World-renowned American ballet dancer Roy Tobias was known as the "father of Korean ballet." He originally intended to stay for a couple of years when he took the post of director of a Korean ballet company in 1987 -- but became so attached to the country he said it felt like home. He bought a traditional Korean house in Yeoju in 1995, dancing with village elders after performing a Shamanistic ritual to bless the new place. In 2001, he became a naturalized Korean and adopted the name Lee Yong-chae. He died in Korea in 2006 at the age of 78.
Carl Miller, who set foot in Korea just after its liberation from Japanese occupation, fell in love with its rolling hills and thatched-roof houses. He bought a 620,000-sq. m plot of ocean-fronting land in Taean, South Chungcheong Province in 1970, which became the Chollipo Arboretum -- Korea's first. Over the next 30 years, he imported around 10,000 plant species from 60 countries and cultivated the natural landscape; as a result, Chollipo Arboretum blossoms magnificently in springtime. He became a naturalized Korean in 1979, taking the name Min Byung-kal. He spent the remainder of his life helping the poor and awarding scholarships until he passed away in 2002 at the age of 81. He was laid to rest at his arboretum.
During the first nine months of this year, over 9,000 foreigners have become naturalized Korean citizens. By the end of the year, that number is expected to reach a record 13,000; 2,000 people took an exam held on Oct. 25 to become naturalized Koreans. They were tested on the meanings of various Korean words and verses of the Korean national anthem. "I consider it an honor to receive citizenship of Korea and swear to contribute to the prosperity and advancement of the nation." That was the oath sworn by Vladimir Savaljev, a Russian native and world-renowned expert in 3-D technology representing 26 people who received eligibility for Korean citizenship from the Justice Ministry. Deeply drawn to Korean Buddhism, Savaljev applied for Korean citizenship without hesitation after his friends recommended doing so.
Of the 54,000 foreigners who have become naturalized Korean citizens since 1945, Chinese comprise the largest group, with 45,000 people, followed by Filipinos, Mongolians and Pakistanis. Most are ethnic Koreans from China or other Asians who came to Korea in search of a better life. But recently, more European professionals have been adding variety to their ranks. Their motives vary from a deep interest in Korean culture to a desire to continue their professional careers here. Whatever their reasons for naturalizing may be, more foreigners are bound to apply for citizenship of countries offering open societies, rich culture and decent material prospects.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Dong-seop