June 25, 2024
A group of tourists take photos together at the Bongeun Temple in southern Seoul on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

A group of tourists take photos together at the Bongeun Temple in southern Seoul on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

 
Seeing foreign tourists in Korea is not an uncommon occurrence these days, but a very special group, including YouTubers, performers and students, took to the streets of Seoul, Busan and Jeonju from Monday to Friday.
 
“This truly is a dream come true for me,” 76-year-old YouTuber Zev “Grandpa Uaena” Rattet told the Korea JoongAng Daily, standing in Bongeun Temple’s open garden and appreciating the 1,200-year-old complex located in the middle of southern Seoul’s bustling Samseong-dong neighborhood.
 
“Seoul is just the way I imagined it would be like — it’s beautiful, it’s lively, the people are lovely and the food is just flawless. And I’ve seen over 250 K-dramas at least, so my imaginations are quite precise.”
 
In fact, Rattet’s love of K-dramas and one actor in particular made him a Korean celebrity in recent years. The actor: Lee Ji-eun, the singer-turned-actor, also known as IU, has one of the most prolific careers in the Korean entertainment scene.
 
He began a YouTube channel called “Zev Does KDrama” on Feb. 1 this year, with a video titled “Why I love IU” followed by others such as “How I started watching KDramas,” “Cooking Korean,” “Recommended KDramas to get started” and “Kdrama and me.” His profound love for IU was even noticed by the singer herself, who personally thanked the grandpa on her Instagram account and invited him to her concert in the United States.
 

A group of tourists going up the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul's Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization [YOON SO-YEON]

A group of tourists going up the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul’s Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization [YOON SO-YEON]

A group of tourists take photos of Seoul at the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul's Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

A group of tourists take photos of Seoul at the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul’s Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

 
His nickname, Grandpa Uaena, comes from the name of IU’s official fan club, Uaena.
 
“I love K-dramas because they teach the world about the love and goodness of people like no other drama does,” he said. “I know that some people say Korean dramas are cheesy or cliché, but that’s because the world has taught them to be cynical, to not believe in true love or the goodness of people. K-dramas bring back that love to everyone, and one of the very best actors to convey that love is IU.”
 
Grandpa Uaena’s visit to Korea came as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization, in which the government invited 50 “true fans” of Korea from around the world to tour the country and take part in various cultural programs for five days from May 20 to 24.
 
Participants were selected through story contests and a recommendation process operated by the Korea Tourism Organization’s overseas branches.
 
A total of 77,224 stories from 185 countries worldwide were submitted during the monthlong submission period from March 19 to April 19, according to the Culture Ministry. The organizers, through a four-step evaluation process, selected individuals who shared various stories about Korea.
 

A group of tourists take photos together at the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul's Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

A group of tourists take photos together at the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul’s Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

Belgian documentary producer Maxim shoots the Seoul landscape at the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul's Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

Belgian documentary producer Maxim shoots the Seoul landscape at the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul’s Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

 
“I’ve been coming to Korea ever since I was a teenager and I can see the country change every time I come,” said 51-year-old Aiko, who works as a Korean teacher at Omikyodaisha Junior High School in Shiga, Japan.
 
“It’s not just the infrastructure or technology, but the culture. For instance, I noticed a lot of Japanese characters like Sanrio’s Hello Kitty in the streets of Korea beforehand, but now even my own daughter likes Korean characters, especially Teenieping.”
 
The five-day itinerary was filled with various programs to bring the best of the Korean experience, both modern and traditional. It began with a tour of Seoul on a city tour bus, after which the participants took part in a welcoming event and an exchange meeting at Samcheonggak, a mountainside restaurant that serves traditional Korean food in Seongbuk District, central Seoul.
 
Participants were then divided into five groups and traveled around Seoul, Busan and Jeonju for sightseeing and experiencing Korean food, as well as embarking on customized tour programs depending on participants’ preferences and characteristics.
 

A group of tourists meditate at the Bongeun Temple in southern Seoul on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

A group of tourists meditate at the Bongeun Temple in southern Seoul on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization. [YOON SO-YEON]

A group of tourists eating dinner at the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul's Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization [YOON SO-YEON]

A group of tourists eating dinner at the N Seoul Tower in central Seoul’s Namsan on May 23 as part of a tour event dubbed “KOREA invites U,” hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization [YOON SO-YEON]

 
The K-Wellness team that Rattet and Aiko were included in, for instance, focused on tourist spots related to health and tradition, such as the Seoul K Medi Center, Gyeongdong Market and the National Museum of Korea. The K-Food team ventured down to the southern city of Jeonju, known for its traditional cuisine, and the K-Local team toured the tourist hot spots around the southern port city of Busan.
 
“It’s great that we got to travel in this group because there are things that I would never have even imagined myself doing, had it not been for this program,” said 35-year-old Maxim, a documentary director from Belgium who shot a film based on Korea’s special late-night chauffeur system, known as daeri unjeon.
 
Maxim chose his experience at the Gyeongbok Palace and wearing the Korean traditional hanbok dress as the best part of the five-day program, as did Onon, a 37-year-old woman from Mongolia who applied for the program after seeing her father recover from heart disease after treatment from Korea University Anam Hospital.
 
“Gyeongbok Palace was the best,” she said. “I got to try on hanbok and take beautiful pictures that I won’t be able to anywhere else. My next goal is to visit Jeju Island. Seoul was so beautiful but Jeju Island is on my bucket list.”
 
The tour event will be produced into a special TV program and is set to air on KBS World. The government promised to hold various events in an effort to boost inbound tourism as part of its “Visit Korea Year” project, through which it plans to attract a cumulative 30 million tourists by 2027.

BY YOON SO-YEON [[email protected]]


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