K-pop craze boosts Korea's public diplomacy

SANTIAGO/LIMA ? On a slow Wednesday afternoon, dozens of teenage girls straggled into a public park in Santiago, their T-shirts featuring TVXQ, JYJ, Super Junior and other Korean pop stars.

Soon, music was turned up, and the group began to walk through the choreography.

The practice goes on for about three hours, three days a week. The venue has also become a hot spot for youngsters to exchange the latest K-pop-related information and products.

"We also carry out online campaigns to boost sales of TVXQ albums here so that they can visit here and have a concert," said Nicole, a 20-year-old education student.

She is not alone. Her group is only part of what she called OurGame, a Latin American network of the boy band's fan clubs stretching from Mexico to Peru to Argentina.

In Chile alone, there are about 20,000 members of 200 clubs also for Big Bang, 2PM, CN Blue, SHINee, MBLAQ and other artists.

Peru is another K-pop stronghold, with nearly 8,000 people participating in 60 groups. Two days later in Lima, more than 100 members of an even greater variety of fan clubs gathered at a shopping mall.

They regularly meet to watch live recordings of concerts, organise group purchases of CDs and other items, practice for dance competitions, try out Korean restaurants and even to volunteer for community service.

"Here the fan clubs are like family, taking care of each other," said Genesis Buendia, a 23-year-old fan of JYJ.

"Around 150 members of our club are doing voluntary work tomorrow for the holiday season and making a donation later this month under the name of Kim Jae-joong," she added, referring to a JYJ member.

As the Korean pop culture boom touched down in this far-off continent, diplomats are kick-starting a new public diplomacy tack by boosting outreach efforts and sponsoring cultural events.

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