SEOUL (AFP) – French Minister Fleur Pellerin began a highly anticipated visit on Saturday to South Korea, the land of her birth, where her unusual success story is a source of public pride, admiration and curiosity.
Born in 1973 in Seoul and abandoned, Pellerin was adopted by a French couple six months later from an orphanage and moved to France. This is the first time she has ever returned to her homeland.
“On a personal level, it’s true that I’m excited,” Pellerin told the Korean-language Chosun Ilbo in an interview published before her arrival Saturday.
“I feel very proud to set foot in South Korea as a government minister of France,” she added.
It is a working visit for Pellerin, the junior minister for small and medium enterprises, innovation, and the digital economy, who will meet President Park Geun-Hye, and top officials of major conglomerates Samsung and Hyundai.
For the South Korean public, however, the main interest lies in Pellerin herself and, in particular, her ethnic roots.
Her appointment last year as a minister in the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande was front-page news in South Korea, and spawned a number of TV specials about her life.
While nationalist elements played up her Korean ethnicity as a possible factor in her success, others said her appointment was a testament to tolerance that South Korea, where there is still substantial discrimination against immigrants, could learn a lesson from.
South Koreans should pay heed to “the soundness of a society which raised one child with skin of a different colour and an unfortunate background to become a minister,” the independent Hankyoreh Daily said at the time.
Pellerin speaks no Korean and has made it clear that she has no intention of trying to trace her birth parents.
Raised in a middle-class environment in France, she was a successful student, educated at elite institutions which serve as finishing schools for the country’s ruling class.
Pellerin is a key figure in Hollande’s quest to ensure that French rules apply to global Internet companies such as Google operating in the country.
Following her trip to South Korea, she is scheduled to move on to Japan. Read story