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Title Viva Panama, Viva Corea! “Global harmony” created together by Panama and Korea
No 123 Inquiry 1149 Date 2017.12.30

Panama is a country that may feel a bit unfamiliar to Koreans. It is so difficult to find from a glance when you open the world map, and it is so far away that it takes a flight longer than 20 hours to get there. In November, the beautiful harmony that Panama and Korea created together was widely heard throughout Panama. The Korea Foundation for International Culture (KOFICE) and POSCO E & C conducted the <Hallyu Cooperation Project> based on cultural exchange between the two countries in Panama City, Panama, from November 11th to 19th. The goal of the project was to promote understanding and respect between the two cultures and to build Panama’s domestic cultural infrastructure. This project has been established as a representative social contribution project based on civil-government cooperation using the cultural exchange platform since 2012. Panama is also where a POSCO E & C thermoelectric power plant is being built. Attention to Korea is high in Panama: it’s so high that even its president visited the construction site of the largest power plant.

Panamanian and Korean volunteers sharing friendship

 Panama has notable geographic advantages—it reaches both major Oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic, being nicknamed the Panama Canal. The nation’s economy is rapidly rising, and it has established itself as an economic power in Central and South America. According to “The Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017” of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the global competitiveness rank of Panama is 50th among 139 nations, being the second-most globally competitive nation in Central and South America behind Chile. In terms of stability in the macro -economic condition field, it is ranked 16th, and it is ranked 12th in maturity in the financial market field. Contrary to its economic development, however, development in education and culture has been lagging. In the health and elementary education field, Panama is ranked 67th, and in the higher education field, it is ranked 86th. In the case of students of the National High School of Arts in Panama, where the project was carried out, the students were receiving training under poor educational circumstances, studying without basic and simple facilities, such as tables, chairs, and computers. And there were also many cases where students lived so far from the school that they had to walk 3 to 4 hours every day.

 Korean culture classes were held in this school for four days from November 13th to 16th, for four days. This was made possible because of the passion of the 120 students from National High School of Arts in Panama, who wish to become artists in the future, and the kindness of 41 university student volunteers, some from Korea and some Panamanians from KFP (Korea Fans Panama). Various cultural art education programs were prepared, some touching on aspects of traditional culture, and others covered modern culture, such as K-Pop dance and music, tabor dance, taekwondo, Korean traditional crafts, and UCC production. Although application for the programs had ended before they were even held, the programs were heated packed with numerous additional students who came to the site to learn about Korean culture on the day when the programs started. The students filmed every moment of their education with cameras so that they can record their joyful memories.

The cultural art education program

 Students were highly impressed by the foundation’s provision of the multimedia study room that contains computers, software, screens, beam projectors, and Hallyu and traditional art content of (DVDs). Since this is a school that focuses on the arts such as music and painting, a facility like this is necessary for the students to broaden their perspective and learn more about the world. The foundation empathized the needs and the difficulties faced by the  school and supported the multimedia room’s remodeling and the furnishing of its equipment in order to promote a better education infrastructure in Panama. The dedication of the revamped multimedia room was held on November 17th.

 Headmaster Alberto Olmos of National High School of Arts in Panama said, “Through Korean culture education, the students of our school were able to learn and enjoy the culture and wisdom of Korean, which has stood for thousands of years. This will be an unforgettable experience to them. It is because of this opportunity that our school received the best multimedia room we could ever expect, and we are sure that it will be a great boon for our students’ education.”

 On the last day, November 18th, the “Global Harmony Festival” was held at the Windom venue in Panama City. Koreans and Panamanians gathered together to share their cultures. About a thousand citizens of Panama City participated. The first segment was “Experiencing Korean Culture,” and the second segment was “Cultural Exchanges between Two Nations.” In the first segment, there were booths where people could experience Korean traditional culture such as Korean food, hanbok, traditional plays, and displays of traditional craftwork that students of the National School of Art of Panama made themselves in Korean culture class. On the day of the festival, there were people lined up in the morning at the lobby of the venue, and some families took pictures of themselves wearing hanbok. This shows how much Panamanian citizens welcomed Korea and enjoyed Korean culture, and this left a positive impression on those who had put in a lot of effort in preparing for the festival. Inside the venue, people cheered and showed their passion even before the festival began.

The site of “Experiencing Korean Culture” and the local audience

 In the following second segment, there were many colorful performances showcasing the beauty of Korea that were performed by the Korean university student volunteers, such as K-Pop dances, music, taekwondo dances, taekwondo, nanta, and tabor dance. Although they were not real K-Pop artists, the Panamanian citizens cheered for them, as they considered watching performances that the Koreans themselves prepared as an exciting event. Also, there were traditional dance performances and modern dance performances prepared by students of the National School of Art of Panama and local volunteers. The venue was filled with the unbridled enthusiasm of Korea and South America.

The stage of the cultural exchange festival between the two nations

 What charmed the audience most were the performances that the students of National School of Art of Panama prepared themselves during their four days of cultural education. They performed K-Pop music and dance, taekwondo, and tabor dance. Even though they were amateurs, they made a diligent and sincere effort to demonstrate the Korean culture they have experienced, and they received a boisterous applause. The students of the National School of Art sang “Magic Castle” as one, having memorized all of the Korean verses, and they were musically accompanied and conducted by the Korean university student volunteers. The audience began wiping away their tears because of the beautiful melody—it didn’t matter if they were Korean or a Panamanian. The last part of the chorus was translated into Spanish, so that all Panamanian citizens were able to sing along to the beautiful verse, “It is so precious, when enjoyed together.”

 Director of art education Marta Esther Rebolledo of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Panama City, who participated in the culture exchange festival, had this to say: “This was a very meaningful time for us. Through this cultural festival and support, the students of the National School of Art of Panama were able not only to grow and get more interested in self-development, but they also learned about respecting the culture and traditions of another nation. They now better understand the necessity of a harmonious communal life. I’m also grateful that the citizens of Panama were be able to enjoy this international cultural festival about Korea.”

 It had been a week since I had reluctantly left Panama. Then, I heard some good news from a volunteer from Panama. The school teachers and students of the National Art School of Panama were so impressed and motivated by the K-Pop dance class that they decided to open a new dance class in their school. It was just a short time, no more than a week, and the festival has already given them new dreams. I hope the seeds of cultural exchange that were sown will be a driving force behind the growth of young Panamanian students, as well as present a chance to create a friendly connection between Korea and Panama.