By Daisy Jemutai
Hon. Kwon Young-Dae is the current Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Kenya. He is also accredited to Somalia, Comoros and Mauritius. So far, he has served for 3 years. He previously served in the US, Iran, Germany and Brazil. I paid him a visit and had the following interview.
So, who is Ambassador Kwon Young-Dae?
(Chuckles) I was born and raised in the countryside of Chungcheong Province, South Korea. I am married and I have two boys, one is currently serving in the Korean military and the younger is studying here in Kenya. He is in 7th Grade. I graduated from Seoul National University having majored in History for my Bachelor’s Degree. I further went up the education ladder and got a Masters degree in Political Science at Georgia State University, USA.
When not working, what kind of other activities do you engage in?
I like sports and so I enjoy watching soccer, baseball and basketball. Also, ever since I came to Kenya, I have been playing a lot of golf. I play nearly every weekend. When I have free time, I play the guitar as well. My other favourite hobby is playing the Korean traditional game called Go.
How has your journey been as a Diplomat?
Being a diplomat has enabled me to travel to different countries. I started out as a consul in the US. At that time I was a Korean consul in general at Atlanta. I also worked at the Korean Embassy in Iran. I was posted to Germany and Brazil as well. I am now in Kenya serving 3 other countries too. Having travelled and lived in several countries, I have been able to learn about different cultures. I enjoy being a diplomat.
Did you have dreams of being a diplomat from an earlier age? Why did you settle on this path?
Actually, I thought of becoming a lawyer but came to discover later I was not really into law. In university, I wanted to become a professor until my 3rd year when I was drafted into the army. When I finished my military service, I changed my mind and applied for the Korean diplomat entry exam and subsequently became a Diplomat. My professor had recommended the exam, claiming that being a professor might take a lot of time.
What keeps you going?
The call to serve. My everyday priority is serving my nation and humanity. As a Korean diplomat, I seek to strengthen my country’s national interest abroad. I have been doing my best. Service for humanity is also paramount. These days, my other priority is in environmental issues and sustainable development. Since the world is experiencing global warming and climate change, I involve myself in conservation activities to try help in conserving the environment.
What is your favourite Kenyan food?
For my case, Kenyan food is never complete without ‘nyamachoma’. ‘Ugali’ comes second. It kind of resembles Korean rice cake. I like chapatti too.
On a lighter note, have you ever tried ‘githeri’ (a local delicacy made of maize and beans)?
Yes, I have eaten ‘githeri’ before. I liked it.
Which is your favourite tourist destination in Kenya?
Most definitely Maasai Mara; one of the greatest African wildlife reserves. The last time I went there on a safari I encountered the most spectacular wild ecosystem and enjoyed watching the big wild games. The wild beast migration was amazing. I have been to Amboseli National Park too. It has large elephant herds and spectacular views of Mt. Kilimanjaro, across the border in Tanzania.
Which tourist destination would you recommend to our readers if they visited S. Korea?
I fully recommend Jeju Island. It is recognised as the best-preserved area in Korea. Most young couples visit the island for their honeymoon. It is known as ‘ Little Hawaii’ for its balcony landscape, sub-tropical scenery and sand attraction. It has old texture cottages that give a traditional feel. There is plenty of delicious sea food too. Busan is also another popular tourist destination point, known for its beautiful sandy beaches. It is quite similar to Mombasa.
What would you tell our readers about the Korean Embassy?
I hope Korea and Kenya relations will be more strengthened. I hope that Kenyans and Koreans will be able to know each other more. That is why I try to promote cultural exchange and people to people exchange programmes. We live in different geographical areas so through exchanges we would be able to know each other better. As the Korean Ambassador, I tend to upgrade the bilateral ties between Korea and Kenya in myriad areas, aligning our mission to the Kenyan government policy. I have now given top priority to the ‘Big 4 project agenda’ initiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta. That is affordable housing, universal health care, manufacturing and security.