Is South Korea Becoming a Multicultural Country?
D-Bo , Sept. 4, 2015, 8:58 a.m.
Some 1.74 million foreigners live in Korea at present, accounting for 3.4 percent of the total population, according to the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs. But data compiled by regional governments reveal a more diverse demographic landscape where foreigners account for more than five percent in 12 metropolitan cities.
Societies are usually considered multicultural when foreigners account for more than five percent of the population. Ten out of the 12 cities are located in Gyeonggi Province, which is home to factory complexes employing many foreign workers. And Geoje Island in South Gyeongsang Province is home to many engineers from Europe and Australia who work for the shipbuilding and heavy industries companies in the region.
The 16,352 foreigners in Geoje account for 6.6 percent of the population there, and they have given it something of a European atmosphere. Foreigners go sailing at weekends in the waters surrounding the island and play rugby and cricket. Artisanal sausages are commonly available. There are around 100 foreign restaurants and pubs on a strip popular among its overseas residents. The number of foreigners in Geoje has almost doubled from 9,235 in 2010. In 19 cities the proportions of foreign residents are higher than the 3.4 percent national average although they do not reach the yardstick five percent.
One is Gimhae, also in South Gyeongsang Province and around 30 km northeast of Geogje, where foreigners take up 4.4 percent. Each weekend, thousands of Southeast Asians flock to bars and restaurants in downtown Gimhae. As Korea nears the threshold of becoming a multicultural society, foreign enclaves are popping up around the nation. Home to 468,000 foreigners, Seoul has several districts that have evolved a distinctively foreign character.
Chinese make up the largest group of foreigners in Korea with 54.7 percent and form little Chinatowns here and there in the capital. Yeonam-dong in Mapo District is home to Chinese who were born and have lived in Korea, while many ethnic Koreans from China and Chinese workers live in Daerim-dong in Yeongdeungpo District and Jayang-dong in Gwangjin near Konkuk University is favored by Chinese students.
One in four French citizens in Seoul lives in Seorae Village in Seocho District, which has grown over the years into a major commercial district dotted with gourmet restaurants. Itaewon in Yongsan District, once a seedy strip lined with shoe and clothing stores and bars, has undergone a renaissance and is now home to a thriving restaurant and bar scene attracting trendsetters.
Ichon-dong in Yongsan is home to around 1,500 Japanese, and the main street is filled with Japanese restaurants and bars. Such enclaves are also popping up in other parts of the country. A Muslim community is starting to grow in Songdo, Incheon as used car buyers from the Middle East gather there. Two mosques have been built there already, and Indian, Turkish and other Muslim restaurants have begun to open next to the mosques. Southeast Asian neighborhoods have formed in Ansan, Bucheon, Hwaseong, Pyeongtaek, Seongnam, Siheung and Suwon in Gyeonggi Province as these cities have attracted many Southeast Asian workers.