Steven Mckinney, chief of the Seoul Global Center (SGC)
By Kim Rahn
Expatriates' ideas that are different from Koreans can help Seoul's development through new approaches, but also means they may feel uncomfortable with local culture that they are not accustomed to, said the chief of the Seoul Global Center (SGC).
"So it is my role to be a bridge to boost mutual understanding", said Steven Mckinney, head of the one-stop help center for foreigners in the capital.
"One of the roles I play very importantly is helping foreigners understand the Korean people, the Korean government, why things are the way they are. Whether you like them, agree with them or whatever, at least you have to understand this is how things are in Korea", he said.
Mckinney also helps Koreans understand why foreigners think the way they do.
"I look at people like a bouquet of flowersall different colors, different shapes, different textures, different feelings, but all beautiful in their own way. So the role that I'm playing is trying to create that harmony and understanding".
A native of North Carolina, McKinney's connection with Korea started in 1990 when he stayed in Busan for four years. He came back to Korea in 2000 but this time to Seoul, and the next year he opened McKinney Consulting, which he is still president of.
Being appointed as the head of the center in May, the 59-year-old is leading it based on his various experiences including being a board member of AMCHAM-Korea; co-chairman of the Living in Korea/Membership Committee; board member of the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation; and co-chairman of the AMCHAM Korea Small- and Medium-Sized Business Committee.
New center and progress
The SGC chief expects the center will offer more support to expats when it moves to a new building to be open early next year. The 15-story building will be solely for the center.
"Currently we have a few people from immigration here, but we'll be putting all the Jongno immigration officials inside. We'll have another section for some chambers of commerce, and we'll have more space too".
McKinney said one effective change Mayor Park Won-soon adopted is having four Seoul Town Meeting sessions a yearone each for multiracial families, migrant workers, international students and business professionals.
"Previously we had the Seoul Town Meeting once a year for all foreigner issues. Now they changed to four, and separated them into four categories, which I think is more productive, because some issues may go through all areas but some issues are unique to a certain group of the population. I think that is progress".
The honorary Seoul citizen said such town meetings have contributed to Korea's fast development. "You don't see many other cities across the world where they listen to foreigners seriously; take them into consideration. But I think that's one of the reasons Korea has progressed so fastbecause the people do listen to ideas".
Education of multiracial children
Mckinney pointed out one of the most important issues regarding the growing number of multiracial families in Seoul is the education of their children, as they often have learning problems due to the specific family environment.
He said in order to educate these children and get them accepted into society, we first have to recognize that such children experience at least two cultures.
"They may have learning problems. If you just drop them in the Korean population, it doesn't seem logical that they will adapt 100 percent and do as well as a Korean person. If you recognize the fact that it's tough on them and it's stress on them and on the parents, I think we need more special education for learning problems and focus on helping them in a more aggressive way than in normal Korean schools", he said.
He suggested some kind of combination schools, as many of such children are from low-income families who can't afford the tuition at foreign schools.
"But if you build special schools for them, then you isolate them from the Korean population, so I don't think that's the best answer. I think leaving them in the schools but recognizing they have learning problems and figuring out the way for more language help is culturally effective".