“Find a genre or profession you’d like to devote yourselves to and a mentor to guide you”
Rhee Yong-il, Ambassador for International Relations of Sejong City
Q: Please tell us about your job, Ambassador for International Relations of Sejong City.
A: Ambassador for International Relations provides advice regarding the city’s international affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends diplomats with extensive expertise and experience to cities or provinces as the ambassadors for this task.
I am currently working on various projects regarding the city’s international relations with the rest of the world including foreign local governments, international organizations, people, etc. For instance, I am working hard to make cooperative projects for innovative industries with Belfast in Northern Ireland and European Union (EU). I am preparing to attend the World Urban Forum (WUF) in Katowice, Poland and the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) World Congress in Daejeon next year in order to help Sejong city be better known to the World.
Q: Please tell us about Ivory Coast or Côte d’Ivoire.
A: Ivory Coast is located in the Gulf of Guinea of West Africa. It is one of the sub-Saharan countries like Burkina Faso and Niger for which I was also responsible as an ambassador. Ivory Coast was colonized by France in the 1800s and achieved independence in 1960. Ivory Coast was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa, with export goods such as cocoa and coffee beans.
South Korea and Ivory Coast have been on good terms for a long time. When both South Korea and North Korea were trying to be admitted into the United Nations as depicted in the recent movie Mogadishu, many African countries were under the strong influence of socialism and the non-alignment movement, and more in favor of North Korea. However, Ivory Coast was the first African country that established diplomacy with South Korea and this ignited other African countries to support South Korea. Products from Samsung, Kia and Hyundai have a good reputation in the Ivory Coast community.
Q: African countries reportedly began to be perceived as our potential partner in many areas. What is your view on the future relationship between Korea and these countries?
A: Many people may not know much about African countries and their culture. Africa is the youngest continent in the world, with a higher percentage of 20s and 30s population than any other continent. Many countries have already embarked on investment in the African market, which is full of possibilities. I have known one family in Ivory Coast. When the father bought a Hyundai car, the whole family was so happy with it. I say this as an example that once any country in this continent overcomes the language and cultural barriers, there will be much greater opportunities for mutual prosperity and cultural exchange.
Q: Please tell us some memorable things you have done as a diplomat.
A: Well, I am an international law expert, I have been engaged, for example, in the development of the laws of the seas such as Korea-China and Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement. While I was working in Thailand, I tried to assist North Korean defectors who then sought asylum in Thailand to find a way to Seoul.
Q: We hear that Sejong has made efforts to be an international city in the worldwide trend of globalization. Please tell us about this.
A: Well, I’d like to make Sejong City a “Geneva” of the Asia-Pacific area. Like Geneva, I hope that Sejong will grow to be a city of many international organizations and agencies, and the venue of their international events in the future as well as the center of international policy discourse.
In order to achieve that goal, Sejong should try more to lay down the basic infrastructure such as a railway station, an airport and highways. We have recently successfully hosted the UNESCO World Heritage Interpretation and Presentation Center to be officially opened next year. We are planning to bring more agencies of the UN and other organizations to our city in order to create an international atmosphere and status for Sejong City.
In light of “Smart City Policy,” Sejong successfully held its “Smart City Online Forum” this year. In the future, the ideal model of administration involves decentralization and balanced regional development. This perfectly coincides with the nature of Sejong’s Smart City Policy: to build a green, self-sustainable, people-centered Smart City.
Q: Is there any advice for readers who want to be a future diplomat?
A: There is more than one way to work in the field of diplomacy. I myself majored in French literature for my Bachelor’s and Law for my Master’s degree. You do not have to major in political science and diplomacy to become a diplomat. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are economic, cultural, legal and IT experts as well. You would be surprised that we also need computer science experts because everything is now digitally secured. We also need nuclear science experts.
If you also have a good command of another language in addition to English, it will be much better. I strongly believe English is not enough in some parts of the world. If you work in a foreign country and speak their language, you will be respected and also you can understand their culture even better.
Q: What would you like to advise for young people living in the 21st century?
A: The world is evolving faster than ever. If you can find a genre or profession you’d like to devote yourselves to, you should hold onto it and adapt yourselves to their development. Also, do not hesitate to find a mentor to guide you well in terms of future career and life. It is something I regret. I didn’t try to find my mentor early in my life.
Finally, I would like to ask you to support Sejong. And special thanks to the Monday Times. It will be a big help to the globalization of Sejong.
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