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South Korea's New English Town
English camp part of national strategy to reduce overseas education
Terence Mitchell (terence)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-03 14:30 (KST)   
Overview of Paju's new English Camp
©2006 Ohmynews
Imagine going for a stroll down the street of any quaint little English town, with its characteristic pubs, restaurants and red brick terraces and, as in every U.K. town or village, everybody says hello to you in English.

But just then, you notice something typically uncharacteristic, reels of barb wire and warning signs in the distance reading "landmines nearby."

You quickly realize that this is not the U.K.; this is Paju, South Korea, also known as the closest city to North Korea and the infamous DMZ, and is completely surrounded by high-security Korean and U.S. military bases.

April 3 marks the opening of this new "English theme park" a complete replica of a British town right down to the red telephone booths, where Korean youngsters get to experience what it like to live in an English speaking country without ever having to step on a plane.

The US$90 million project follows in the footsteps of Ansan Camp that opened in August, 2004, also designed to dissuade Korean parents from sending their children abroad to learn English, but Paju camp resembles more of a town than a language learning center.

The theme park, consisting of more than 40 buildings including a theater, cinema, exhibition hall and a huge gymnasium can accommodate up to 700 students and 150 English speakers in its dorms. The town even has its own tram system, stopping in front of all the main facilities to unload the hundreds of day-trippers expected.

And in every single building, in every room and even out on the street, the only language permitted is English. Not only are almost all the staff English native-speakers, there is also a special "language police" designed to catch and give "demerits" to any child who even mutters to himself in Korean.

The project, by far the largest and most expensive of its kind undertaken by any government in the world, is part of the current administration's strategy to put an end to the $10 billion being spent overseas by Korean parents annually in their efforts to make their children learn English fluently.

Nowadays due to heightened competition for good university qualifications, most of the top universities like Seoul National have begun to require that applicants must pass at least two interviews in English, resulting in a massive increase in private English tuition fees as well as growing disillusionment with the public education system

At a press conference held at the camp last week Gyeonggi province Governor Sohn Hak-kyu, explained that "Paju camp is designed to reduce the recent increase in children going abroad, which has resulted family break-ups and the new 'Goose-father' phenomenon," where husbands remain in Korea to earn money while their wives and children live abroad.

Due to the government's particular concern over the clear link between English proficiency levels and social class, it has allotted 20 percent of class places to students from low-income families for free.

The reasons for Paju being chosen to be the location for camp is unclear, but some analysts have pointed to the provincial government's efforts to give the isolated area a new future after many of the U.S. bases around it are closing down, now that the U.S. military plan to move further south away from the DMZ.

Although the thought that North Korean troops are only stationed only a few kilometers away may be daunting to some Korean parents, most South Korean children are thrilled at the prospect of spending four weeks in the park.

As part of the Korean government strategy to help children learn English in Korea, at least 10 more similar camps across the nation are being built, with most of them located in the suburbs surrounding Seoul or nearby Busan, South Korea's second largest city.

2010 will also see the opening of South Korea's new "global hub" city Songdo, currently being under construction on reclaimed land just west of Incheon city. It is planned that at least 50 percent of all schools there will be English speaking only.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Terence Mitchell

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