What do Belgians know about Korea ?
Well … honestly said ? Not really much !
Beside some knowledge about the Korean War, the tensions between North- & South-Korea and PSY’s Gangnam Style the average Belgian doesn’ t know much about Korea.
Even though Korea’ s top brands like Samsung, LG, Hyundai and KIA are well known among Belgians, they still don’t know them as Korean brands and they will look surprised if you tell them that the car they drive, or the TV they watch is originally developed by Koreans.
Not to mention about K-pop, Korean drama or Korean food … those are only known by Korea freaks or Korea lovers. So there’s still a lot of promotion work to do for the Korean government and Korean society in Belgium. Korea and Belgium are having a good relationship for more than a half century. In the past 20 years the Korean Embassy in Brussels hosted a couple of Korean cultural events with famous Korean artists (e.g. Kim Duk Soo and others).
In November 2013 the Korean Cultural Center Brussels, the 27th Center of its kind in the world, opened in the heart of Brussels, the capital of the EU. The KCC offers a wide variety of programs ranging from exhibitions, Korean movie screenings, culinary classes and Korean language classes, but also music performances and conferences. The opening of the KCC was an other big step forward to bring Korean culture closer to the Belgian public.
In December 2013, at the final draw of the FIFA Worldcup in Brasil, Belgium and Korea where both drawn in group H together with Algeria and Russia. For months I looked forward to the clash between the two teams. Both teams have met in three previous matches, including twice in the FIFA World Cup group stage in 1990 and 1998. So far Korea could never beat the Belgian Red Devils.
Korea – Belgium was the 3rd match of the group stage to be played on 26 June 2014. Belgium was already qualified but intended to win to secure the first place while Korea had only a small chance to continue to the knockout stage of the World Cup.
A couple of days before the match Belgian media spent quite some time on Korea’s soccer team. Beside coach Hong Myung Bo and Son Heung-Min, the star of the Korean team, all other players were unknown. Even the Belgian players didn’t know about their opponents. Korea was considered as the weakest team in the group but their players are well known as players who keep running and never give up.
An interesting issue for the Belgians was the height of the players and their family names. The Korean team comprised mainly the names of Lee, Kim & Park. In many TV & radio talk shows they spent quite some time to explain about Korean family names.
For the Korean Embassy and the Korean Cultural Center Brussels the match between Korea and Belgium was a nice opportunity to bring Korean culture to the Belgian people. In cooperation with Samsung and KIA they organized a Korean-Belgium friendship night. Especially for this occasion they invited Belgians and Koreans to watch the football game together on a large screen in a real football stadion close to the Korean Embassy.
I took the opportunity to go there with my cousin and we were happily surprised about the warm atmosphere and enthusiasm. Entrance was free and supporters of both teams received a free World Cup Brasil shirt and a supporters kit sponsored by KIA and Hyundai.
Around the field we found some improvised food corners selling bulgogi with kimchi, noodles and kimbap, and of course also Belgian fries, hotdogs and not to forget Belgian beer !
A mega screen was set up on the stage in the middle of the football field and from two hours before the match we enjoyed a Samulnori percussion group and a local Taekwondo demonstration. Some local boys and girls cheered up the audience with K-pop songs. One hour before the match all seats were occupied and the estimated number of 1.500 spectators was easily surpassed.
Korean and Belgian supporters where quite excited during the first half as the players created some good chances to score the first goal. Late in the second half Belgium scored the only goal to finally win the match and also become the first ranked team in group H.
Even though Koreans were disappointed because the team had to leave the World Cup tournament the Korean society in Belgium scored some good points with this successful event. According the local police more than 3.000 people attended the event that took place without any incidents.
It was nice to see Koreans and Belgians sitting mixed up in the stadium supporting their teams with respect for each other and having fun together.
Belgians will definitely remember Koreans as kind and friendly people with great hospitality.