YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea (June 4, 2012) -- The Korean Tourism Organization president encouraged U.S. troops in South Korea to get off base and explore the country.

KTO President Charm Lee spoke to U.S. service members and civilians about Korean cultural attractions during a tourism program at the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters here, June 4.

Many senior U.S. Forces Korea officials attended the program, including Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea.

Lee left his native Germany for Korea in 1978 for six months. Almost 35 years later, he is a naturalized South Korean citizen and the first foreign born public official in Korean history.

During the hour and a half program, he discussed Korean food, traditional houses and special tourist sites around the country.

Lee predicts Korean food will soon become a global phenomenon much like K-pop music and Korean dramas and movies. Lee said Korean food includes a wide variety of dishes, some that trace their roots to the days of the Korean royal court. Lee also sought to dispel concerns about some of the more fiery and exotic dishes.

"Not everything is spicy and only a few things are alive," said Lee.

Discussing seasonal tourism, Lee highlighted the cherry blossoms in the southern coastal city of Chinhae, the annual mud festival on the west coast beaches of Boryeong and the ice festival in the mountains of Hwacheon. Lee also talked about the many special walking trails that have recently been constructed in the mountainous countryside.

Lee encouraged U.S. military personnel to visit the Korean Tourism Organization website at www.visitkorea.or.kr or www.ibuzzkorea.com or to use the English tourism line by dialing 1330.

"Korea is a place that can inspire you if you just give it a little effort," said Lee.