Park Noh Wan, the Minister-Counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Viet Nam, recently became the first foreigner to receive the International Relations Doctoral Degree from the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam.
Park Noh Wan's thesis analyses the relationship between the two nations since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992 and discusses its future prospects.
Park, born in 1960, graduated from the Vietnamese Department of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. He spoke to Inner Sanctum about his time in Viet Nam :
Inner Sanctum: How do you feel as the first South Korean official to complete such an honourable education status in Viet Nam?
I'm delighted to receive this honour. The day I was granted the certificate, I felt like I got married to Viet Nam for the second time. I've been in love with the country for years and always respect Vietnamese people.
I came to know about Viet Nam and its ao dai (traditional long dress worn by Vietnamese women) when I was a fifth-grader in South Korea 42 years ago. During a lesson our teacher played the organ and sang a Vietnamese song featuring a Vietnamese girl in ao dai. I began studying Vietnamese language when I entered university. I came here for the first time as the consulate and second secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea from 1995-97. Today, Viet Nam is my second homeland and I plan to strive for a stronger relationship between two countries.
I plan to write articles incorporating what I could not fit into my thesis. In these articles, I will present my point of view about the development of Viet Nam and South Korea's relationship.
Inner Sanctum: How did you make time to complete the thesis?
It is challenging to study and work at the same time. As relations between the two countries grow, diplomats like me find their daily workload rapidly increasing. I had to spend nights and weekends writing the thesis.
However, since the topic of the countries' relationship is quite familiar to me, I didn't find the thesis hard to complete. Furthermore, I received whole-hearted and enthusiastic instruction from my Vietnamese advisor.
Inner Sanctum: Could you briefly describe the relationship between the two countries?
South Korea and Viet Nam have a close attachment to each other and quite a few similarities in culture and history. These are fundamental grounds for the two countries to expand their ties.
Currently, the countries have a strategic partnership. In the time to come, they should build more trust.
The two sides established their diplomatic relationship in 1992 when the focus was on economics and culture. This rapport is now expanding to other areas including politics, security and science and technology.
The leadership of both countries consider this relationship similar to a union between families by marriage, or between neighbours. Put even more simply, it is a brotherhood. To deepen and sustain that relationship, it is essential to build trust. I think this is the mission that we, the diplomats, have to carry out.
I expect to complete my three-year term next month. I plan to carry out voluntary activities back home where there are many multi-cultural families.
Currently, South Korea is home to around 50,000 families with Vietnamese wives and another 60,000 Vietnamese labourers. I hope to help Vietnamese brides and workers. Also, I have been invited to give lectures on Viet Nam at some universities.
Inner Sanctum: How has Korean culture influenced Vietnamese youth?
Viet Nam can be seen as the hub of the so-called "Korean wave" in Southeast Asia, as it has quickly adopted many Korean trends. One of the key reasons for this development is that both Viet Nam and South Korea highly value family. Vietnamese people like to watch Korean movies because they mostly reflect family relationships. The close cultural resemblance also makes Vietnamese youths enjoy the K-pop music genre.
Nevertheless, the one-way direction of cultural influence from South Korea to Viet Nam is a problem. In my thesis, I also approach this problem. There should always be exchanges, so the countries' relations can be sustained. We at the embassy will also do our utmost to promote two-way exchange and influence.
Inner Sanctum: What should Viet Nam do to export culture?
Previously, when South Korea's annual GDP was less than US$10,000 per capita, they hardly thought of cultural development. Now we attach much importance to culture. So I hope Viet Nam will do the same once living standards are improved. There should be national-level projects to promote culture.
Viet Nam should learn from South Korea's experience. Viet Nam has many typical cultural features that we can promote like the Quan ho Bac Ninh folk songs.
Both South Korean and Vietnamese people respect sentimental values. Cultural products with these features will easily catch on in South Korea.
Inner Sanctum: Could you say something about your family? Is it true that South Korean women abide by their husbands' will?
Family is of overriding importance to me. During my diplomatic term in France, my wife told me that since I had 12 years before retirement, I should decide on a speciality to focus on. She told me that it was better for me to study in Viet Nam.
I followed her advice because I'm always obedient to my wife. Without my family, I would not be what I am today.
As I observe in my thesis, both societies see wives as "generals". Vietnamese and Koreans both respect wives who are always hardworking, both at home and in the workplace. — VNS