Korean By Birth But Kenyan At Heart- Prof Yuhjin Park
In 2013 through the help of the Korean Foundation and the Academy of Korean Studies, the University of Nairobi established a Korean Studies centre. The centre was pitted to offer a BA degree in Korean Studies and a certificate course in Korean language, literature and culture. The Korean Foundation in its stride nominated a Korean language Professor to lead the curriculum.
That was Professor Park Yuhjin who to date has played an integral role in building Korean studies at the university. Her contributions to the growth of Korean Studies at UoN cannot be ignored, as she teaches about 70% of the units on offer. She teaches Korean language and culture in the degree program, and Korean language, Literature and Culture in the certificate program.
Our writer, Jauquelyne Kosgei caught up with her and came up with the following interview.
The Bridge: For how long have you been in Kenya?
Prof. Park: I have been in Kenya for exactly four years; I arrived at the end of August 2013. I started teaching at UoN soon after.
The Bridge: Having been in Kenya for four years, what can you say of your initial feeling and impression compared to your experiences over time?
Prof. Park: Not much has changed, really. At first, I was surprised to find a very blue sky and huge birds flying in the air. These are not things you will usually see in Korea, and I was very fascinated. Until now, I still find Kenya’s natural environment and weather very captivating.
The Bridge: Please tell us about your academic journey.
Prof. Park: I enrolled for my BA degree in Ewha Womans University in 2000. I did not graduate until 2006 though, as I spent one semester visiting Beijing, China, and a whole academic year focusing on extracurricular activities. I majored in Chinese Language and Literature, and minored in Korean Language and Literature and also in Asian Studies. For three years after my BA, I worked in Korean Broadcasting Station (KBS) as an assistant writer. I then went to Shanghai, China, where I taught Korean Literature to Koreans studying there. I then returned to my alma mater where I did my Master of Education between 2010 and 2012. Soon after, I applied for the post of KF Visiting Professor, and I was fortunate to be hired. And here I am.
The Bridge: So, was teaching always your dream career? If not, when did you consider being a teacher?
Prof. Park: Actually, I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school. I always loved to read novels and poems. That is why I studied Chinese and Korean literature. In fact, I took more literature units than linguistic ones! However, teaching Korean Literature in Shanghai, I realised I could make a good teacher. I found it easy and fun communicating with students.
The Bridge: Talking of which, we talked to some of your students. All of them say you are an excellent teacher. What do you think you do that would make them see you so?
Prof. Park: Thank you! I think that is because I am friends with them besides being just a teacher. I have made them very comfortable with me, and I always have time to talk about their family, relationships, and sometimes their dreams and aspirations. That may be the reason.
The Bridge: What is the one thing your students do not know about you?
Prof. Park: Uh, nothing! I think my students know everything about me.
The Bridge: What is one day like for a teacher?
Prof. Park: In my case, I don’t go to school every day, but I would prepare handouts for my students, have a class for 2-3 hours, give a make-up class for those who need it, and sometimes have coffee or pizza with my students. For now, I am also writing a paper for an upcoming conference in Egypt.
The Bridge: What is the one expectation you have of (your) students?
Prof. Park: I expect them to study extra even without homework assigned to them. They are not primary or high school kids anymore, and should study independently. Also, as a language teacher, I don’t expect them to rely on Google Translate as a tutor, especially for basic expressions we have learned in class. Trust me, Google Translate can sometimes generate weird sentences, some of which I have received.
The Bridge: Having said that, what is the best thing about your students?
Prof. Park: Generally, I find my students very enthusiastic about Korean language and Korea in general. They are always excited and actually show up for Korean events like the Korean Film Festival, the Korean Food Festival, and the Korean National Foundation Day. They put so much energy into making these occasions a success, and I am happy about that.
The Bridge: It is obvious that you have blended into the Kenyan culture now, but what is the most shocking thing you ever observed in Kenya?
Prof. Park: I have gone to a few clubs here in Kenya, and I am still shocked about the dance styles here. Put simply, there is too much hip movement in Kenyan dance.
The Bridge: What hobbies have you adopted in Kenya?
Prof. Park: These aren’t new hobbies, really, but I love reading comic books and playing the violin. I also like playing mobile games, with Clash of Clans as my current favourite. I am actually the leader of my clan at the moment. I also love going on holiday sometimes, with Mombasa and Zanzibar being the best destinations to experience the Indian Ocean, and Maasai Mara the best reserve to observe the animal species.
The Bridge: What are your plans for the future?
Prof. Park: I plan to keep teaching at UoN for a few more years, which tells you that I am happy to be here. I am currently developing my doctoral thesis to be presented at UoN.