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EU Envoys Send Protest Letter to Seoul Gov’t
Over Religious Issue of New Yongsan Foreign School
Groundbreaking ceremony of Yongsan Foreign School

In a rare movement, scores of foreign ambassadors serving in Seoul delivered "protest letter" to South Korean government and Seoul City Administration recently, according to local news agency YNA.

YNA reported on July 5, 2006 that some 40 ambassadors of foreign countries including from EU member countries sent letters urging the government to make sure that the operator of the soon-to-be-open Yongsan International School "to be international and to be religiously impartial." The letters were delivered to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, as well as Seoul City.

The top foreign envoys took the action when the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation chose the American International Christian School (ICS) as the operator of the Yongsan Foreign School to be opened around the end of August this year. The ambassadors are worried that ICS requires Bible study and church service in its curriculum.

Ambassadors from EU countries say that all the religious rites are banned in their parts of the world. Envoys from the Middle East also equally worried about the selection. They preferred British International School in Seoul (BISS) as the operator of the new foreign school, since it eliminates any religious color from the school curriculum and activities.

Recently, the EU Chamber of Commerce in Korea (EUCCK) pulled out of the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation in protest against the foundation's selection of the American school.

On July 4, 2006 in a ceremony at Millennium Hilton Hotel, the Korea Foreign School singed an agreement with the International Christian School (ICS) in Seoul to confirm ICC as the operator of the Yongsan Foreign School.

One diplomatic source said the complaints are not limited to only European ambassadors. "I am a Catholic and I think it is inappropriate to teach bible at school," a foreign ambassador in Seoul was quoted as saying.

Currently, there are six foreign schools in Seoul where class is taught in English. Except for BISS all of them are American ones. Four of the American schools are run by Christian foundation. This means that it is difficult for foreigners to send their kids to foreign schools free from religious affiliations.

Experts say that educational infrastructures for foreign students are in short supply, which is a serious problem for foreign residents worried about education of their children. There are over 110 foreign missions and eight international bodies including IMF house in Seoul

On the part of Koran government, the inadequacy of educational system for the foreign population was one of the major stumbling blocks to inducing foreign investment. The scheduled opening of the Yongsan Foreign School is aimed at attracting more foreign direct investment (FDI) in South Korea by improving living conditions for foreign residents in Seoul.

"Not all the foreign students in Korea want to go to university in the US," an ambassador from a EU member country said. "You need to be more considerate of foreigners from other regions than the US."

"The foreign ambassadors' collective protest letters were for this reason," he said. "Sometimes I hear from fellow ambassadors that China or Japan is better than Korea in providing educational conditions to foreigners."

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