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Sri Lankans look to Korea for better wages

More and more Sri Lankans learn Korean to get ahead

Sri Lankans look to Korea for better wages
A rising number of Sri Lankans see better prospects in South Korea reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

September 25, 2012

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Alawwa, a town best known for a serious train accident a year ago, is a little more than a minor stop on the A6 highway. But like most places in Sir Lanka these days, it is possible to study Korean here. “More and more youngsters are showing an interest in learning Korean,” says Sujani Senani, 25, who has taught the language for three years here. “You can find classes in almost all the major towns in the country.” Minister of Education Bandula Gunawardena recently said the government plans to introduce Korean into the school curriculum and the National Institute of Education recently launched a teacher training program in the language. Considered among the most difficult foreign languages to pick up, Korean language learning has expanded rapidly across Sri Lanka as migrant workers have headed there to work, with many sending positive reviews back home. “I have some friends who are employed in Korea. They are doing really well,” says Sumith Dharmapala, a 26-year-old insurance agent who has started learning the language in Kebithigollewa, North Central Province. The main attraction to head to South Korea, which he hopes to do in the near future, is for the money, he says. Officials at the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) say that monthly salaries start at just under US$1,000, many times the average in Sir Lanka. “My father is a poor farmer,” says Sumith. The brother of two unmarried sisters, the onus is on him to find money to help pay for their dowries, which has prompted him to learn Korean and try to seek a job in the country. “I’ve found the grammar easy to learn,” he says, comparing it to his native Sinhalese. AKU Rohanna, deputy general manager of marketing and recruitment at SLBFE, says applications for the Korean language proficiency test in Sri Lanka are soaring, with around 34,000 people applying to take the exam during the middle of next month. Last year, about 10,000 people passed the language test and 4,000 got the chance to head to South Korea to work. “Around 5,000 will get the chance to work in Korea this year," says Rohanna. Once they have all their paperwork in order – requirements agreed under a bilateral deal between both governments – then those selected are issued with a work permit which typically runs for four years and 10 months. It can be an expensive process by local standards. Korean language teacher Sujani says that some students are willing to pay up to nearly $140 for a four or five month language course, then there is the registration for employment agencies, the cost of a passport, the work visa – which typically requires a trip to the embassy in Colombo – and a flight to Seoul. Gayan Gunatillake, 30, says it can be difficult at first in what is an alien culture for most Sri Lankans. “The language was a bit difficult and, in the initial period, it was really tough getting accustomed to communication and the food,” he says of his life there which started in 2004 when he was a trainee. The cold weather was another problem. But things quickly improved. Now back in his native Mahawewa in Northwestern Province, he has since become a father, saved money and built his own house, and he wants to return to South Korea, he says. “I think it was the right decision I took to choose employment in Korea although I struggled at first.” Related reports Teachers' protest raises education stakes
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