Monday, February 25, 2008

The Korea Herald: Regina Walton's Expat Interviews - Duerden delivers goods for KOTRA

Regina Walton's Expat Interviews - Duerden delivers goods for KOTRA

Anyone who lives in South Korea knows that this country is seriously trying to attract foreign investment. And with foreign investment come the foreigners who live in Korea to do business and invest in the economy here.

For Korea, that means making the country an attractive place for foreigners and their families to live. The Korea Trade-Investment Agency has a website called Invest Korea Online and it also publishes the Invest Korea Journal.

The man behind this is Charles A. Duerden, the public relations director for KOTRA. Like the foreigners Korea wants to attract, Charles is someone who is not only living and working in South Korea but is also raising a young family here.

Duerden is Canadian and has lived in here since 1996. "I was curious to see this phenomenon called Korea, which seemed to be at the center of a new emerging world in Northeast Asia," said Duerden.

"I was very excited about seeing Asia -- I had a close friend at a newspaper in Montreal who was in love with the idea of teaching English in Korea ... and he became a senior professor at Seoul National University."

He started as an English teacher in Busan. But before Duerden came to Korea, he was working at a newspaper in Montreal. He chose to stay with his job in Montreal while his friends went forward with their Asia plans. At the time, Duerden's daughter from a previous marriage was a fashion model and she regularly got assignments in Japan. He saw teaching in Asia as a way to learn about the culture his daughter frequently worked in.

Due to restructuring at the newspaper he worked for, he chose to take action in late 1996. He moved to Busan to teach English in December 1996. In January 1997, his wife, Elizabeth, who is French, joined him. Initially, he saw coming to Korea as a "working holiday" and had plans to teach in Korea for only one year.

Duerden said he was initially most impressed by the level of development. "The intensity of life and development in June 1997 struck me. I felt enormously privileged to be there to see this," he said.

"Busan is very heavily built up; ships laden with containers left Busan every hour to all parts of the world."

It was because of his wife that he first heard about the position at KOTRA. The investment promotion agency was seeking someone with a background in editing and corporate experience -- in addition to working at a newspaper, Duerden also had done stints with Pfizer and the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

He admits that he was not completely sure what the position would entail, but he took a chance and applied for the job. His application was successful, and he started at KOTRA in July 1997.

"Basically, I help raise the profile of Korea for investors overseas and within Korea among the business community," said Duerden on his position. "But my primary job is managing editor of Invest Korea Journal. I do a lot of interviewing, writing and editing myself, but I do have a lot of excellent assistants.

"I'm quite involved with advertising also. We had a campaign last year on CNN in October: Eye on Korea. We were with two other advertisers that were invited to participate. We had been talking to CNN about it for two years and it finally came to pass last year," he said.

During the time he and his wife have lived in Korea, they have had three sons. All three of their sons are being raised in Seoul. Duerden feels he is extremely lucky to have had the chance to raise his sons here.

"We're very pleased with the level of education we've been able to give them with the help of my company. Number two, would be the safe environment here.

"Three, they get to see and appreciate Asian culture, which I'm sure will always be a part of them. And four, I feel fortunate in general to live and work among so many people that are of such a high professional caliber -- both Koreans and foreigners -- and I'm glad my children are able to grow up and have these people as neighbors."

He realizes that there are not many opportunities for foreign education in Seoul. He went on record to say that Korea is at a critical time, where it must invest in developing education choices for the children of foreign residents in order to successfully compete with other Asian hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong.

"If you talk to any expat anywhere, they will mention the education challenge. I think (a main challenge expats face is) they arrive here, marry here, have children, then are faced with a major challenge because of the expense of education. Such is the demand for foreign education; it comes at quite a price tag."

He emphasized the need for the central government to foster competitive and affordable education for foreign residents. "One of the suggestions I've made from time to time is in order to foster the hub strategy, to be able to provide foreign education that is not priced out of the market, would help a lot," said Duerden.

He believes that Koreans go the extra distance to make living here and raising his children here a positive experience. His neighbors have seen his children "grow up before their eyes," he says. His family has even been featured on MBC's "Oh, Happy Day," a morning television show about foreign children learning about Korean culture.

"It was a marvelous experience. (The children) went to the Korea House once, put on hanbok; another time they learned how to make kites. The sight of my son in a pink and emerald green hanbok, well, some moments are perfect -- and the rest of the crew felt the same because all the cameras were turned on him."

He admits that it is expensive to raise children in Seoul because it is one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, their situation balances out when he sees how his kids are developing.

"It's been the best 10 or 11 years of my life, and I wouldn't change a single minute."

See Invest Korea Journal's website at

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