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The expanding Korea complex

Interest in the Korean language has been on the rise in Cambodia in the past few years, with large numbers of Cambodian job seekers heading to South Korea to work and South Korean companies hoping to capitalise on development opportunities in Cambodia. The South Korean and Cambodian governments signed a memorandum of understanding in 2007 to send thousands of Cambodians to work in Korea, and one does not need to look hard to see Korean construction projects going up around the country in places such Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

“I studied Korean because I wanted to work in Korea. My school director said if I finished the Korean course I would be able to go there.” said Hun Saona, a manager at the SKC Poly Clinic in Phnom Penh.

In order to work in South Korea, or work with Koreans, speaking Korean is a near necessity. “Koreans don’t like Cambodians using English, we use only Korean in Korea,” said Kimm Hee Sun, who is a native Korean teaching at the Korean Language Centre.

Due to a decline in development projects because of the world economic crisis, Korean companies have curtailed their recruitment of Cambodian workers. However, Korean speakers can still find a job with domestic Korean companies. “I got a job in a Korean clinic,” said Hun Saona. As the manager of the clinic, Hun Saona’s job is to “translate between Korean doctors and Khmer patients”.

More people are studying Korean because of the large number of Korean companies who have opened up shop in Cambodia. “I speak Korean, thus I may have a lot of job opportunities working with Korean companies.” said Sok Chan, a student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Department of Media and Communication.

According to the Phnom Penh Municipal Department of Education, Youth and Sport, the number of Korean schools registered in the city has increased from five to 10 in the past year, with 1,004 students and 46 teachers. Ministry officials say they expect this number will continue to rise.

Although Ang Bolin, a second-year student at the Institute of Foreign Language, says that she expects her job opportunities to be plentiful upon graduating, she also says she has a way to go to perfect her Korean. “I have spent two and a half years studying Korean, yet I still need to improve,” she said.

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