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New education exchange plans are on the way

University students could soon benefit from an education exchange programme between Bahrain and South Korea.

The idea is already being discussed with Bahrain University and the Royal University for Women, as well as South Korean universities, South Korean Embassy charge d’affaires Joonha Yu told the GDN. He said students in Bahrain stood to gain significantly, since South Korea’s rapid development in the space of a generation was due to its strong education system.

“Everything is thanks to our education system,” he said. “You will see mothers invest everything for the education of their children. “We don’t have oil and natural gas, but through education we developed top-quality manpower.” Mr Yu was speaking to the GDN in an exclusive interview following his appointment in Bahrain.

He arrived here in September tasked with establishing a new embassy, which is located in Salmaniya. South Korea had an embassy in Bahrain from 1976 to 1999, but it closed due to the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s. Mr Yu spent three weeks in Bahrain in March last year to find out more about the welfare of South Koreans and the situation in the country. He said unrest over the past year had not deterred his country from establishing a mission here.

“The reason the Korean government decided to return to Bahrain is to make friends in this area,” said Mr Yu. “Bahrainis are already friends with Koreans, but we want this exchange to continue. “Now we have an embassy we would like to try our best to boost mutual understanding between the two countries and the link in culture and business. Maybe we can play a role in the reconciliation of Bahrain and it’s good for Bahraini people and investors.”

Mr Yu is here with his wife Meeji Kim and the couple has two daughters. Prior to taking up his post in Bahrain, he worked as a political counsellor in Washington, DC. Showcasing South Korean culture in Bahrain is among his objectives, along with boosting trade between the two countries.

Bahrain exports about $500 million (BD189m) worth of goods per year to South Korea and imports reach $300m (BD113.4m), but there is potential for much more, he added. The GCC is the fifth largest trading partner with South Korea and Mr Yu said there was growing interest in developing two-way trade in this region. As such, there are also plans to establish a joint business council between Bahrain and South Korea.

“We have a big potential to develop the economy and co-operation between Bahrain and Korea,” added Mr Yu. “I expect many businessmen and students to visit Bahrain in the future.” There are 400 South Koreans working in Bahrain and about 70 permanent residents. Most South Koreans are said to be small and medium business owners running restaurants, hotels, bakeries, grocery stores and gardening companies, while some work for the Korea Exchange Bank and Woori Commercial Bank.

There are also South Korean companies working in construction, heavy industry, power, desalination plants and electronic engineering, among other fields. “We hope these areas will grow,” added Mr Yu. “Bahrain has Vision 2030 and the GCC is donating a $10bn aid package over the next 10 years and will be focusing on infrastructure. “There are lots of chances for Korean companies and opportunities to contribute to the development of Bahrain.”

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