By Kang Hyun-kyung

Kenyan Ambassador Ngovi Kitau has lauded Kim Yun-tae, the founder of the Multiculture Museum, for his decade-long endeavor to raise Koreans’ awareness of other cultures through exhibitions and language courses.

“We need to support people like Kim who are willing to invest in the process (of narrowing cultural gaps between Koreans and people around the world),” the envoy said during a joint interview with The Korea Times at the privately run museum in western Seoul on Wednesday.

Kim established the museum nine years ago with personal funds he raised through his educational-content business to help children and adults deepen their understanding of other cultures.

Kitau was grateful to Kim for providing a Swahili language program at the museum, saying it would help Koreans have a better understanding of Kenya and other African countries.

The Kenyan envoy and Kim sat down for a joint interview on the occasion of his donation of several Kenyan products and souvenirs he brought from his country.

The items will be on display at the museum

The five-story museum is full of exotic cultural items showing traditional customs of countries all over the world, from foreign banknotes to masks to musical instruments.

A big wooden Trojan Horse replica, which stands in the center of the museum, divides the building into two sections and each section is separated into smaller segments containing exhibits he gathered from all over the world during his trips to some 30 countries.

Some of them were donated by foreign embassies.

Kim, a former businessman, admitted that operating such a big facility with his personal funds sometimes put him to the test as he has often faced financial pressure.

During the joint interview, Kitau and Kim exchanged their thoughts on the Korean government’s multicultural policy initiative.

Kim said the government spent a lot on affirmative action, while neglecting multiculturalism education for Koreans.

“I feel that there has been little change in the public’s understanding of multiculturalism Terms like lsquopeople in need’ or lsquothose who are suffering’ come to their minds first when they hear about multiculturalism,” the former businessman said.

“We’ve seen that some foreigners wrote badly about Koreans after they returned to their home country as they had negative experiences while living here.”

His remarks were construed as meaning that ordinary citizens’ understanding of multiculturalism and respect for other cultures lags far behind the demographic changes of the country.

The number of foreign-born people in Korea exceeded 15 million last year, showing that nearly three out of every 100 people here are foreign-born.

The rate of the increase of foreign-born nationals has grown much faster than the government projected earlier

Although minimal, a backlash against the fast-growing foreign-born population was noticed recently as some people alleged that expat workers took jobs that otherwise would have gone to Koreans.

Coupled with Korea rapidly becoming multicultural, such a xenophobic sentiment made it difficult for the government to handle multicultural policies.

Kitau noted that increasing people-to-people exchanges or trade has not led to awareness of multiculturalism here, partly because people have made little effort to get to know their counterparts.

“Culture is a very important issue, especially when countries or people are not familiar with one another Many countries and people focus on trade and do business while ignoring culture. This is a mistake,” the envoy stressed.

Overall, Kitau commented that Korea is on the right track in terms of multiculturalism

The government is committed to it, and the good news is the National Assembly is trying to define its role in raising the general public’s awareness of diversity, he said.

“The Korean government and the National Assembly take a very positive role in raising awareness of Africa Lawmakers created what they called the Friends of Africa Society and Rep. Lee Jun-young, now minister of fisheries, served as chairman for the group, although it was very brief (as he was later called upon to serve in government),” Kitau said.

“Last time, when the World Bank president visited Korea, all African ambassadors were invited to a meeting with him During an opening session, African dancers performed. This is the first time that African dancers were brought to Korea for a performance like that.”

The envoy remained optimistic about the government’s multiculturalism initiative as the legislature is joining in the effort.

SOURCE: The Korea Times