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Expat council gathers to advise Seoul

Representatives of foreign residents in Seoul on Wednesday shared ideas on how to make the city a better place to live.

Celebrating the first year since the launch of the Seoul foreign residents’ council, a total of 38 representatives from 23 countries and different walks of life gathered for a general assembly at the Seoul City Hall.

“We represent some 460,000 foreigners residing in Seoul,” said Taki Yukari, a Japanese office worker who settled in Seoul five years ago.

“As a chair of the counsel, I feel (a) good amount of pressure to deliver ideas (to Seoul City) that can spark changes in Seoul. I’m also glad that we’re starting to see some changes for the multicultural population here,” said Yukari, commencing the meeting.
Members of the representative council for Seoul’s foreign residents participate in a meeting at Seoul City hall on Wednesday. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)
Members of the representative council for Seoul’s foreign residents participate in a meeting at Seoul City hall on Wednesday. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)
Launched in December 2015, the representative counsel for Seoul’s foreign residents kicked off as an advisory body under Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Women and Family Policy Affairs division, with the aim of directly hearing from foreign residents and about the difficulties they face. Latest data from Seoul City shows that foreigners from 117 different countries have paid 15.7 billion won ($13 million) in taxes to Seoul so far this year, up 19 percent from the corresponding period in 2012.

Since its first meeting in July, 14 suggestions made by the representatives were adopted into policies at Seoul City.

One of the policies was to publish and distribute disaster prevention guideline booklets in 11 different languages for the convenience of foreigners.

“We were impressed by the depth and variety of suggestions they bring up during meetings,” Eom Gyu-sook, head of the Women and Family Policy Affairs division told The Korea Herald.

“As Seoul City’s work ethic states ‘governance through communication,’ we will continue to make improvements through ongoing communication with experts, foreign residents, travelers and more,” she said.

On Wednesday, Karolina Zasadzka, who moved to Seoul from Poland three years ago, raised a point regarding Seoul’s public transportation.

Zasadzka said that Seoul’s bike roads are not only small in numbers but authorities have also failed to properly control the speed limit of users and manage bike parking, compared to other companies.

“In Poland, citizens who use public transportation can enjoy privileges such as discounts in transportation fares, parking fees or even free museum passes. Seoul should adopt more user-friendly advantages to develop a bike riding culture for the environment,” she said.

Zasadzka said that Seoul could tap on a K-pop celebrity to become an ambassador to promote Seoul’s bike roads and bike rental services, raising user awareness.

Seoul City welcomed the suggestion.

“We like the idea of promoting Seoul’s bike riding system, since it could be significant in helping citizens avoid traffic congestion as well as to save the Earth,” said an official from the Public Transportation Service division at Seoul City.

To become eligible to work for the counsel, members need to receive recommendations from 10 foreigners residing in Seoul and go through examination by a selection committee at Seoul City.

Twice a year, all of the members gather to suggest ideas on issues largely divided into three sections: human rights and culture, improvements in the living environment and the strengthening of residents’ abilities.

By Kim Da-sol (