JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Jeju Island is often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea.
Over the years, it has become a popular destination for Asian tourists.
The island is aiming to become an international hub for tourism and investment in Asia but it needs to overcome its biggest obstacle in order to do that – the language barrier.
Forty-two-year-old Kim Chang Soo, who has been working for the Self-Governing Province of Jeju for 16 years, has been learning Mandarin since February.
Although it hasn’t been long, he has made much progress.
“This is really helping me a lot and much better than when I was trying to study while working at the same time. I think that my time here will also help me understand foreigners better,” said Kim, a Jeju official.
Determined to overcome the language barrier among its officials, the Jeju government offers full-time language courses for its employees.
For ten months, civil servants like him do nothing but study one language – Mandarin, Japanese or English.
And for the first four months, they have to live in the dormitory, starting the day at 6:30am.
Jeju hopes to produce about 100 employees specialising in the three languages within the next three years.
Said Jo Young Shil, manager of the HR development Institute in Jeju Province, “Right now, we offer Mandarin, English and Japanese. But we plan to also provide Russian. We would like to expand this to not just our civil servants but also to our residents here.”
Jeju Province plans to educate about 60,000 people within the next ten years as part of its efforts to become an international hub for tourism and investment.
More than six million people visited the island last year and as it finds itself becoming more popular among foreigners, especially from Asia, Jeju is confident they will be welcomed in their own languages.