Image: Chosun Ilbo special on rural immigration. Credit: Chosun Ilbo.
South Korea is known to be racially homogenous, but the country has been quietly diversifying with an increasing number of immigrants in rural areas. (See previous coverage, “Where Immigrants Are.”) In a two-part article, Chosun Ilbo 조선일보 has been highlighting how the rural areas are adjusting to the immigrants, primarily from south and southeast Asia, who are beginning to form the backbone of their communities.
In the Namcheong village of Muju-gun, Jeollabuk-do Province 전라북도 무주군 남청마을, the village leader is Kim Joy 김조이, a 33 year old mother of four who immigrated from the Philippines to South Korea in 2008. In a village where most of the residents are over 70 years old, Kim’s vibrant energy is a sorely needed presence. The entire student body - eleven students - of Chunsan Elementary School 춘산 초등학교 in Euiseong-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province 경상북도 의성군, is made up of the children of first generation immigrants from Vietnam and Cambodia.
Local governments are adapting to the immigrant population as well. Since 2019, Jeollabuk-do Province 전라북도, largely a rural province with a significant number of immigrants, began broadcasting a summary of Korean news with Chinese and Vietnamese subtitles. Samho West Elementary School 삼호 서초등학교 in Yeongam-gun, Jeollanam-do Province 전라남도 영암군 runs a Korean language class for students whose first language is not Korean, as well as courses in Vietnamese and Cambodian for students whose parents are not native Korean speakers. Local governments in rural areas are investing in translation softwares that provides interpretations for spoken and written words, in order to service the residents who don’t speak Korean.