The Korea Herald


Seoul City offers honorary citizenship to ‘bridgebuilders’

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 27, 2011 - 19:49

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Seoul City will confer honorary citizen certificates to 16 people from a dozen countries for their contribution in developing the capital and promoting Korea’s culture around the world, officials said Thursday.

Among the beneficiaries is Benjamin Hughes, 46, an international arbitrations expert and Christopher Vaia, 65, a soldier-turned-“Bridgebuilder.”

A retired Sergeant Major for the U.S. Forces Korea, Vaia has been an important figure in bridging the gap between the U.S. and Korean communities here through his organization, Bridgebuilders 46. Vaia founded the international friendship fellowship organization to help others in need in honor of his Korean-American 13-year-old daughter who passed away in 1991.

“I’m very, very honored, and for the last 20 years, I’ve dedicated the majority of my life to remember my 13-year-old daughter, Jeni,” Vaia told The Korea Herald.

“She was just a vibrant young lady and she was always trying to bridge the differences between the Korean and Japanese,” he said, who was once stationed in Japan with his family.

One project is the Korean Association of Retired Persons’ English Coaching, through which Vaia also makes it a personal goal every month to visit four nursing and social homes, and hospitals with other community members.

Hughes has spent over 15 years in Korea as an arbitrator for the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board and the World Intellectual Property Organization among others.

“Other than getting married and the birth of my two children, this is one of the most meaningful things that has happened to me,” Hughes told The Korea Herald, adding that Seoul is now his hometown.

The U.S. citizen is also an adjunct professor at the Judicial Research and Training Institute of the Supreme Court of Korea.

“The city plans to expand the cooperation network with those honorary citizens that love Seoul, in order to create a city that everyone is happy in, including foreigners,” said a city official

The city government has been offering citizenship to foreigners each year since 1959. The number of those given the Seoul honorary citizenship now totals 666 people from 91 nations.

Some 200 foreign diplomats and previously named honorary citizens will attend the ceremony on Friday.

Previous recipients include former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, American football player Hines Ward, and former USFK Commander Gen. Walter Sharp.

Honorary citizens can participate in a variety of municipal events as VIPs and enter city-run facilities free of charge such as the Seoul Museum of History, Seoul Grand Park and the Seoul Museum of Art.

By Robert Lee (