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Warning: Do Not Learn Korean This Way

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When learning a language, it is very easy to struggle or become demotivated because of the way that you are studying.

Think back to when you learned a language in high school. Many people can’t remember much of the languages they learned at school despite spending many hours studying them. And as a result, they believe that they are naturally bad at languages.

The good news is that usually that’s not true, and now you have a second chance. If you make use of better techniques you will find that language learning can be surpingly fun, simple, and effective!


Don’t use Romanized Korean

When studying Chinese or Japanese, students are often advised to avoid learning any characters at the start and focus on learning the basics through Romaji or pinyin. For those languages, the huge effort required to learn how to read characters makes this approach a good one.

But you’re learning Korean! Korean has an incredibly simple writing system that can be learned in less than 90 minutes. With this in mind, the time costs of learning Hangul (the Korean writing system) are minimal.

The advantages of learning Hangul are huge.

Firstly, it will help you pronounce words properly so when you speak Korean you can actually be understood.

Secondly, it allows you to start noticing patterns as soon as you start to learn Korean. For example you might start noticing that lots of words to do with school have 학 in them. Some examples are 학원, 학교, and 수학. Noticing these things can help you learn new vocabulary easily.

Thirdly, it will allow you to learn Korean while you are just walking about on the street as you can read signs, this is a far more interesting way of learning words like 약국 or 안과 than using learning them off a vocabulary sheet.

2. Don’t only memorize phrases

The first purchase for many travelers is the Lonely planet phrasebook. While this might be able to help you out in a tricky situation, it isn’t a good method to help you learn Korean. This is because when you first start studying, all of the words in the phrase are unknown, so learning a phrase is like trying to remember a fifteen digit telephone number. It is too long and you are likely to make a mistake when saying it.

Due to the hierarchical nature of the Korean language, the phrase that you are learning might be wrong anyway as phrasebooks don’t explain when to say 안녕 and when to say 안녕하십니까, for example. Once you have enough knowledge to understand the phrases, then learning them will be much easier!

3. Don’t just read without implementing. Practice!

Using the Korean you learned allows you to test how it is used naturally. For example, try saying something that you have studied out loud to someone.

If you get a positive reaction from that person, then you will remember it better.

If you get a negative reaction then you know that your study materials didn’t explain the context properly.

For example, there are two words that mean etiquette, 예의 and 예절, to find out the difference you have to actually try to use the language and see if you are understood or corrected. It’s a great way to learn the subtleties of Korean!

4. Don’t think more is better

With all of the available free content on the internet, people inundate themselves with too much vocabulary and grammar. It is better to know 1000 words really well than to ‘kind of know’ 5000 words.

To use words, they need to be able to jump out of your brain quickly. If you study too many words, then this can be a problem. It is better to focus on the structure of the language so that you can easily understand sentences despite the word order and nuances being different from English. Being able to guess words from context is a much more valuable skill than just knowing thousands of words.

5. Don’t rely on willpower – have a plan

If you have a plan for learning Korean, then you can learn much faster. Without one, you can easily get bogged down and lose motivation. Even with all the willpower in the world, you wouldn’t run a marathon without a training plan, would you? So why study a language without a plan?

With all of these “don’ts”, you may be wondering where the “do’s” are. Here we go!

Here is the solution, 5 things you should “do”

1. Do study consistently, even if it’s for 5 minutes a day

Study Korean 5 minutes a day

Even 5 minutes helps!

By making something a habit, it becomes much easier to do. It allows you to break down big tasks like learning 1000 words into small tasks like learning 20 words a day. It also prevents you from forgetting what you have already learned.

2. Do have a goal in mind

And laser focus on that goal! Learning a langauge is no small task. Native level fluency is so far off for beginners that without a goal, you can easily lose motivation. Choose a realistic goal and then focus on that goal. Start small. Once you achieve your small goals, this success will bring you the confidence to aim higher.

3. Do balance your studies

Balance your Korean studies

Balance helps you learn faster

The combo of reading, writing, speaking, and listening all complement each other. It is natural to be better at one of these than the others, but you shouldn’t let your strengths and weaknesses affect your study. Keep working on each part of the language a little bit each day and you will see your weaker skills improve.

4. Do learn the fundamentals

The biggest differences between Korean and English are the sentence structures and grammar. Practice is needed in order to understand sentences, so you should focus on this in order to improve your understanding. This will allow you to participate in conversation and to guess the meaning of unknown words.

It is tempting to just study more words, but that can only get you so far. If you can’t make a sentence quickly enough, you can’t join in a conversation, no matter how many words you know. That’s no fun!

5. Do focus on a reliable way to learn Korean, and follow it

Jumping around from program to program and using multiple resources can actually make learning more difficult. Programs are designed so that each chapter reinforces the previous one, allowing students to naturally build on and retain what they have learned.

If you study Korean by using multiple programs then you will likely cover the same material multiple times in an inefficient way or end up forgetting what you have learned.

Using a single program can also help you by giving you concrete goals to aim for, such as passing level one of the program. Make a plan that you can stick to, and you will find studying Korean to be both easy and fun!


What are your do’s and don’ts for studying Korean?

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Show and Tell ESL Speaking Activity: Not Just for Kids!

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Show and Tell ESL Speaking Activity

Skills: Speaking/listening
Time: 1-2 minutes per student (no questions). 4-6 minutes per student (with questions)
Level: High beginner to Intermediate, all ages
Materials Required: Nothing

Show and Tell is a classic activity from way back in elementary school but it can work well in your ESL classes too. Tell students a few days before the “show and tell ESL speaking style” class that they need to bring an object from home that is meaningful to them. If it’s something really big (a piano) or something that doesn’t transport easily (a cat), then they can email you a picture to put up on the screen instead. Students give a short presentation, talking about the item and why it’s meaningful to them.

The audience can ask a few follow-up questions. In order to make the question time go more smoothly with shy classes, you can put students into teams of 4-6 and each team has to ask one question. You could also award points or a reward to the 3 or 4 students who ask the most thoughtful questions.

Teaching Tips:

This activity is an excellent way to get your students doing presentations in a low pressure way. If they have something familiar to hold on to, they’ll feel less nervous than standing in front of the class with nothing. In addition, everybody likes talking about themselves!

Instead of doing this activity in a single class, you could do it over the course of a semester with one or two students going at the beginning or end of class; you can assign specific days to each student.


  1. Tell students to bring a meaningful object from home, or send a picture if bringing the object isn’t practical.

  2. Students introduce the object in a short presentation of 1-2 minutes, depending on the level.

  3. The other students listen and can ask some follow-up questions.

Love this activity? There are 38 more like it in this book: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Teenagers and Adults. Lesson planning made ridiculously easy!

The post Show and Tell ESL Speaking Activity: Not Just for Kids! appeared first on ESL Speaking: Games and Activities.

Jackie Bolen: How to Get a University Job In Korea


My Life! Teaching in a Korean University

University Jobs



Gayspeak: 연대 (Solidarity)

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Today, I'm introducing a very important word as it relates to the fight for equality!

연대 (yeon-dae)

Very cool word linguistically. The 연 is the Chinese 連, which means something like adjacent and the 帶, unless I'm mistaken, is the same symbol used for your year of birth/Zodiac sign (띠). 

Anyways, you'll see solidarity in 행동하는성소수자인권연대, the activist group Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights

I've been very impressed with the global solidarity we've seen in response to the efforts of homophobic groups aiming to cancel this year's Queer Culture Festival. Particularly, I want to send a shout-out to Seoul--Tokyo, which has been constantly uploading photos of Japanese citizens sending their support. Check out their Tumblr page for more pictures. 

우리의 강한 연대 의식을 세계적으로 발휘합시다! 

Let's demonstrate our strong sense of solidarity globally! 

Bubbling goodness

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Yay! Summer vacation is here! I love it when my kids are around, waking up late, heavy breakfast at noon, playing and chatting until lunch time and continuing to play and chat until dinner. It is pretty fun and I am enjoying every second spent with them. 

Today, we ventured out of our home even with the MERS situation hanging above our heads. Few people were wearing masks, there were sanitizers even inside the bus for public use, and antibacterial wipes everywhere. Maybe a little less crowd in the malls, and deserted restaurants. Everything is a bit gloomy and depressing here in Seoul :(

But we decided to try out something new today. We tried out the Red Sun restaurant in the Ipark mall in Seoul. Nice, clean, restaurant and the cute little drawers in the tables for the forks and spoons. Pretty neat! 

The meal consisted of a platter with noodles, spagetti, topokki (Korean rice cakes), eggs and veggies along with a special sauce. The platter is then placed on the stove right on the table where everything cooks along with the sauce! 

Assortment of items on our platter on the stove on our table
Bubbling goodness :)
We chose vegetables with our meal, there was also the seafood, ham or pork to choose from. 
We had to have some more topokki extra to this amazing sauce!
The sauce was sweet-spicy concoction that tasted amazing! I also like the way we had to share from the one big platter. Lots of selfies, chatting and a full stomach, we left the restaurant thinking that it was a very nice experience. Something I would cherish forever! 

W for Bubbling goodness Worth remembering for ABC Wednesday

30. – 34. NY Hotdog & Coffee, Waffle & Caffe, Cupcake & Coffee, Cafe DOU, Ruban Coffeebible (Busan, Gimhae)

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Sometimes, coffee is just not enough.

Some prospective business owners recognize this and decide to add something else to the mix, in hopes of attracting a wider audience, whether that’s hot dogs, cupcakes, or the Lord above.

NY Hotdog Coffee. Or, is it Hotdog NY Coffee? I should definitely try this sometime. I have had hot dogs in Korea, at a place called Hunch's. Frankly, they tasted like they had been made by someone who had never eaten a hot dog before. So, I am a little cautious. This location is Samgye-dong, Gimhae.
NY Hotdog Coffee. Or, is it Hotdog NY Coffee? I should definitely try this sometime. I have had hot dogs in Korea, at a place called Hunch’s. Frankly, they tasted like they had been made by someone who had never eaten a hot dog before. So, I am a little cautious. This location is Samgye-dong, Gimhae.
Waffle & Caffe. Waffles are another of those imported treats I am unsure as to why they specifically grew in popularity here. But, a well-crafted waffle dessert paired with hot coffee does sound nice. This is located in Naeoedong, Gimhae.
Waffle & Caffe. Waffles are another of those imported treats I am unsure as to why they specifically grew in popularity here. But, a well-crafted waffle dessert paired with hot coffee does sound nice. This is located in Naeoedong, Gimhae.
Cup Cake & Coffee. Cupcakes seem to be gaining some traction in Korea, as evidenced by another recent post for L'Revelry, which apparently also specializes in cupcakes. This place is located in Gwangan, Busan, heading toward the beach.
Cup Cake & Coffee. Cupcakes seem to be gaining some traction in Korea, as evidenced by another recent post for L’Revelry, which apparently also specializes in cupcakes. This place is located in Gwangan, Busan, heading toward the beach.
Cafe DOU. Coffee and doughnuts. Is there really any other perfect combination? Maybe coffee and cigarettes, but I quit smoking years ago. This is located in Gwangan, Busan.
Cafe DOU. Coffee and doughnuts. Is there really any other perfect combination? Maybe coffee and cigarettes, but I quit smoking years ago. This is located in Gwangan, Busan.
Ruban Coffeebible. Sometimes, coffee shops don't just add something like cupcakes or doughnuts. Sometimes, they add Jesus. This small coffee shop is not coincidentally located next to a large church in Namcheon, Busan.
Ruban Coffeebible. Sometimes, coffee shops don’t just add something like cupcakes or doughnuts. Sometimes, they add Jesus. This small coffee shop is not coincidentally located next to a large church in Namcheon, Busan.

JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.

how would a basic laptop be in seoul?

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uh I’ve never really looked but I think you could get something basic for just a few hundred bucks....

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*Videos and regular photos are the property of ShimmeringSeoul*

*Animated GIFS belong to Tumblr and miscellanous artists*

Thank you for watching/reading! 

How to Teach ESL Speaking

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Teaching ESL 101

Over at my new website, My Life! Teaching in a Korean University, there are some posts which you need to check out if you teach conversation or speaking classes. Kind of a “how to teach ESL speaking 101.”

Vocabulary Review Game for ESL Students– This is a fun game for kids as well as adults which works best in a smaller class of 12 or less. It’s possible to play with larger groups, but it will be far less student-centered. It requires very little in the way of prep, which is most definitely my style.

For even more ESL Speaking activities and games, delivered straight to your inbox, sign up now:

Odd One Out Warm-Up Game– I always like to start my classes off with a warm-up and this is an easy one that the students seem to enjoy. It also requires almost no preparation time.

How to Begin a Conversation Class– Start your class off well by avoiding the blank stare of death, which is all too common in many Asian countries (especially Korea where I teach!).

Teaching our Students How to Ask Questions– Students are often very weak at asking questions. I explain why as well as give some advice about how to deal with this problem.

Tips for Teaching English– For the total newbie to teaching ESL or EFL to adults, but most of the advice is applicable to children as well.

The book you need to help you make your ESL Speaking or conversation classes as awesome as possible:

39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Teenagers and Adults

The post How to Teach ESL Speaking appeared first on ESL Speaking: Games and Activities.

How to enjoy the Coolest Water Sports in the middle of Seoul: let’s flyboard on Han River!

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Summer in Korea is humid and hot. One of the best ways to fight against the hot hot summer is definitely WATER SPORTS!

One of Trazy’s customers, Yoonhee C, went on a one fine day in June to explore what exactly flyboarding is.

I visited Jamwon Hangang Park to ride flyboard. The staffs are very kind and you can the instructions on how to prepare the ride in many languages (English, Chinese, Japanese). The staffs are fluent in English so foreigners don’t have to worry about the language problem.

image (4)

After watching the instruction on how-to-ride, you will change to the swimming suit (you have to bring your own swimming suit). And before you ride the flyboard, you will learn how to ride it. It is not difficult at all because the experienced instructors tell you in details how to do it. So don’t worry about riding the flyboard!

image (2)
Listening to details!
image (3)
Getting ready.

image (1)While riding the flyboard, you have to control yourself for balance. And it’s totally interesting and fun after you know how to do it!!

플라이보딩1 플라잉보드4

After you enjoy riding, you can take a shower at the facility so don’t forget to bring shampoo & body wash and also clothes that you can change after the activity.

And because you ride flyboard on Seoul’s most beautiful central river- Han river, it will be memorable and worthy.

In the case of people who are worried about the falling into the river like me, this is the perfect challenge! Because you wear an air jacket while riding, you do not have to be afraid of falling into the water too much!

flyboardAnd of course, you can book this special flyboarding water sports activity exclusively on Korea’s #1 Travel guide-Trazy!

a service for travelers to easily share and discover the latest hip & hot travel spots from all over the world. 
We are currently focusing on Korea as our destination and plan to expand to other countries gradually. 

The MERS Panic and Painfully Obvious Need to Clean-Up the Korean Regulatory State

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I wrote a story about the South Korean MERS panic for this week’s Newsweek Japan (available here). Basically, I make the same argument as my friend Se-Woong Koo from Korea Expose (which you really need to start reading). The panic shows just how much South Korea needs to get its act together on public safety and competence in government.

It is ironic that when Park entered office, the biggest fear was ideological – that she might imitate her father’s harsh governing style, or that her term would trench warfare between conservatives and progressives over her father’s legacy. Now – after NIS, the nuclear materials scandal, Sewol, the staffing circus, MERS, and so on – the questions are far more elementary – do Park Geun-Hye and her closest aides just have the basic technocratic skills/focus/interest to run a modern complex country and bureaucracy? I would be surprised if her approval rating breaks 50% again before her term ends. It’s once again around 30%, as it was after Sewol. Competence is almost certain to be main line of critique from the opposition in next year’s parliamentary election.

For previous essays on this topic, go here, here, and here. The full essay follows the jump.


It is now more than three weeks since the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) came to South Korea. This is the largest outbreak to date outside of the Middle East. An elderly Korea tourist apparently brought it back from a trip to Saudi Arabia. Korean doctors originally did not recognize the symptoms, and early patients were either sent home or placed in crowded hospital facilities in close proximity to other patients. This allowed the virus to spread in hospitals where the outbreak has been worst and where public pressure, trending toward paranoia, has been most intense.

At the time of this writing, the total number of infections exceeds one hundred and twenty. At least four people have fully recovered, while ten, all elderly or otherwise ill, have passed away. Approximately three thousand others are in preventive isolation. The virus appear to be most lethal for seniors, the very young, and the infirm. The American Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 35% of MERS patients die. In Korea, the outbreak remains mostly clustered in Seoul and its regional hospitals.

Korean media are now suggesting that the virus is mostly ‘contained,’ and that this week may be its peak. If the number of new cases drops in the next week or two, it seems likely the crisis has passed. Neither the CDC nor the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued major travel alerts or otherwise discouraged people from visiting South Korea. They recommend only basic hygienic action such as regular hand-washing. There has been no break-out into the larger population and that seems increasingly unlikely.

Bungling, then Panic

By the standard of the best known recent epidemic – Ebola in 2014-15 – Korea’s MERS contagion is relatively minor. Ebola hit west African states like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea very hard. Over 11,000 people have died since March 2014, with more than 27,000 people infected. Unlike Korean MERS, Ebola broke into the general population. Medical personnel were so routinely infected as well, that the sick sometimes went untreated. Social prejudice and superstition lead to discrimination against survivors. In some cases, military intervention was need to maintain order. Treatment personnel wore dramatic biohazard suits. Foreign attention grew as panic increased of a global spread.

MERS in Korea has seen nothing like this ‘Hollywood’ style disease outbreak. There are no helicopters, camps, or public disorder. Korea’s health system is vastly more advanced than those combatting Ebola. When Korea fought Swine Flu and SARS last decade, it resisted well. Not a single case of SARS was reported because of vigorous monitoring at ports of entry and a dedicated government response structure.

Unfortunately, such protocols were not followed in this case, and a mini-panic ensued, greatly over-inflamed by a sensationalist media response both in Korea and abroad. The government’s initial response was fairly passive, for which it has been strongly criticized. Early suspected patients were sent home and told only to sleep alone and maintain distance from others. No public guidelines were forthcoming to citizens; the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Koran analogue of the US CDC, were not heard from as the early anxiety brewed toward panic.

Little information was shared on who was sick and where, a decision which generated particularly intense anger and confusion. The government initially refused to provide the numbers of the ill, their demographic information, or the hospitals they were in. There is a widespread belief that if the government had provided such information, those who later contracted MERS in hospital might have avoided it by choosing a different hospital. Lawsuits are almost certain in the future, as victims’ families blame the government and seek restitution. In fact, so bad was the panic flowing from the information blockage, that the opposition mayor of Seoul broke with government protocol and provided such information on his own in a dramatic late-night press conference. The ensuing infighting and back-biting suggested that the government simply did not know what it was doing.

The problems continued. Unlike SARS, the government, until recently, did not step in to coordinate the response. President Park Geun-Hye did not hold a cabinet meeting on the issue until June 9, three weeks after the first case appeared and well into the national panic over its spread. Only just this week did she agree to cancel a foreign trip due to rising pressure to lead on the issue. Now, multiple government agencies and task forces have been assigned the problem, yet further compounding confusion about who is leading the central response. In practice, the spread has been stopped by local doctors in the Seoul area hospitals, the real heroes of this story.

Given this botched response, hard on the heels of similarly botched response to the Sewol ferry sinking last year, a minor paranoia has gripped the country in recent weeks. Panicked parents have pressured thousands of elementary schools to close, even though the outbreak is clustered in hospitals. Lurid stories referencing Hollywood imagery of epidemics and contagion have filled the internet. Many trips, vacations, outings, tourist holidays, and so on have been cancelled, again due to spiraling anxiety rather than widespread uptake of the virus.

The hysteria has spread around Asia as well. Hong Kong issued a ‘red’ travel alert. The Shanghai Film Festival told Koreans not to come. Tourists from China and Japan have cancelled thousands of trips. Airlines from southeast Asian countries, including Singapore and Malaysia, have cancelled flights. All in all, it is an awkward regional embarrassment for the world’s fifteenth largest economy and member of the G-20.

Indeed, so much hysteria has built up, both at home and abroad, that the government is now worried a ‘MERS effect’ will tip the economy into recession and damage the country’s national image. This week the Korean central bank cut the prime rate by twenty-five basis points, to an all-time low of 1.5%, to spur post-MERS spending. President Park said, “I urge citizens to refrain from excessively reacting to MERS for the sake of the economy.” So distrustful of their own government are Koreans now, that major media have taken to referencing foreign health authorities, such as the WHO and US CDC, to reassure people that Korea is safe.

The Politics of MERS

As the outbreak winds down, the political debate will only heat up. An enormous outpouring of confusion, then anxiety, and now increasingly anger has washed over the country. The government’s response has been widely criticized as late, botched and, half-hearted, even by conservative media outlets traditional aligned with President Park and her conservative Saenuri (New Frontier) Party.

Indeed, Saenuri itself has split over the issue, with Saenuri parliamentarians turning against the Blue House and their own president. National Assembly elections will occur next year, and the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) is sure to use MERS against the government. President Park though is term-limited to one five-year stint. Hence the internecine Saenuri split. Park’s tepid response does not threaten her own non-existent electoral prospects; she will likely retire from politics after her term, as do most Korean ex-presidents. But Saenuri parliamentarians in the National Assembly will face an angry electorate next year with little help from the unpopular Park. They are turning on her now in hopes that some distance from the administration will help them retain their seats.

It is easy to imagine that the NPAD next year will tie the botched MERS response to last year’s similarly flubbed response to the Sewol sinking (April 16, 2014), as well as the Park administration’s continuing staffing scandals. President Park has seen multiple high ranking officials either resign or be forced to withdraw their names from nomination. For example, she has already had three prime ministers – constitutionally the second in charge, similar to the American vice president – in just twenty-nine months, with yet another expected soon. All this will likely be tied into an overarching opposition narrative that President Park is incompetent to hold the office, and that her party is disinterested in clean government reforms.

President Park’s approval rating has lingered under 50% for much of her presidency, and at one point in the wake of the Sewol disaster it fell below 30%. Gallup Korea places it now at 34%. Given the scandals, Sewol, and now MERS, it is unlikely her numbers will rise above 50% before her term expires in 2017. This could bring the left into power for the first time in a decade.

Competence and the Korean Regulatory State

Longer term issues lurk in the background of this entire debate. MERS, Sewol, and the staffing scandals are only the latest indicators of the deep need to improve the Korean regulatory state and tackle endemic corruption. Park is hardly the first Korean president to wrestle with corruption and scandal. Almost all of her predecessor have been investigated after their presidencies. One even committed suicide, because indictment was imminent. Transparency International (TI), an NGO that ranks countries by perceived corruption, gives Korea a mediocre 43 out of 175. (Japan is ranked 15th; a lower score is better.)

The Park administration however has compounded these traditional Korean corruption problems with even more basic questions of competence and managerial ability. Are she and the people around her – many of whom date from her father’s time in the presidency decades ago – actually qualified and interested enough in directing the Korean state to perform its duties properly? Park’s continuously low approval ratings suggest the majority of Koreans do not believe so.

Park has always been susceptible to such critiques. She is the daughter of a previous president (dictator really), so much of her electoral appeal was in her name, rather than her accomplishments. Although an effective political operator for Saenuri, Park had little actual governing experience before assuming the presidency. Her predecessor, by contrast, had extensive previous executive experience as mayor of Seoul and a corporate CEO. As many people have said of US President Obama, the inexperienced Park may simply be overwhelmed by the sheer complexity and demands of the office. A similar critique was made of ex-President George W. Bush. His president father had established the family name which later made the son a viable presidential candidate. But the son lacked the actual professional qualifications for the office and was then overwhelmed when the Iraq occupation went off the rails and Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Korea, like most modern, wealthy states, has a large, complex bureaucracy tasked with insuring public safety and regulatory safeguards in an even larger and more complex economy. Yet again and again, issues of public safety arise that suggest that Korean bureaucracy is perforated with cronyism and corner-cutting. Park’s term alone has been deeply unnerving for public safety: In 2013, nuclear power plants around the country were shut down because of faked materials certificates, raising huge safety concerns and depriving the nation of power in very hot summer. The 2014 Sewol investigation suggested rampant cronyism in the regulation of maritime traffic. The ferry was significantly overloaded and a poorly trained crew was allowed to operate the ship, because inspectors looked the other way. And now MERS 2015 once again suggests Korea’s regulatory state is simply not up to the task of competently, dispassionately regulating in the public interest.

These problems are hardly Park’s fault personally, but her disinterest in the necessary reforms is unnerving. Park has repeatedly emphasized more economic growth, with her ‘creative Korea’ and ‘new miracle on the Han’ rhetoric. But much like China today, what already-wealthy Korea really needs now is not just ever more headline growth, but cleaner, less cronyistic, and more transparent growth. Unfortunately, the Park administration has gone the other way on this. Its response to criticism has been a press clamp-down so tough that it has affected Korea’s press freedom scores with external observers like Freedom House. On MERS, it sat on information until a public panic broke out, and the investigation of Sewol was politicized from the start and the ensuing reforms tepid. Indeed so big is the issue of clean, functional government in Korea now, that I predict it will be the centerpiece of the opposition’s legislative campaign next year.

Such questions bedevil any modern bureaucracy: the US looked callous and incompetent on Katrina and Iraq; Japan has been regularly accused of covering up the extent of the Fukushima disaster. But Korea’s TI score and seemingly endless government and regulatory scandals suggest the rot is deep. It is so widespread, that it has even hit Korean foreign policy. Park’s cancelled trip this week was a major visit to the United States to meet Obama, while last year the US and Korea agreed not to turn over ‘operational control’ (OPCON) of the Korean military in wartime to the Korean government in part because of competence concerns on the part of the US military. If nothing else, perhaps Park will embrace a clean managerial agenda, because she will leave the office as one of Korea’s most unpopular presidents if she does not.

Filed under: Corruption, Domestic Politics, Korea (South), Modernization, Newsweek, Scandal

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University


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