In the early 1960s, West Germany achieved rapid economic development, while on the contrary, South Korea was in extreme poverty. At that time Korea’s gross national product (GNP) was only $79. It was impossible to build factories and to create jobs, so the unemployment rate reached 40 percent. While West Germany made remarkable progress, they were suffering from a shortage of labor, for example mine workers and nurses, etc. In turned out that Korea could export part of its labor force to West Germany. In 1966, 3,000 nurses and 3,000 coal miners were sent to West Germany. By 1977, 10,226 nurses and 7,932 miners were sent from Korea.
The miners’ labor contracts were renewed every three years and there were people returning to Korea after their contracts were complete. Yet some emigrated because of Korea’s economic woes and others stayed in Germany, got married to Germans, became students or found other jobs. There were a wide variety of reasons. The nurses’ labor contracts were different. If they could improve their German language skills and show they were good at their jobs in the hospital within the first three years, they could extend their contracts. In fact, they were essentially granted an indefinite stay in Germany. Koreans could take commercial loans of up to 150 million marks from West Germany as collateral for their 3-years of wages. In the end it is estimated that except for pensions and living expenses, the workers sent 70-90% of their salaries home to their poor families. Their hard work and life became the cornerstone of Korea’s economy. A half a century has passed since then.
The Koreans in Germany are no longer miners or nurses who came from a poor homeland. They work hard and diligently in a variety of livelihoods as Koreans and now as Germans. They live their lives in two different languages and cultures and have two different homelands.
(Eun Koung Ko | Korean in Germany, PRIVATE 52, pages 72-75)