Korea has pursued new opportunities for continued growth, but has been hampered its lack of global talent— individuals with key skills conferring valuable advantages in global markets. Countries like the United States have generated such advantages by recruiting skilled foreigners. Korea has had difficulty recruiting such foreigners because its strong ethnic nationalism makes it comparatively unfriendly for foreigners. Yet, Korea can leverage skilled foreigners by inviting skilled foreigners for a short-term sojourn. Since they will have difficulty assimilating, such foreigners are not expected to stay and contribute their human capital over the long-term. However, if they return home, they can become transnational bridges linking Korea with their home societies and create mutually beneficial opportunities for information exchange, cooperation and trade. Overall, Korea and similar countries in Europe and Asia can benefit from participating in global brain circulation, even if their ethnic nationalism hampers them from assimilating skilled foreigners.
In recent years, Korean universities have attracted an increasing number of foreign students, mainly within the Asian region. Some students expressed mainly instrumental reasons to study in Korea such as the lower cost, the availability of scholarships, and Korea's geographical proximity and social similarity to their home countries. In contrast, other students expressed mainly social identity reasons to study in Korea, mainly the opportunity to learn about Korea's development experience and to experience firsthand a culture they had learned to appreciate while consuming Korean cultural products abroad. Such individuals also expressed a desire to bridge Korea and their home countries for mutual benefit, a tremendous opportunity for all involved. Understanding this, several Korean firms have begun to recruit foreigners studying in Korea and begun training them to run subsidiaries in their home countries.
Koreans study at U.S. and Canadian universities to receive what they perceive to be a better education. On average, such students have a moderately high desire to return to Korea after completing their degrees, being more familiar with the Korean environment and wanting to spend more time with family and friends back home. Indeed, many individuals want overseas work experience to enhance their career prospects when they eventually return. However, two subgroups of Korean students abroad have less desire to return home. Choki yuhak students, who started studying overseas at a relatively young age, have become acculturated into in the U.S. and Canada and feel more comfortable there than in Korea. Also, students who attend Korean churches feel less homesickness, as these churches function as small-scale ethnic enclaves. Although they prefer to remain abroad, both groups have the capability and desire to bridge Korea with their host societies.
The Korean diaspora includes some of the best-educated citizens of the U.S. and Canada. This group encompasses a range of individuals, from corporate ladder-climbers to freewheeling artists, who may or may not be familiar with Korea. Individuals unfamiliar with Korea express a strong desire to sojourn in Korea to reclaim their lost identities, but react very differently to actual sojourns based on their goals and interests. While business-oriented individuals react positively to the ample opportunities they encounter in Korea, others react negatively to the conformity and sexism they perceive as being prevalent. Individuals more familiar with Korea have little need to reclaim identities they never lost, and express greater interest in relocating to Korea long-term based on career opportunities they find there. Overall, a shared ethnic identity draws the diaspora back to Korea, where they can potentially contribute the abundant human and social capital they possess.
The manufacture and export of high-technology goods represents a crucial pillar of the Korean economy. Yet, the ongoing convergence between hardware and software threatens to topple this pillar, given Korea's shortage of software engineers. India produces more high-quality software engineers than its economy requires, creating an opportunity for foreign firms to recruit skilled engineers. However, Korean firms face competition from American rivals and are handicapped by Korea's ethnic nationalism. Although Korean firms may have difficulty recruiting graduates of the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), they are nevertheless attractive to non-IIT graduates who are nearly as qualified. Indeed, such individuals express special interest in East Asian countries to avoid social competition with IIT graduates. This example illustrates how social differences amongst skilled foreigners create opportunities for countries like Korea to recruit highly desirable groups despite intense competition.
This book examines four different groups of skilled foreigners in the Korean context. The findings presented in the book have important theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, the findings not only integrate geographic research on cross-national boundary spanners with sociological research on transnationalism, but also illuminate why individuals consciously decide to function as transnational bridges. Practically, the findings not only suggest how governments and firms might benefit from transnational bridging, but also how they might promote such behavior through university reforms and public diplomacy. However, the findings also suggest that Korea cannot fully benefit from transnational bridging without fundamental changes to its social institutions and corporate organizations. Although the book focused on the Korean context, its findings are also relevant towards many other economically advanced countries characterized by ethnic nationalism, such as Germany and Japan.