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Cervantes Institute unveils Seoul branch

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Carmen Noguera, secretary general of the Cervantes Institute / Courtesy of Carmen Noguera
Carmen Noguera, secretary general of the Cervantes Institute / Courtesy of Carmen Noguera

By Kwon Mee-yoo

The long-anticipated Seoul branch of the Cervantes Institute, a Spanish government-backed organization promoting Spanish language and culture, finally unveiled its location last week in Myeong-dong, in the heart of Seoul.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Cervantes Institute Secretary General Carmen Noguera visited Korea to attend the pre-inauguration ceremony at the UNESCO building in downtown Seoul.

"For so long, we wanted to establish a branch here. This needs to have the approval of the Spanish government. Yesterday (Nov. 15) the Spanish government gave approval to this act which now allows us to start this branch here," Noguera said during an interview with The Korea Times in Seoul, Nov. 16.

"For us, it's really important to have the chance to open this center because it's been an aspiration for many years. We really want to learn about your culture and to have these relations with all the cultural and academic institutions in Korea. We're looking really forward to this new opening."

There had been rumors for years about the Spanish cultural institute opening a branch in Korea, but any plans were stalled globally by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Because of the crisis we couldn't open more branches abroad. So it was a moment for us to be consolidating what we had. Since 2021, we started opening new centers abroad like Dakar in (Senegal), Africa and Los Angeles. These are the areas in our strategic plan, where we think important for the promotion of Spanish culture," Noguera said, adding that Seoul is one such location.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a ceremony announcing the location of the Cervantes Institute in Myeong-dong, Seoul, Nov. 17. Cervantes Institute Secretary General Carmen Noguera, left, is also present. Yonhap
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a ceremony announcing the location of the Cervantes Institute in Myeong-dong, Seoul, Nov. 17. Cervantes Institute Secretary General Carmen Noguera, left, is also present. Yonhap

Currently, the Cervantes Institute offers Spanish classes in Korea through an agreement with Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, but the opening of its full-fledged branch in Myeong-dong will allow more promotion of Spanish language and culture.

"This will be a bigger place and more specialized in all the things we do which are culture, language and in the broader sense of all of them," she said.

The secretary general said the Cervantes Institute in Seoul will be like no other branches in the world.

"For us, it's very important to have cooperation with the local culture ― to be part of what's made in the places we are in. So the Cervantes Institute in Seoul will never be the same as other locations because we try to have special links with the local culture. It's learning from each other, not showing what we can do," she explained.

For example, the institute offers Spanish language courses catered to the unique needs of students in different countries.

"They have different motivations. Some can have a professional one, wanting to have a better curriculum, or they can have cultural motivation as they are very interested in the Spanish culture, which may be the case of Korea," she said.

"We know that there are a lot of Korean tourists who go to Spain and with the cultural aim of Camino de Santiago, for example. So I think that could be a way too."

As part of the institute's mission, it will embrace the cultures of not only Spain but also other Spanish-speaking countries.

"The Spanish language is spoken not only in Spain, but also in American and African countries... Spanish speakers are about 8 percent of the world's population. We also feel that we have not only to spread Spanish culture from Spain, but also culture made in other Spanish-speaking countries," she said.

"When we talk about teaching Spanish, Spanish is not only spoken in Spain, but there are varieties all around and we respect these differences. We have different roots and cultures, but we have a lot in common. We really feel like we belong to the same community."

According to Noguera, the Cervantes Institute in Seoul will open in 2023, but the exact date has yet to be decided.

"Hopefully in the first half of the year, but I can't be more specific about that. (We have) to make the works and hire the staff," she said.
Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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