Since a change of status last year, the IFEZ Global Center in Incheon has seen its role expand, along with the number of expats using its services.
The center offers services to foreign residents in the three cities designated as part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone -- Songdo, Yeongjong and Cheongna International City -- from language assistance to cultural experiences.
Expats take part in cultural activities at the IFEZ Global Center in Songdo, Incheon. (IFEZ)
The IFEZ Global Center opened in 2011 under a public institute to provide language assistance to foreign residents living in the IFEZ. As the number of expats there grew, the IFEZ’s authorities took over management of the center in 2016 to expand its services.
From January to September this year, 4,749 expats visited the center, while 1,421 consulted the center in other ways, according to the IFEZ Global Center.
In September alone, 1,219 expats visited the center, or over a fifth of the expat population across the three cities, as their total number of foreign residents is 4,800, said Park Ju-hee, a support team officer at the center.
The center’s main focus remains teaching Korean, as language poses the biggest barrier to foreign residents. There are classes for all levels of students and they are taught by Korean instructors with expertise in education. Currently, 166 people are enrolled across 10 courses -- all of which are provided free of charge.
For residents new to the country, such classes offer opportunities to learn about Korean culture and make friends.
“I am taking two courses here and it has helped me with my Korean a lot,” Spanish student Cristian Martin, who has been taking classes for two months at the center, told The Korea Herald.
He is married to a Korean woman and came to the country eight months ago, but has faced difficulties due to the language barrier.
“Spanish people are more open, but it has been difficult for me to make friends here. Now I am meeting people from other countries in this center and can practice both my Korean and English,” he said.
Cultural events and lectures hosted by the center with English support are also among the benefits.
“Going to the Jeondeungsa Buddhist temple was a unique experience. It was very interesting to talk to the Korean monk there,” Minoo Chizu, a Japanese student at the center, said in Korean, recalling a recent visit to the temple on the Incheon island of Ganghwado.
The center’s quarterly events include Korean cooking classes, culture classes and community talks. Historic tours and national holiday festivities are also planned annually.
“In November, we will have the International Day of IFEZ families and also hold a Christmas party in December,” Park said.
The center has six volunteers stationed at apartment buildings and subway stations to provide language assistance in Songdo, and there are plans to expand the service, she added.
The Incheon Free Economic Zone was the first such zone in Korea. It opened in August 2003 as part of the government’s efforts to provide benefits for foreign investors. There are currently eight of the zones across the country, including those in Incheon, Daegu and Busan -- cities located on or near the coast with air and sea ports.