x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Arab students in South Korea lament lack of mosques and halal food

Survey shows many like Korea and its people but think more education on Islam would be beneficial.

SEOUL // More mosques and halal restaurants and a better understanding of Islam are needed in South Korea to encourage Middle East students to study there, a survey has revealed.

Park Hyeon-uk, a member of El Naafidha College’s student group for Middle East studies, said the survey of Arab students in Korea reflected the challenges many of them faced.

“Islam is part of their everyday life and many felt there was little in the way of halal food and too few mosques,” Mr Park said.

“More temples need to be built in Korea. Also, meat that is not slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law cannot be consumed.

“It means many have difficulty eating out. Many Muslims we spoke to were not eating meat at all. They were suffering from a very unhealthy diet.”

Difficulty in understanding the Korean language, especially in classes, were other challenges raised by Arab students in the survey unveiled at the Seoul forum.

“It would be nice if they graded foreign students different than Korean students,” said one Arab in a video broadcast to delegates.

While many said they enjoyed studying in Korea and liked the people, others said young Koreans needed more education on Islam to dispel misconceptions.

An Emirati woman spoke about a lack of cultural understanding that often led to uncomfortable questions about her conservative dress and her need to cover her hair.

Lee Yoo-jung, also of El Naafidha College, said cultural differences had to be addressed.

“I think creating a sense of solidarity between Arab students and Korean students is essential for the next generation,” Mr Lee said.

Farah Subedar, a presenter on K-Pop music station, said: “I think the people here need to learn more about the Middle East culture and vice versa.”

Fellow forum speaker Sohn Jie-ae, president and chief executive of Arirang TV and radio, said officials in South Korea should take note of the comments.

“It shows we need to know a lot more about each other,” Ms Jie-ae said.

jbell@thenational.ae