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Is Dongguk prepared for visitors?Voices of doubt are being raised over whether DU has enough facilities and services
  • Yun Sang-young, Bak Jae-jun
  • 승인 2009.11.09 02:09
  • 댓글 2

   A wind of change is blowing through Nam Mountain and onto Dongguk University (DU) nestled in its side.  The catalyst behind this is the Namsan Renaissance project, a long-term City of Seoul scheme intended to renovate the area.   For over 600 years, Mt. Nam has been Seoul’s emotional anchor: a natural repository of memories, joyful and sorrowful. Now such sentiments will be jumbled up as the area undergoes rapid industrial development.  This will destroy some of the scenic beauty of Mt. Nam, but, conversely, will bring much needed revenue into the area.  The aim of Namsan Renaissance project is to make Mt. Nam accessible to as many people as possible. For example, Jangchung Park, situated near DU’s main gate, is currently under construction to attract more people. 
  Seoul City Council expects the project will bring in more tourists to Seoul and Mt. Nam.  A positive knock-on effect of this is that DU will have more tourists walking through its campus. Situated, as it is, at the foot of Mt. Nam, DU is hoping that the changes shall provide great free advertising. In spite of the positive news, voices of doubt are being raised over whether DU has enough facilities and services to meet the expected inrush.
     There is no doubt that our university is primarily a place for its students and professors. Nevertheless, it should also be a place for other people: for example, prospective students, alumni, tourists or anyone else who happens to come on campus.   As our university is in direct proximity to one of the most famous landmarks in Seoul, Mt. Nam, there is every chance that foreign tourists might want to have a look around campus.  If Dongguk doesn't treat this opportunity seriously, it may, in the long run, damage its prestige. 

Part1: Services for Visitors Currently in Operation

     Two DU services for visitors that are generally recognized as the best of their kind are Jeonggakwon and Lee Hae Rang Arts Theatre.  With regard to Jeonggakwon, a Buddhist ceremony for visitors has been performed on Saturdays since 2007.  The number of participants, coming from faraway provinces as well as Seoul, is estimated to be 120 a week. 
   "A Buddhist ceremony has the same effect as putting an advertisement in a newspaper," said Lee Min-gi, a Jeonggakwon staff member.  "It is not uncommon these days to hear of participants wanting to come to DU after taking part in the Buddhist ceremony."  Additionally, Jeonggakwon, as compared to other buildings in DU, is well-prepared for foreign visitors.  An example of this is a signpost written in English, Chinese and Japanese, providing foreigners with information on the history of Jeonggakwon.  As a matter of fact, Jeonggakwon plays an important role in furnishing foreigners with worthwhile information on how to get around Dongguk campus.  "I think it might be a good idea if the temple is featured in foreign travel brochures about Korea.  We could also advertise by leaving leaflets in hotels and travel agencies ", said Lee.  "DU as well as Jeonggakwon should be frequented by people from the neighboring community, not just students.  To facilitate this approach, Dongguk should exchange information, facilities, and services with other people in the community," added Kim Bong-joo, a section head of Jeonggakwon.  
Lee Hae Rang Arts Theatre was thrown open to the public in November 2008.   It was named after Lee Hae Rang - a great artist who created the department of cinema in Dongguk - as a way of commemorating his achievements and his life.   This theatre is a good example on how to succeed in strengthening the ties between industry and academia. 
      "Although it is within close reach of much more famous theatres, Lee Hae Rang Theatre is still expected to become a centre of culture in Seoul," said Kim Hwan-hi, an official of Dongguk Art Company.  The fact that performances are always completely sold out is a proof to its ever increasing, widening popularity.   Even though visitors vary according to the kind of performances, the theatre receives customers of all ages and from all walks of life.  "Some people are still unsure of DU’s location," Kim said, "but Lee Hae Rang Theatre is making Dongguk better known to the local community as well as  getting reputation  in society."
      Although the above-mentioned public facilities & services are well received by visitors, a comparison between Dongguk and other highly prestigious universities reveals that there still aren't enough things on offer.  You can blame this problem for the fact that other universities receive more visitors than Dongguk.  The true discrepancy, however, comes from the fact that other universities tailor public facilities & services to visitors’ individual needs.  As Dongguk is expecting changes to arise as a result of the Namsan Renaissance Project, it is high time Dongguk got itself ready for the influx. 

Sharp contrasts between Dongguk and other universities 

     First of all, it is important to analyze what kind of things would satisfy visitors coming to Dongguk.  This critical thinking will help Dongguk decide upon the most urgent areas of investment.  There are several things needing improvement, but the campus tour, in particular, needs a serious looking at. 
     The campus tour ? the name given for student guided tours - is defined as ‘a marketing tool used by the university or college to show the campus to prospective students and other interested parties.’  The aim of this facility is to help publicize the school.  Thus, schools are taking much more care in this portion.  There is, however, a sharp contrast between Dongguk and other universities in relation to the amount of effort devoted to campus tours. 
     Yale University in the U.S. is one example that shows the value of the campus tour.  In reality, Yale runs its own visitor center to promote this service.  According to the center's noticeboard, visitors can stop by for information about Yale or take a guided tour, led by Yale college undergraduates, every other day of the year.   The campus tour of Yale falls into two categories: one is the regularly scheduled tour which doesn't require a fee or an appointment; the other is a foreign language tour which is available for a fee by appointment.  As an alternative, Yale also offers a self-guided tour with a trail map, a portable MP3 player, a suggested route and a short history of Yale. According to the campus tour center web site - the visitors can hear about Yale's rich 300-year history as well as details about student life.
     Here in Korea, Seoul National University (SNU) is worth looking at.  SNU also runs regularly scheduled tours: on weekdays, there are tours for middle school and high school students three times a day; while once a month on a Saturday, tours for visitors or foreigners are provided.  Moreover, international groups can arrange to have a tour given in a foreign language and are additionally given a foreign language brochure.
     The campus tour on Dongguk University has been in existence since 2002 and is presided over by DongGam, the school PR students, along with the support of DU’s public relations department.  Dongguk, however, seldom seems to be well-prepared to receive visitors.  "There aren't enough public facilities where people can rest and eat," said a DongGam member of staff.  "The newly built roof-gardens are extremely hot in summer and too cold in the winter."  She also pointed out that the campus map has more pitfalls than people realize.  "Foreign languages maps, such as English, Chinese and Japanese, are needed for the visitors to easily find their way around our maze-like campus."  
   The same controversy applies to the souvenir business in DU.  Some universities in the world are noted for their delicate and beautiful souvenirs.  For example, Oxford University and New York University are keen to emphasize their own characteristics and colors when making souvenirs.  By comparison, it's difficult to discern what is distinctive about Dongguk souvenirs.
     Recently, a DU souvenir store, named Gaonnuri, opened in front of the Main Library.  But profits are lower than other universities while the store has found it difficult to lure customers.  According to a Gaonnuri clerk, less than five students so far have bought souvenirs.  This is mainly because Dongguk has little regard for the student demand for reasonable prices. “Only a few products are practical and some goods are more expensive than they should be,” said Won Whi-yeon, a student majoring in Chemical-Biochemical Engineering.  Basically, this has happened because the souvenirs on offer are not appealing enough for student consumers.  To solve this problem, SNU holds a “souvenir ideas contest” as a way of gauging customer/student needs.   
     All in all, Dongguk is lacking in public facilities & services.  Nevertheless, there seems to be some lingering doubt as to whether it is the proper function of a university to be overly concerned about visitors.  However, a sea change from this way of thinking will greatly benefit visitors and also help the university to prosper.  "The majority of universities find that the long-term benefits accrued from providing good public facilities and services are vital for future well-being," said Kang Byoung-gu, representative of NTCM, a SOC Project Financial Advisor.  "Not preparing services for the Namsan Renaissance project ? which, as noted, is expected to bring visitors from local community and overseas to Dongguk ? is tantamount to refusing the more traditional ways of raising capital."  The criterion should go towards  economic necessity. 
     Though DU is now in the process of changing its campus, a considerable effort is needed to make this transition successful. Chillingly, a public relations department officer reveals that there is much to criticize and little to praise about Dongguk.    "I gave myself a headache trying to select 10 things to show off to the Dongguk alumni in Homecoming Day”, he said. “This is because, other than the statue of Buddha, there isn’t that much to boast about."   This tough reality brings us a serious question of to what extent we should concern about the visitors outside.

Yun Sang-young, Bak Jae-jun  letterbee@dongguk.edu

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