The Seoul metropolitan government this year opened the Seoul Global Center as a way to turn itself into an international metropolis. It also set up Global Village Centers in five neighborhoods with large foreign populations: Yeoksam-dong, Yeonnam-dong, Hannam-Itaewon, Ichon-dong and Seorae Village near Banpo.
The Global Village Centers provide living information for foreign residents in Seoul, ranging from business and investment advice to support on electricity, gas, water and transport.
The head of the Global Village Center in Yeoksam-dong is Christina Confalonieri, who is something of a celebrity here because she appears on KBS' "Global Talk Show: Talk with Beauties." When she came across the vacancy notice for the headship of the center on the Internet, Confalonieri applied without hesitation and was picked for the job over four competitors. She felt she could understand the trials and tribulations of other foreigners living here, since she has been through the same difficulties.
Confalonieri says many foreigners seek help because they can find no English direction signs on the streets. Korea's subway system, she says, is the best in the world since it is easy for foreigners to use with its clear English directions and user guidelines. But other places, including public agencies like the post office, rarely offer English guides, and that is inconvenient for foreign residents, she adds.
Confalonieri is willing to help all foreigners visiting her center, from those who seek jobs to those who want to learn Korean. She herself is keenly interested in the culture and life of other countries, studying international law at graduate school. She says she always wanted to live in a foreign country rather than her native Italy. "I thought living in a foreign country would be exciting, and I would live in another European country. But I met a Korean man, not a European, and came here," she recalls. "I quit what I was doing in Italy to come to Korea. But it was all right: I was able to start something new here."
"When you live in a foreign country, trying to understand its culture is the most important thing," she says. "I learned taekwondo, calligraphy and Oriental painting to understand Korean culture after I came here." She advises foreign residents to get to know as many Koreans as possible, and experience their lifestyle: it's a shortcut for adapting to Korean society. "Foreigners should try to learn Korean culture, of course. But Korean people should also try to understand the culture of foreign countries. Koreans and foreigners can understand each other when they get along." She promises to help both foreign residents and Koreans.