K-Pop and K-Drama are enjoying immense popularity worldwide, with BTS winning awards in the AMAs and getting nominated for the Grammys. At the same time, Lee Jung Jae, lead actor in the hit Netflix action series Squid Game, became the first Korean to win an Emmy.
These achievements are meaningful, but Jung Kil Hwa, President of the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE), believes their significance is also a jumping board for international audiences to experience Korean culture. “Korean dramas featuring Korean dishes have motivated a large global audience to try these foods, as evidenced by the cases of dalgona in Squid Game and gimbap in Extraordinary Attorney Woo. They are like an introduction to Korean culture,” he said.
He believes that people captivated by dalgona and gimbap will soon want to try other Korean products.
Once these people fall under the spell of dalgona and gimbap, they will become more interested in other Korean foods like samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly) and kimchi jjigae (spicy kimchi stew). This is the same for K-beauty as well. People often fall in love with Korean fashion and beauty after watching beautiful celebrities in K-pop music videos and dramas. But I want to stress that the quality of our foods and beauty products is on par with their growing popularity so that they can expand their global presence in the true sense.
— Jung Kil Hwa
But what happens if, despite all these well-accepted developments globally, some countries still manifest negative sentiments against Korean culture? This type of issue is part of KOFICE’s mandate.
KOFICE is a subsidiary under the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, aimed at promoting Korean culture globally and connecting Korea to the world through cultural exchange projects. From their recent research, Jung shares that countries like Thailand‘s and Mongolia‘s negative sentiments against Korean Culture were as high as that of their positive sentiments. KOFICE thus came up with activities to address the negative sentiments.
The fact that we promote our own culture unilaterally seems to have disappointed some people there, making them believe that Korea only cares about selling tickets and making money. Therefore, to avoid being too commercial and facilitate cultural exchanges that are truly mutual, we need to host more events like the Culture Bridge Festa and the Grow Twogether Project.
— Jung Kil Hwa
The Culture Bridge Festa is a KOFICE-organized annual event held in Korea that showcases food, music, and local products of different Asian countries, serving as an introduction of these countries’ cultures to Koreans and allowing them to mingle with foreign nationals. This year, the countries featured were Vietnam and Kazakhstan.
On the other hand, the Grow Twogether Project accepts singers from other countries to train under the K-pop system for about four months, after which they can debut their new songs in Korea. For this year, KOFICE invited the Thai girl group RoseBerry, which performed its new song “Butterfly” at the Asia Song Festival in Seoul on October 14.
KOFICE also had one other K-Pop-themed project in cooperation with YG Entertainment.
As part of our CSR activities last year, we also set up a dance academy in Buri Ram in Thailand, the hometown of BLACKPINK member Lisa. KOFICE and Lisa’s management company YG Entertainment worked together to build an academy where teenagers can learn dance for about a month. Maybe another big-name K-pop star would emerge from there.
— Jung Kil Hwa
Recently KOFICE also hosted the 2022 K-Culture Festival, which included a K-Pop concert attended by an estimated 35,000 crowd featuring popular groups NCT DREAM and IVE; a music awards ceremony in cooperation with U.S music magazine Billboard, musicians and bands showcasing diverse genres, and other activities for visitors, giving them a chance to enjoy Korean traditional culture.