Rural Regions Adjust to Influx of Foreigners

  • By Lee Hae-in

    November 06, 2021 08:13

    Foreign residents increasingly offset the hollowing out of rural areas as young Koreans flee to the cities.

    In provincial areas it is becoming more common to see children from multicultural families where only one parent -- normally the father -- and the spouse from China or Southeast Asia. One village has even set up a neighborhood-watch scheme consisting of foreign women.

    A grab from a local television news program in North Jeolla Province shows subtitles in Chinese and Vietnamese.

    One 33-year old Vietnamese woman has settled with her Korean husband in Namwon, North Jeolla Province. "I studied Korean for 14 years and can communicate, but it's difficult to understand the news because it contains a lot of current events and political terms," she says.

    But now there is help at hand because every Saturday a news roundup is shown in Vietnamese. "I can understand what's going on by watching the news in Vietnamese and I also feel appreciated as an immigrant," she says.

    North Jeolla Province has been providing Vietnamese and Chinese subtitles for the news on Saturdays. Kim Moon-kang, an official at the provincial government, said, "We are offering the service because the number of foreign residents is gradually increasing. We provided subtitles in the two languages because 70 percent of foreign wives are from China and Vietnam."

    Others are more concerned about the untidy habits of the newcomers. Yanggu County in Gangwon Province has posted warnings about littering in English, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Tagalog. County official Lee Ja-yeon said, "Many foreign wives and migrant workers live here, and they don't know how to dispose of garbage and recycling according to the rules due to the language barrier. As their numbers increased, we began to offer instructions in foreign languages."

    Other areas of Korea are adopting similar measures to cater to a rising number of foreign residents.

    Elementary schools teach extra Korean classes for children who may not be completely fluent yet. At one elementary school in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province, children from parents who come from Russia, Egypt, Uzbekistan and Yemen are taking the classes. Out of 340 students there, 50 are from multicultural families. The foreign mothers also often teach their language to the students.

    The Ministry of Interior and Safety has designated 89 municipalities nationwide as areas with a declining population. On average their population has dwindled 6.2 percent over the last five years to 4.99 million people.

    But over the same period, the number of foreigners living there jumped 10.6 percent to 140,821 people. A North Jeolla government official said, "As the Korean population declines, foreign migrant workers and wives are filling the void and playing an essential role."

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