Simon Park says NZ needs to recognise the people who can act as a catalyst to drive New Zealand’s engagement with Asia

Simon Park says NZ needs to recognise the people who can act as a catalyst to drive New Zealand’s engagement with Asia

By Simon Park*

South Korea is New Zealand’s fifth largest bilateral trading partner.

Currently, there are more than 30,000 Koreans living in New Zealand, most of them in Auckland.

Although the immigration history is relatively short compared with the United States or Australia, Korean migrants are well settled in New Zealand.

For example, golfing sensation Lydia Ko came to New Zealand from South Korea at a very young age and represented New Zealand as she won the LPGA tour in 2014.

Relative to South Korea, New Zealand has a small population. However, New Zealand is a very appealing country for many Korean visitors. The increase in the number of visitors coincides with the free trade agreement (FTA) signed between the two countries.

The negotiations of the FTA have led to extensive coverage of New Zealand in the Korean media. One of the most popular reality TV shows in Korea even filmed several episodes relating to New Zealand.

The FTA should witness greater high-level exchanges in the future.

However, the enablers are not the FTAs themselves but the people who work behind the scenes to make them happen.

They are the people who can reduce cultural misunderstanding. We call them “boundary people”.

Who exactly are these boundary people?

They are the individuals who sit at the boundary of two countries; those who still maintain connection with their home country and at the same time are completely immersed in their new, adopted society.

I was born in South Korea and when I arrived in New Zealand as a migrant I made up my mind that one day I would do serious community work, because I felt I owed many things to this country.

I began working as the only Korean Justice of the Peace in Wellington seven years ago, and was subsequently invited to become an adviser to the South Korean President as a member of The National Unification Advisory Council in South Korea.

I was further appointed as the inaugural chairperson of the New Zealand Korean School Trust. One thing led to the next and without realising it I had become a boundary person between New Zealand and South Korea.

This helped when I was involved with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Victoria University of Wellington and Keimyung University in Korea. I was able to use my existing connections in South Korea and my cultural understanding to support the establishment of the MOU.

The understanding of the cultures of both countries and a certain level of social capital at both ends are what boundary people can bring to the table.

Boundary people can act as a catalyst to drive New Zealand’s engagement with Asia. I believe boundary people are willing to contribute to the success of New Zealand.

But they first need to be identified.

What I observe is that many boundary people have not been approached, or when they go for certain positions, which require those skills, they may not be seriously considered.

Initiatives such as Kimchi Club, which consists of second generations of young professional Korean migrants could help to take this forward as New Zealand becomes engaged in more business with South Korea.

Many other forms of networks exist within the New Zealand community.

The onus is on New Zealand businesses to identify these boundary people and utilise their strengths in international engagements.

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Simon Park QSM JP is the inaugural chairperson of New Zealand Korean School Trust; Honorary Adviser & Member of Korean - New Zealand Friendship Advisory Group; and adviser to the South Korea President as a member of The National Unification Advisory Council in South Korea. He is also the Undergraduate Programme Manager in the School of Information Management at Victoria University of Wellington.

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