A SEMESTER IN JEJU

By Sophie Wambua.

It is the dream of most, if not all students who study Korean language to visit South Korea and get  to experience the country’s  unique and authentic heritage, an experience that speaks to the mind and soul of those who study it. I was lucky enough to get a TOPIK scholarship to study for one semester at Jeju National University located in the beautiful Island of Jeju. This was a dream come true. I prepared all my travel documents and when the 25th of February 2017 got by, I bid my country farewell and left for S.korea. The flight was long and exhausting but I finally got to Jeju Island. The director of the Foreign Students’ department picked me up from the airport and gave me a well organized schedule with all the program requirements.

My first night was a blacked-out blur due to the exhaustion. After I was well rested, my roommate showed me around campus. I was immediately captured by the beauty of the place.  The architecture of the buildings was majestic and the standard of hygiene was rather high. Our hostels looked like some ‘5 star hotels.’ Well, everything surpassed my expectations.

I have to admit that it was not easy for me at first. This is because I am not really good at meeting new people or making friends. My Korean by then was not so good and so the thought enhanced the hibbie jibbies . I could only speak little Korean despite having studied it in UoN. All in all the Korean people that I came across  were so impressed that even people from Africa are aware of their language let alone speak it.

With no time to waste, we were set to sit for a level test at the beginning of the week to determine our  level of proficiency in the Korean language. Thereafter I began my language course. Our class was oozing with diversity; two students from Japan, two from Mexico, one from Colombia, one from Brazil, one from Russia, one from France, ten from China and  I from Kenya. Before we started learning, the teacher taught us a fun game that helped us to know each other’s names, nationality, favorite food and hobbies.  Suffice it to say, I had already made friends by the end of the first class. Our classes were conducted in a very organized manner. The teacher was very kind and patient with all of us. She taught at a perfect pace that enabled us to grasp the language even better. We managed to polish our conversational skills, which  made it easier for us to communicate with other students in the campus and Korean people at large. Occasionally, the teacher could bring us treats like sweets, cookies and nuts, and this went way to  lift our spirits.

From the schedule that I was given, we had three cultural trips that  were organized and funded by the school. They provided an opportunity for foreign students to tour the Island and get a feel of what Korean culture entails. For the first trip we were given a tour of Yakchusa temple stay located on Daepo-dong, Seogipo-si in Jeju. It is the largest temple in  East Asia.  The view was breathtaking. The rocks and the surrounding wild growing tangerine trees created a beautiful and a peaceful scenery. The temple was very ancient yet it looked maintained. It consisted of high ceilings, beautiful decorative Chinese and Korean characters, and a big golden like statue of Buddha that rested in the middle of the room.  We all gathered  and a  Buddhist monk gave us a brief description of the temple. For lunch we ate temple food, then went ahead and learned more about Buddhism, and later made Buddhist bracelets.

Come the second trip (a different day), we visited Jeju Stone Park and watched a newly released movie “fast and furious”. For the last cultural trip we visited Udo island. To get there, we boarded a ship. Udo island is located on the north eastern of Seongsan-ni, 3.5 km off the coast of Jeju. Udo, literally ‘cow island” in Chinese, has the name because it looks like a cow lying down. Udo is famously known for its delicious ice creams. I tried and  confidently  testified it to be  the best Ice cream that I had ever tasted. Over the weekend I got to travel the island and visited other well known tourist attractions like the Hallasan, Loveland, Jeongbang waterfall, the hots prings of Seowgipo, a human maze park, the teddy bear museum and Manjangull cave. The island was very  beautiful and its black sandy  beaches were a sight to behold.

I can’t fail to talk about the food, my favourite part in the entire trip. I got a chance to try out all the Korean cuisines I had  dreamt  about.  The most bizarre food that I ate was raw octopus,sannakji. It was  unexpectedly delicious . I also tried Beongdegi which is steamed silkworm larvae(complete with the juices that come out during steaming process), soondae-blood sausages, and  jjajangmyeum.

To mark the beginning of spring, the school invited some well known Kpop musicians like Crush, Dynamic duo and girlfriends  to perform at our campus. It was so much fun as we got to groove along  our favorite jams. The blooming of the cherry blossom flowers is one of most the beautiful scenery I have ever seen.

Life in Korea is extremely convenient and comfortable. The developed infrastructure  and elaborate transport made it easier for us foreigners to navigate the area. The Korean people were warm hearted, kind and more than willing to help in any way that they could. Every time, the locals wanted to interact with me and would often stop in the streets just to say hi. All in all the experience was an eye opener. It made me appreciate my African heritage because it was shocking to realize how other people admired it.

 

Exploring Korea And Kenya

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Travel

Masai Mara

The Masai Mara is a Game Reserve located in Narok County. It is one of the best vacation sites in Kenya. From the abundance of nature and wildlife to the magnificent camps all over the reserve, the Masai Mara is definitely a fun-filled experience for all its visitors’.  It is especially famous for the Great Migration of Wildebeest, Zebra and Thomson’s gazelle from the Serengeti across the Mara River. Visitors can enjoy residency in one of the reserve’s camp sites all the while enjoying a variety of cuisine from the Isokon Restaurant. There is a range of activities one can participate in while at the Masai Mara; sightseeing tours on the hot air balloons, wildlife safaris and visiting the Masai village and market. While here one can experience the exciting Masai culture. This is definitely a place to visit.

Mombasa

This is a town on the coast of Kenya which is well known for its warm and palm-lined sandy beaches and clear waters. For animal lovers, Haller Park is the place to visit. With over 160 species of birds and a variety of wildlife it is a great hit. One can also visit some pre-historic sites like the Fort Jesus and the Gedi Ruins for an exciting cultural experience. Mamba Village, a crocodile farm is a popular spot with tourists. The Marine National Park is the place to visit. With activities like diving and snorkeling, one can get the full marine experience. You can also view the marine life from the glass-bottom boat if you don’t want to get into the water. Honestly there is really no limit to the places you can visit in Mombasa.

The Rift Valley

The Rift Valley extends through Kenya through from the north to south. As you travel up there are so many sites to behold. You could hike your way up Mt. Longonot or simply enjoy the view of the mountain from the view point along the highway. There are also numerous curio shops where one can buy authentic Kenyan antiques. While in Naivasha, Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate are just a few of the places you should visit. Along the highway you can observe Zebras, Baboons and gazelles on the sides of the road. A tour of Lake Nakuru national Park is also a must-do. The view of the pink flamingos and the beautiful wildlife is a breathtaking scenery. From Black Rhinos, Hippos, Horned Baboons, Leopards and more you will definitely have the experience of a lifetime.

Mt. Kenya

Mt.Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya located in Nyeri County. It is one of the major tourist attractions in Kenya. The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club at the foot of the mountain is a beautiful and a serene place to kick back and relax. Mountain climbing, rock climbing, hiking, camping; one is spoilt for choice. Up the mountain there are beautiful glacier lakes with pure and fresh water. Further up the mountain you’ll find the magnificent peaks Batian, Nelion and Lenana. At the peaks one can go glacier snow-boarding, with the right supervision of course.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

It was the main palace during the Joseon Dynasty. It served as both the homes of the kings of the Joseon Dynasty and the government of Joseon. It was previously destroyed during the Japanese Invasion but over the years it has slowly been restored to its original state. Tourists flock at the palace to experience Korea’s history and cultural heritage as it houses the National Palace Museum of Korea. The scenery is spectacular and the staff are very kind and dedicated to make your visit a memorable one.

Everland

This is South Korea’s largest theme park located at the Everland Resort in Yongin. There is definitely something for people of all ages. Known for its beautiful scenery, tourists visit the park to experience nature at the garden which has so many different types of flowers and trees. Zootopia is also a must-see with over 2000 animals of 201 species. One can also see the giant Pandas that were given to Korea by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to symbolize the friendship between Korea and China. One can also enjoy rides like the T-Express (the first wooden roller coaster) which is especially popular with young kids. There are festivals all year round which are a great way of experiencing the Korean culture and cuisine. Good food, rides, wildlife and nature, what more do you need!

Busan

Busan is South Korea’s second largest city. There is so much adventure to experience in Busan. It is well known for its beautiful beaches where one can visit the aquarium or play traditional games like tug of war at the Folk Square. Hiking up the mountains is a good way to keep fit while exploring the beautiful country of Korea. Have a feel of Korea’s religion when you visit the Buddhist temples like Beomeosa Temple. Busan also houses museums and historical buildings. Animal lovers can visit Dongbaek Island and take part in bird-watching at the Nakdong River estuary. It is simply amazing.

Jeju Island

Also known as Jejudo. It houses the Hallasan National Park where people go hiking up the Hallasan Mountain. Beautiful beaches, waterfalls, museums, theme parks, caverns and caves are just a few of the places you can visit while in Jeju Island, an experience that is bound to leave you mesmerized.

By Virginia Chege

 

Tales From Graduate School

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Education

South Korea’s distinctive blend of age-old traditions and modernity  makes it a vibrant choice for those wishing to study abroad. The country hosts a number of internationally renowned universities that offer competitive, high quality and well respected education. Young people from developing countries have opted to study there. Many have enrolled, and continue to enroll for graduate studies, thanks to the availability of foreign scholarships. Kenyans have not been left behind. Their enrollment  has steadily been rising. The bridge sought to find out how it is to study and live in S. Korea from  some of these Kenyans. We reached out to four graduate students from KyungPook National  University, Daegu.

 Mutuku Stella Musyawa:

Master of Science (Msc) in Economics

Stella Upon her graduation in July 2017

The  interest of my research concentrates on development economics, focusing on newly industrialized and developing countries. Living outside the comfort of my country’s family and culture has shaped my life, and made me more independent and responsible. This environment has exposed me to people from across the globe, an experience that has shaped my attitude and knowledge on diverse cultures the world over.

Full of passion for studying and the desire for a new experience beyond, was and has remained my motivation for my 3 year study and stay in South Korea. Well, it has been challenging taking all my courses in Korean language but the support of my professors, fellow students, well-equipped resource centers and the dedicated effort  enabled me to overcome the barriers. As a Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP) beneficiary, I had to study Korean language for one year in Busan. Although the pressure from school work would get overwhelming, the experience was way amazing. School is well balanced with frequent field trips that are organized by the language institute. Moreover, because I attended my language school in Busan, which hosts most of the best recreation facilities in South Korea, I had diverse joints to unwind when school work got overwhelming.

Living outside the environs of one’s home implies starting life afresh and it comes with the fear of the unknown. But the world is full of great people and one is able to meet new people, whom with time become friends and then family. I must admit that that life abroad is not a bed of roses but neither is it back at home and each environment comes with its own challenges. A positive attitude to the unknown life beyond home enables one to cope up with the inevitable challenges.  For example, living beyond one’s continent implies that the diet would be totally different and it is in learning how to appreciate different cultures that one enables one to get out of the comfort of their home country meals.

I would recommend students with a desire to study in South Korea to put effort in learning basic Korean via K-Drama, K-Pop, Apps (KoreanLite) and YouTube tutors. Being conversant with the basic Korean implies that you can easily integrate into their society

2. Bernard Ouma Alunda

Ph. D (Doctoral Degree) Department of Mechanical Engineering

My research area looks at the development of a versatile high-speed and hybrid atomic force microscope (AFM) for structural characterization and dynamic observation of samples at nano-/ pico-scale. I have lived in Korea for more than four (4) years. I heard about Kyungpook National University while taking my Masters degree  at Yeungnam University (2010-2012). As a Ph. D student much is expected of me in terms of research. This calls for massive sacrifice that needs one to stay  in the lab for hours. It is a tad draining but what motivates me the most is the passion and the enthusiasm that I have for what I do and the support from my advisor. He is an amazing  and talented individual who believes that we can ace it. To that effect , the amount of time I spend in the laboratory matters less. I get propelled by achievements that I make periodically. Interestingly, I have resorted to labeling the days I  spend sleepless nights, “nightless sleeps” to carry on the grind and make sure the concepts work no matter what. In fact I call my lab a ‘home’ because I spend lots of time in there.

My lab working hours range between 9 a.m. to roughly 2 a.m. Most of the times I get so much absorbed in my work  that I even lose track of time. The experience and the build up of determination, has transformed me into an individual that can handle any sort of engineering task that I am faced with. Basically, Korea is a ‘palipali’ (in Swahili  ‘chap chap’) society where people believe that things ought to be done fast and efficiently. The culture’s inbred  slogan i.e. ‘fighting’ springs from every corner to encourage you whenever things get tough. I would say that South Korea has achieved a lot in terms of technology (IT and Engineering) and several universities as well as research institutes (www.ust.ac.kr) are equipped with the latest facilities to aid in nurturing cutting-edge technology. It would therefore be an interesting place to do your post-graduate studies.

  1. Joseph N. Tinega

Master of Science, (Msc) Environmental and Energy Engineering

Joseph (7th from the Right) during the launch of Kenya Corner at Kyungpook University

Being humans we tend to slip into comfort quite easily. Traveling/studying in a foreign country is an exemplary way to step out of this comfort zone. I did my fair share of that in 2014 when I came to the Republic of Korea. Since then, the experiences and challenges that I have met  have  helped in rediscovering my passion and capabilities. They have shaped and built my character too. For instance, upon admission for my MSc I came across some part time Korean post graduate students, probably in their 30s, most of who were industrialists.

 

These students introduced me to their industries which resonated well with my studies, summing up the uniqueness of my study experience and its form of practicality. The visits had a lasting impression on me. I was more immersed  and practical into Korea’s industry, which is mostly heavy and chemical, factors  that have been the backbone of their great economic growth. To add, their work ethos and ethic, just-do-it spirit, and emphasis on efficiency by using the latest forms of technology (an example could be the use of robots in the production  systems) was such a great observation. With my life-long dream of being an industrialist, this was  an eye opener. Nevertheless, because the country is not a resource rich nation, their greatest resource has been  the human capital. Industrialists here have a drive or cultural desire to catch up with the West or being at the fore front of innovation/ invention.

Although Korean people have an intense work lifestyle and less social, one could choose to adopt some of the best values, skills and technological know-how, and then replicate them back at home. That could inspire and invigorate our economy. I have learnt, still learning and look forward to displaying the same once I am back in Kenya.

  1. Agumba Dickens Owino

Masters of Science (Msc), Advanced Mechanical Engineering

Studying abroad has become the dream of many students seeking to pursue their academic careers outside the confines of their home. Well, such an opportunity gives one the added advantage of exploring the world. Thus, it provides  a unique way of enriching our education, general knowledge and outlook on life. South Korea is a great option if you would opt to study abroad.

The academic environment here is highly competitive. This keeps you on toes. A wide variety of courses are on offer and therefore an international student  will easily find an area to tap into. To crown it all, the Korean government and the individual universities offer far much better scholarship opportunities for top performing international students. For those seeking to study abroad, I highly recommend the Republic of  Korea.

 

 

 

Joy Mworia: Chairing the Kenya Community in Korea

  1. Kindly introduce yourself.

“My name is Joy Clara Mworia, and I’m the current Chairperson of the Kenya Community in Korea. I have been in Korea for three years, two and a half as a graduate student at Pukyong National University and currently an English tutor. I am an outgoing person who enjoys meeting new people of different cultures and finding ways to help my fellow Kenyans in Korea feel at home far away from home.

  1. You replaced Dr. Benson Kamary as the new Kenya Community in Korea Chairperson. Tell us about that and what it meant to you (the fact that Kenyans in Korea had trust in you to pick you as their new leader).

I must confess that Kamary left some big shoes to fill. I was privileged to have known Kamary personally and worked with him in several occasions even before joining KCK as active members. We both went to Daystar University and happened to have resided in the same city, Busan, in Korea.

  1. What inspired you to vie for this position and what do you hope to achieve.

As an active member of Busan KCK chapter and later a member of the regional executive, I was able to find inspiration and also a calling to be part of KCK leadership. I must say that it is the togetherness of Kenyans in Korea that was a motivating factor. Kamary’s team transformed KCK with structures that enables leadership function even more smoothly.

  1. Please tell us a little about KCK .

Kenyan Community in Korea was founded in March 2007. Since then the community gradually transformed itself towards an organized association with leadership structure and a comprehensive constitution. It was until 2011 when new leadership transformed KCK into a professionally organized community by institutionalizing its various leadership and communication functions.

KCK is organized exclusively to provide a source for networking, promote success of members and advance the Kenyan values in Korea. The organization may undertake to publicize events and activities organized by its membership.

  1. Highlight some of the milestone achievements that KCK has so far achieved ever since it was started.

The list is endless, but just to mention;

  • Published “The Big Book”; a collection of academic papers by KCK members.
  • Strengthened the Regional Branches by recognizing leaders and their committees.
  • Created KCK brochures (downloadable from KCK website) to be sent to Korean Embassy in Nairobi etc.
  • Amended constitution to introduce Governing Council (KCK Exec, Regional Leaders; and Students Body and Professionals/Business as Ex-Officios)
  • Strengthened KCK-Embassy collaborations & Coordination (e.g. exhibitions, scholarships information, etc.)
  • Created a healthy financial status for KCK from an inherited debt to over 1 Million Won through out the leadership term.
  • Expanded registration by almost 100 new members
  • Facebook membership grew from 640 to over 1000
  • Record breaking numbers in all major KCK events (over 70 in Tujuane Fest in Cheonan, 200 in Busan Retreat, etc.)
  • For the first time branded KCK events with KCK T shirts (this will go on with customized regional color-codes e.g. Busan-Red, Daegu-Green, Seoul Blue etc)
  • Initiated establishment of Diaspora Alliance (Asia Chapter) with KIJA (Kenyans in Japan) and Kenyans in China. Ongoing process.
  • Built KCK profile and image as evidenced by growing interest to join KCK and also in leadership position. KCK is becoming competitive.
  • Initiated a process of appointing Honorary Ambassadors from outstanding Korean KCK members to strengthen KCK-Korea socio-cultural and organizational interactions.
  • Introduced “KCK Official Seal” as the official stamp for KCK documents/ recommendations and certificates.
  • Created and launched the KCK Official Website
  • Collected comprehensive data of Kenyans in Korea
  • Conducted leadership SWOT analysis to strengthen service delivery
  1. What are some of the challenges that you face (as KCK).

– The fact that KCK is not yet registered, we can’t take our conversation/engagement officially to the government of Kenya or Korea.

– Geographically, some places in Korea has only one or two Kenyans and so it is a challenge including everyone in the activities.

  1. I believe that most of the KCK members are scattered across the country. How are you able to maintain that closeness and sense of unity as a community, and most importantly as a family.

We have been active in our communication, which is one of the key pillars that Kamary’s team established. We have increased our presence in the social media, we have a website and a blog, as well as email and brochures. Beyond that, we believe that Kenyans are the primary ambassadors of KCK in terms of making the organization known to everyone. Our goal is to have any Kenyan coming to Korea to know we exist even before they take the flight here. By the way that has begun to happen.

  1. Most Kenyans I know based in Korea are into studies. Is there any other category of Kenyans engaged in something else other than studies?

Yes, we have Kenyans who are professionals and are working in various professions, lecturing, company, and business. We are also seeing a growing number of cross-cultural marriages between Kenyans and Koreans.

How do you relate with the Kenyan Embassy in Korea. Don’t your roles overlap? How supportive have they been?

We work closely. The relationship has grown to be very cordial and we see each other as working toward the same goal – seeking the best wellbeing and success for Kenyans in all areas they are involved in. We are blessed to have a great Ambassador and embassy staff who participate in KCK’s events and integrate with Kenyans at various levels.

What is your dream for the future of KCK.

That KCK be a model of Kenyan diaspora community. That we will be a voice of hope, patriotism, resilience and beacon of prosperity in all we do as international  students or professionals.

 

The Fun of Learning a Foreign Language

“Hallo”… It could be the simplest way to start conversations. It works for me. Always. There is fun in knowing new people. Talking to them makes it feel that my world has expanded a little. It is never the same.

Growing up I really marveled at the world. It started with the mundane of thoughts; how big it was, how many people were in and how many existing cultures were there for an individual to experience if he/she wanted to. Well, reflecting on this last thought it is basically inexhaustible in a lifetime. I mean 5 continents, 196 countries, 6500 languages, 7 billion people. It left me with a fascination at how much my world could grow.

Being the adventurous type, I took a liking for the Asian culture and started watching their documentaries, shows and music. It was fun but I couldn’t understand the languages. Therefore I took the plunge to learn an Asian language and that is how I got into learning Korean language, which is quite interesting.

Korean is quite different from English.It has its own alphabet and pronunciations. The first Korean class was more like going back to kindergarten to learn the basics. It was a funny and ridiculous one, because as our lecturer intoned,our prowess levels were close to that of 6 year olds back in Korea. We learnt how to pronounce and write the vowels and consonants, then progressed to simple vocabulary, to sentences and finally to paragraphs. This took us 4 months at the end of which speaking was still a challenge but manageable.

If you are into watching/reading, you know the satisfaction that comes with listening/noticing something from a movie or book and understanding the meaning. I like watching Korean Movies and I enjoy their sense of culture, so imagine my joy when I was watching and understood some word I had learnt without resorting to subtitles. It was amazing, magical. I felt like some kind of a genius.

Learning a new language helps in understanding the culture of a people. The world has many cultures, each unique and valuable. Cultures are portrayed in the cuisine, clothing, social habits, religion, music and art. All these are accessible from learning a language. Someone said, “Civilization isn’t a result of a single dominant culture but the product of mergers and interactions between diverse cultures, interacting enough to benefit from each other but not so much as to lose themselves in the other.” This is proven.A look at the best civilizations in the world shows that they derive their success from diversity. Americans have ties to almost all nations in the world either by ancestry or assimilation and were aware of their level of civilization. Down to my own experience, I learnt a lot from the Korean culture, my best being the unwavering work ethic. South Koreans really believe that hard work is worthy of reward and this says a lot given their claim of the 4th largest economy in Asia and the 11th largest in the world.

Additionally, learning a new language connects you to others that could be sharing the same interests. We all understand the feeling when you come across people who share your love for football or movies, or a theory you like. You can practically talk for hours. Such conversations are probably the most satisfying. It feels good to be understood. Which brings me to an experience I had with close friends, when I began learning Korean culture. I was surely an odd bird. They couldn’t understand why I did what I was doing. However, things changed when I walked into this class, with students excited to start learning Korean Studies. It has never been the same again. We are now a family. We challenge, teach and learn from one another. It is fun. We recently finished a 1000 piece puzzle that took us 10 days. We really treasure that puzzle and the memories it gave us. A year ago I never thought I could have friends who were fascinated with Korea as I am. Now I can say that if I travel to Seoul, I won’t be worried because my friends will be there to receive me. Or if I want to practice Korean I can just call a friend and chat hours on end. The possibilities are endless.

By Andreas Mutuku