Webster's dictionary defines 'consul' as "an official appointed by a government to reside in a foreign country to represent the commercial interests of citizens of the appointing country." Swiss native, Jan Bremer, steps into that role, replacing his Korean predecessor Kang Soo-hun, who held the position for seventeen years.
BUSAN, South Korea
-- When Jan Bremer, the new Honary Swiss Consul, arrived in Korea four years ago as the Director of Wartsila Supply Management
he didn’t know he’d later become an integral part of the fabric of Korean society after living and working here with his wife and two sons for the past four years.
The honorary consul’s position differs from that of the ambassador or other full time diplomatic corps who work at embassies in career foreign service roles. It’s a title that is bestowed upon prominent community members by the Korean government who can offer special services as an associate of the embassy.
In fact it’s extremely rare for embassies to select a non-Korean for these positions and there is seldom an opening. Mr. Bremer was only able to recall three other non Koreans who have filled these honorary positions.
While ambassadors generally serve in their assigned foreign country for 3-5 years, honorary consuls are there for a longer period of time. Bremer’s predecessor, Kang Soo-hun, served in the honorary role for seventeen years.
The role of the Honorary Consul is to help facilitate cultural and economic relationships with the host country. That means helping Korean students find their way into Swiss universities and giving advice to potential investors who are considering bringing business to Korea. In the increasingly globalized world, the Consul’s job is evolving.
“In the past these positions were largely symbolic but now there are more responsibilities,” says Bremer, who lives here with his wife and two sons. “It takes time to establish relationships and raise awareness. The Consul is there to provide information for business, holiday travel, study abroad, and support during emergencies."
Swiss Ambassador Thomas Kupfer (center) wilth former honorary consul to Busan Kang Soo-hun (left) and his replacement, Jan Bremer.
Not just anyone can become an Honorary Consul. There’s an extensive background check with Interpol, inquiries about social networks, fundraising ability, and a thorough check by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Approval by both the Korean government and the Swiss Ambassador are also required.
In addition to his work with the Swiss and Korean governments and Wartsila, Bremer also lectures on topics in international business at Pukyoung University and sits on the Board of Directors at Busan International Foreign School in Gijang where his sons attend. Somehow he also finds time to explore Busan’s neighborhoods and nature trails to enjoy some down time.
“I really love walking across Geomnyeonsan to Seomyeon because it’s possible to see more that way,” says Bremer, a Haeundae resident. “Korea is becoming so modernized but there is still natural beauty even in the cities.”
While the rest of us struggle with Korean as a second language, Bremer, like many Swiss citizens, is already fluent in six languages – Romaniche, Italian, Swiss German, Dutch, English, and French.
Switzerland plays an important role in Korea due to their historically neutral status in world politics. They have a significant presence at the DMZ along with the Swedes inside the Joint Security Area
Like other expats, there are things Mr. Bremer misses about home like favorites foods, media, and of course the selection of brews, but he is quick to point out the advantages of life in Korea. “In Switzerland it might take two weeks to get an internet connection, but in Korea it takes 30 minutes to get a serviceman at the door and the connection speed is twice as fast,” says Bremer.
Jan Bremer encourages all Swiss citizens to register with the embassy to receive important information about travel, events, and fellowship. He can be reached at email@example.com. The website for the Swiss embassy in Seoul is here.
The Swiss Consulate in Busan is located at 651-16, Eomgung-dong in Sasang-gu
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