Korea is not what it once was, that much is obvious to anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past 50 years. The country has climbed the ranks of many different lists, and by the judgments of any number of international organizations its standing is rather impressive.
However there are some aspects of the culture that do not reflect its international standing, and one of them is communication. South Korean companies, governmental organizations, and even newspapers have problems with this singular task.
South Korea is home to a large number of internationallyrecognized electronics companies, who regularly develop new products and release new press releases like clockwork. Even though these press releases are printed with the latest in logo and colored paper technology, the content leaves something to be desired. There are grammar and spelling mistakes scattered like cilantro on a tostada throughout the press releases, even though they were most definitely checked by an army of PR representatives and managers.
But such things can be overlooked if the information is valuable. However, another aspect of press releases in the Republic of Korea is a sore lack of detail. Generalized feelgood statements and hopelessly positive quotations from company executives have their place, but their place should be in between specific details of new products and services. Sadly, these essential nutrients to a good media diet are not present in these super-processed saccharine products of Korea media-savvy.
Small companies in Korea have more fundamental problems with communication. Very often these companies will participate in an industry exhibition, complete with booth, pamphlets, girls, and flowers, only to be unable to communicate with any non-Korean businessmen who stop by. When asked in Korean about their purpose for coming to the exhibition, most Korean businessmen will put attracting foreign investment as the number one priority. However there is an essential missing element in their formula and that is a common language.
The Korean press, sadly enough, also has some problems with communication, and this magazine is no exception. Whether in the English language or the Korean language, the patterns are the same. There is a strange fascination with using acronyms without explanation, leading the casual reader to be hopelessly confused after the first paragraph. It seems that not many people realize the large number of possible things a simple acronym can refer to. For instance, IP can refer to Internet Protocol, Intellectual Property, Information Professional, the Infundibulopelvic ligament, Image Processing, Independent Party, or Integrated Production. However, the Korean press seems to view and use acronyms in the same way that they use Chinese ideograms. And they do use Chinese ideograms, or Korean language abbreviations for Chinese ideograms, in newspapers every day, causing further confusion to the average reader. One could say that the entire Korean press industry was writing to obscure facts rather than relate them.
The Korean government is no exception to this rule. The most embarrassing example of the Korean government's inability to communicate is President Roh Moo-hyun's recent debacle with President George Bush. During a press conference in Australia in September, Roh confused the American president by asking an inarticulate question more than once. Officials on both the Korean and American sides dismissed the whole issue as a translation problem.
International business investment can be sorely hurt by a lack of communication. A good example of this would be the entire debacle of the Lone Star buyup of Korea Exchange Bank. Since its purchase of the Korean financial institution, the Dallas-based company has had nothing but headaches due to unclear interpretations of Korean investment law. Korea must take up the mantle of international responsibilities that it's growing position in the world demands of it. In order to do this, it must communicate effectively with international leaders in politics, business, and finance. But unless the country can develop some better means of communicating with itself and its international contacts, Korea will eventually be forced back into the unimportant backwaters of the river of history.