Korea Times - NY man takes new approach to branding Korea
This is the third in a series of interviews that feature individuals who help promote Korean culture overseas. ― ED.
By Jane Han NEW YORK ― Korean people eat sushi, wear kimonos and speak Chinese? Korean food is just hot and spicy? Korean culture is the same as Chinese and Japanese?
So many misperceptions rule when it comes to Korea, but there’s one man who won’t let any mix-ups slide. ``It’s surprising and heartbreaking to see so many people misunderstand and misinterpret our country,’’ says Kang Woo-sung, who is in the forefront of numerous campaigns designed to raise awareness of Korea in the United States.
Based in Manhattan, Kang has so far organized efforts to correct confusing menus at the city’s Korean restaurants, clarified how Chinese New Year and Korea’s ``Seollal’’ are different ― and even went as far as introducing Korean ghosts.
During the famous Village Halloween Parade in New York, he managed to present dozens of Korean costumes as a way to familiarize foreigners to Korea in a fun and quirky way. ``I wanted to add another dimension to what’s already known about Korea,’’ said Kang in an interview with The Korea Times.
`` But it wasn’t easy getting dozens of people dressed up for the event.’’ He won permission from the SBS movie production studio in Korea to have the professional quality costumes shipped to the United States. In 20 days, he raised $3,500 with the help of 10,000 supporters to put the event together. ``It was yet another project that wouldn’t have been possible without the support from all those interested in Korean culture,’’ he says.
The 30-year-old, a popular power blogger and published author, has a solid following online where Koreans and foreigners alike share the same passion. For Kang, this passion dates back to when he first moved to the United States 15 years ago. ``I still vividly remember the very first day I opened my world history book in high school,’’ he recalls. ``Upon opening the chapter on East Asia, I was immediately overwhelmed. The Korea I used to know and be proud of from back home was not there.’’
According to the book, the country was still struggling with the aftermath of the 1950-53 Korean War, while people were suffering from malaria. ``Where are the stories about Korea’s miraculous economic progress, the miracle on the Han River, or the unprecedented rise of Korean companies?
It felt like Korea was still in the ‘60s in their minds,’’ Kang commented, saying that was when he first started taking branding Korea seriously. Having completed his master’s degree in consumer psychology at New York University, Kang now finds himself in a good position to ``sell’’ Korea as a brand to the world. ``I always try to get people involved because if I just show off how beautiful Korean culture is, it is just one-way communication or another form of advertisement yelling at consumers,’’ he said. ``It simply does not work that way.’’ Kang feels that the only way for the branding process to be successful is to have the Korean government, corporations and ordinary people work together in harmony.
``If one of the tripod legs is weak, the whole thing will collapse,’’ he says, stressing that ``ultra nationalism’’ and ``patriotism’’ are different. ``As much as I am focused on promoting Korean culture, mutual understanding and respect are crucial. No one culture is better than another,’’ he said. ``I’m just adding a unique flavor to the melting pot.’’
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