future, once these Spanish speaking Korean students graduate and enter the real world, they will more likely be warm to Chile in their dealings in business, government or academia.
According to a report released by the Korea International Trade Association in April, the free trade agreement between Korea and Chile, which went into effect in 2004, has accelerated bilateral trade between the two countries over the past six years.
“This contest is another avenue we can use to build people-to-people relations for both countries,” he said.
By Yoav Cerralbo (email@example.com)