The 2018 Korea Cultural Festival took place on the 15th of December at the Westgate Shopping mall. For only a hundred shillings, Kenyans got the chance to try out Korean food. There was a variety of Korean dishes to check out.
On the 3rd of October, we celebrated Korean Foundation day at the residence of Korea’s Ambassador to Kenya in Lavington, Nairobi. The celebration commemorated the foundation of Korean nation dating back to 2333BC. The Guest of Honor was the Principal Secretary of Foreign Affairs Mr. Macharia Kamau. His address highlighted the Kenya and Korea bilateral relations from 1964 to present day. The attendants were later treated to great Korean classical music and Taekwondo, and then lunch that featured rich Korean cuisine.
The Embassy gets a new Ambassador.
On the 31st of October 2018, the term of Amb. Kwon Young-Dae came to an end. This came after three years of service. He is now Korea’s ambassador to Lebanon.
The current Korea’s ambassador to Kenya, H.E Choi Yong Han, arrived in the country on the 21st of November 2018 and presented credentials to President Kenyatta in December. Amb. Choi has a BA in International Relations from Seoul National University and an MBA from the State University of New York, Buffalo USA. He previously worked as the head of International Cooperation at the ‘Korea Institute for National Unification’ and was the Director General of ‘International Corporation Bureau.’
In the early month of September 2018, His Excellency Amb. Mohammed Gello was invited over to Arirang TV for the Diplomat interview series. The following interview ensued and this is what he had to say.
So you started your tenure in Korea from 2015. How has your life been in Korea?
I have enjoyed every bit of my stay in S. Korea. 3 and half years so far. While preparing to come here I had read a lot about Korea but upon settling everything became a thrilling surprise; the history and its multicultural aspect. The transition from a poor country to a rich country is nothing short of fascinating. The culture is indeed unique; the character of people, their welcoming nature, and the desire to always express and share their culture. I have enjoyed my stay.
Looking back on this stay what was your most memorable moment?
Many things have been memorable. First was when I went south in Jeonju, a region famous for making Bimbimbap. I had my first Bibimbap there and it was great. Bibimpap is one of my favorite Korean foods alongside Bulgogi. I also love Korean Barbeque. I can’t go for two weeks without trying out Korean barbeque.
Second is the Pyeongyang Winter Olympics. It was a first for me. Also, my other memorable experiences have had to do with the everyday contacts I make with people, especially Koreans; whether in a hotel, in a shop or when going to the market. It has been a wonderful experience. So basically I have enjoyed everything in this country.
H.E. Amb. Gello and Amb. Gathoga Chege join other Kenyans in drumming support for Ms. Sabrina Simader, Kenya’s sole representative in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
I feel like Kenya and Korea share a lot of similarities. Can you elaborate.
Yes, we do share quite a lot of similarities. Not many years back Korea was where Kenya was but then it chose a different path on development. I also think where a significant similarity lies is from the fact that both countries put a lot of premium on human resource. Kenya is not a very rich country in terms of natural resources. Our development is because of the fact that we spend more money on education.
It is not surprising that Kenya was among the first countries for Korea to open its Embassy. Less than two months after our independence, Korea opened its embassy in Nairobi. This is because of the fact that the two countries share some similarities. Then again transitioning from an Agriculture led economy to an industrial power base it is today is what we are trying to do now. Trying to understand how Korea got it right, why we did not follow their path and what we can do.
I heard that the Kenyan embassy was opened in 2007 and you mentioned that it should have opened earlier. Why?
I regret that we did that in 2007. The reason for opening an Embassy in Korea was very clear. We have had a very strong relationship since Kenya became independent and we believed that there was a lot we could learn from Korea.
Going back to why I felt we should have been here before.
We were both developing countries nearly at par in terms of GDP and we decided to take different paths that we all felt were right. But I guess if we were here and saw your development path, we would have learnt from your experience and would probably be somewhere near you. That is why we are now here. We are working with Korea to emulate the path that they took. Right now we are working with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Energy of Korea (MOTI) to develop a Korea style industrial park. So you can imagine if we were here long time ago. We would be very far.
I heard that the Embassy of Kenya has been making great efforts to spread Kenyan culture in Korea. Can you elaborate.
Yeah, we do that. We do that in many events that we participate in like the Seoul friendship festival. We have the Seoul Africa festival and it usually takes place during Africa day. We go as far as Busan and other cities to participate in cultural activities, through dance, through music, spreading of artefacts and food. Through this we are able to bring people together.
I think the most important thing is bringing people together and giving them space to know each other. When people know each other better, then they get to understand what is good in each other’s culture.
The Kenyan Embassy booth at a past Busan International Travel fair. The embassy uses such fairs to promote Kenyan culture in Korea.
What would be the best way to bring the two countries even closer in your own opinion.
Strengthening the areas of cooperation. Fast is to continue with the political process of ensuring that our leadership is more closer, there is exchange of high level visits and support for each other in many ways, not only at the bilateral level but also at the multi-lateral level.
Sustainability of relations also depends so much on economic cooperation. This could be achieved by ensuring that more Koreans are able to do business in Kenya and that Kenya is able to export and sell more in Korea. When countries trade more, they become closer. Of course cultural cooperation is very critical because through culture people understand and appreciate each other better. And therefore when more Koreans know about Kenya and more Kenyans know about Korea, our relations will be strong.
So, this will be my last question for you. What word or phrase could describe your philosophy as an Ambassador.
As an Ambassador my philosophy is always to make sure that wherever I go, I leave it a better place in terms of relationships. That I broaden and deepen that relationship. I am glad that in UAE and in Korea, I have achieved those. Promoting relations, strengthening relations and ensuring that there is an exchange of high level visits.
On the first ever official visit by a sitting Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Republic of Korea, the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya in Seoul hosted Amb. Monica Juma, CBS, Dphil, on 8th October, 2018. The visit was a milestone in the sustained effort to deepen and broaden the spectrum of engagement between Kenya and Korea.
During the visit, the Cabinet Secretary held meetings with three high level government officials within the Government of Korea as follows: the Prime Minister Mr. Lee Nak-Yeon, First Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Cho Hyun and the President of the Korea International Cooperation Agency Ms. Lee Mi-kyung.
The visit by the Cabinet Secretary established a unique momentum to amplify bilateral engagement as it closely followed the visit of the Korean Prime Minister in July 2018 and an earlier tour by the former President Ms. Park Geun-hye in May, 2016 during the two high level officials from Korea held consultations with the President H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta.
The vibrant consultations during the visit of the Cabinet Secretary pegged bilateral relations a notch higher and enabled deliberations on means of amplifying collaboration particularly in trade and investment with emphasis on the need to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers. Emphasis was laid on fostering closer engagement with line Ministries and agencies in the agricultural sector to adapt a targeted approach in the promotion of Kenyan products to gain greater market share in Korea.
With regard to the Big Four Agenda, the Cabinet Secretary indicated the priority areas for cooperation with the Republic of Korea as follows: Food security with emphasis on increasing volume and nutritional value and development of species adaptive to the changing climatic conditions; Development of human resource for health care professionals; Exchange of experience with regard to affordable housing in order to adequately address the effects of increasing urbanization; Capacity building in the ICTs sector as it is cross cutting in all the areas of development.
The visit by the Cabinet Secretary was instrumental in mobilizing support and participation of the Republic of Korea at the high level Blue Economy Conference that took place in Nairobi on 26th-28th November, 2018. Officials from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of Korea attended the conference as well as representatives from academia and the private sector to share the Korean experience in the successful mainstreaming and optimization of the marine resources.
The visit by the Cabinet Secretary provided fresh impetus for the Kenya Mission in Seoul to pursue its mandate to elevate relations between Kenya and Koreaa. In this regard, the Mission in conjunction with the Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands Directorate is pursuing the process of constituting a joint working group to oversee the implementation of decisions and projects as agreed during the meeting between H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Korean Prime Minister H.E. Lee Nak-yeon during his visit in July, 2018. The Mission is also anticipating the 5th Session of the Kenya/ Korea Joint Economic Commission (JEC) scheduled for 2019 that will enable greater engagement in areas of mutual cooperation including education, ICTS, health, agriculture, trade and investment as well as water and sanitation.
Amb. Kwon Young-Dae is the current Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Kenya. Alongside Kenya he is accredited to Somalia, Comoros and Mauritius. He has served for 3 years. His career spans from serving in the US, Iran, Germany, Brazil and now in Kenya. We paid him a visit and this is what he had to say.
So, who is Ambassador Kwon Young-Dae?
(Chuckles) I was born and raised in the country side 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 Bachelors Degree. I further went up the education ladder and got a Masters degree in Political Science at Georgia State University, USA.
What kind of activities do you engage in when not working?
I like different types of sports, especially Football, Soccer, Baseball and Basketball. Also, ever since I came to Kenya, I play golf nearly every weekend. When I have free time, I play the guitar as well. My other favorite hobby is playing the Korean traditional game called Go (usually played with black and white stones).
Having served as a diplomat for many years, how has your journey been?
Being a diplomat has enabled me to travel to different countries. I started out as a consul in the United States of America; 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. This time I am serving in Kenya, where my post is accredited to 3 other countries too.
In what way have you benefited from your career?
Because I have been to several countries, I have been able to learn different cultures and people. I have enjoyed being a diplomat; diplomacy has motivated and inspired me. I like it.
Growing up, did you have dreams of being an Ambassador? Why did you choose this path?
In my early years I thought of becoming a lawyer but later on discovered I didn’t like some aspects of the legal debate, somehow not in sync with my character. When I was in university, I wanted to become a professor until my 3rd year when I was drafted into the Army. After finishing my military service, I suddenly changed my mind and applied for the Korean diplomat entry exam and subsequently became a Diplomat. My professor had recommended the exam, instead of being a professor which usually takes a lot of time.
What makes you wake up every morning?
Everyday my priority is to serve my nation and humanity. As a Korean diplomat I try to strengthen our national interest in order to serve my nation. I do my best. Service for humanity is also important. Nowadays my priority is in Environmental issues and Sustainable Development. Since the world is experiencing global warming and climate change, I would want to make my contribution to a better environment some day.
You have lived in Kenya for quite some time, which is your favourite Kenyan food?
Kenyan food would not be complete without ‘Nyamachoma’. It is very delicious and therefore my favourite. ‘Ugali’ is also good because it is similar to Korean Rice cake, though ‘Ugali’ is made from maize flour and Rice cake is made from rice. I also like chapatti.
On a light note, have you ever eaten ‘Githeri’ (beans and maize mixture)?
Yes I have eaten ‘Githeri’ and I liked it.
Which is your go to destination in Kenya?
When we think about Kenya you think about Maasai Mara, which is one of the greatest African Wildlife reserves. When I went there I enjoyed the most spectacular Wild Ecosystem and the safari big games; especially the Wild Beast migration which is amazing. I have been to Amboseli National Park, which has a spectacular view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Amongst the wild animals that you have seen, which is your favourite?
My favourite is definitely the Lion. The big five as well, especially due to the endangered species crisis amongst the big five. It is usually hard to find the leopard and the cheetah, and so we should preserve our endangered species. Another animal I like is the hyena, and more because of its behaviour like its hunting technique. Some people complain that hyenas steal food but they are intelligent and smart. At times they attack Lions all together, and therefore through the hyena I have learnt about cooperation (chuckles) which is very important when hunting.
Which tourist destination would you recommend to our readers if they decided to visit South Korea?
I fully recommend Jeju Island. It is recognised as the best preserved area in Korea. Jejudo is the only island province in Korea. It is the most popular honeymoon destination site as well. It is known as ‘a little Hawaii’ for its balcony landscape, sub-tropical scenery and sand attraction. Jejudo has old texture cottage with walls made from lava, which offers a great chance for tourists to enjoy the Island’s unique pop culture. Also the sea food is very delicious. Busan is also a popular tourist destination point, known for its beautiful sandy beaches. It is quite similar to Mombasa.
What would you like to tell our readers about the Korean Embassy?
I hope the relations between Korea and Kenya will be strengthened more. 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 are able to know each other better. As the Korean Ambassador, I try to upgrade the bilateral ties between Korea and Kenya in the various fields. Now, I have given top priority to the ‘Big 4 project’ that was initiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta; affordable housing, universal health care, manufacturing and security, that is in line with the Kenyan government policy.
Lastly, any word of advice to our readers
I want to take this opportunity to tell all the young students that you have great potential. First, you should work very hard. To quote Mandela, ‘education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.’ You are young and therefore you can do anything. Do not give up but keep on working hard. It will pay off and you will accomplish your dreams. Do not be afraid of failure, for example to quote Michael Jordan where he said that during his career he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots, and that is why he succeeded. And therefore even though you may fail, try to take lessons from your failures, be brave and do not be afraid of making mistakes. Challenges are important as they better you in future.
Ehwa Woman’s University in Seoul, Korea and the University of Nairobi in Nairobi Kenya, are working together to promote knowledge on Korean culture. For the last two years, students at The University of Nairobi have had lectures from S. Korea through teleconferencing. In 2016, from May to August, the students learned Political Economy of Korean Development through a Lecturer from Ehwa University, Department of Political Science. In 2017, students were taught Korean Social Political Philosophy by a lecturer from Sookmyung Woman’s University.
The mission and purpose of this program is to improve relations between Kenya and South Korea. More to it is to improve the knowledge about Korea. The courses are meant to expose students to other dynamics of Korea such as economy, literature, culture and other relevant Korean matters. The program runs for 11 weeks which is equivalent to 1 semester. The best performing student gets a chance to visit Korea for 1 month.
This year, the UoN students are thrilled about the program and have enrolled in large numbers. Julius Macharia and Bhavisha Patel, students from the 2017 class, say it is always an interesting experience learning about Korea through online. They also applauded the lecturers for their outstanding teaching.
The 2018 class is set to study Korean Economic Development by Pof. Kim Sei-Wan from Ehwa Woman’s University. He flew to Kenya for his first lecture. We caught up with him for a short interview. The class will run from January to April.
Bridge: Please tell us about yourself
Prof. Kim: I am an Economics lecturer at Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul. I got my degree in the United States. I’ve also taught at California State University, Department of economics.
Bridge: Is this your first time in Africa? How do you find Kenya?
Prof. Kim: Yes, this is my first time in Africa. Kenya is a land of so much economic opportunities. I am here to lecture students and I am looking forward to a good time.
Bridge: For how long have you been doing the online class, is this your first time? Have you ever done it with other universities in other countries?
Prof. Kim: I have done online teaching for some time now; I have a lot of experience in this area. I’ve done online classes with the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, Bonn University in Germany, among others. I have years of experience in online teaching.
Bridge: What do you plan to achieve with the class of 2018?
Prof. Kim: I want the students to learn about Korea’s economic growth. Korea was poor, especially after the war but now 50 years later, it has grown to richness, currently being the world’s 11th largest economy. In this way, students can learn how Kenya can develop into a super power.
Bridge: From your observation of previous classes, how has this program been of benefit to those universities and the students?
Prof. Kim: The program has boosted knowledge about Korea and Korean economic society. This has led to rapid economic growth and a good relationship between countries.
Bridge: What advice do you have for students who’ll be taking the class?
Prof. Kim: I would like the students to read more about Korean history, culture and economy, outside what is taught in class. They can also read about the popular K-Pop.
Bridge: What’s your future expectation of this program?
Prof. Kim: I expect it to be given more chances to develop, reaching out to more countries in Africa and Asia. This will build a good relationship between countries and therefore boost economic growth.
My name is Elizabeth Wangari. I work at the Office of the Korean Ambassador (Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Kenya) as the Secretary.
How did you come to work at the Embassy?
I joined the Embassy in 2008. Prior, I had just completed my BA in Social work and Sociology at the University of Nairobi and was doing community work with NGO’s. Having seen the situation on the ground i.e. the frustration of working without funding, I wanted to work with a body that would be able to fund NGO’S . That is when I saw an opening at the Korean Embassy and applied.
What is your role as the secretary to the Ambassador?
My role is quite diverse; first, I am in charge of the Embassy’s Public relations. I handle official communication to the various Foreign Affairs Ministries accredited to the Embassy, which aside from Kenya include: Mauritius, Somalia and Comoros. The Ambassador in Kenya is extraordinaire a.l.aplenipotentiary, which means he is an ambassador based in one country but also serves all the other countries accredited to the embassy.
I facilitate communication from the Kenyan Embassy in Korea to diplomats. The diplomats then forward it to me, to which I send to the various ministries, International Organizations and other Embassies. Lastly I do secretarial work such as writing the Ambassador’s speeches and articles, knowing his schedule etc.
How has your journey been at the Korean Embassy
I have worked at the Embassy for 9 years and will celebrate my 10th anniversary this coming November. When I first came here I did VAT exemptions and daily reports about Kenya and the other countries accredited to the Embassy. Through the years I’ve risen to where I am, having served 4 ambassadors. I find joy in doing my work every day.
Is Korean Language the primary mode of communication at the Embassy
No. Operations are carried out in English. Any communication from Korea goes through the diplomats first, who then translate from Korean to English. They then forward it to me for distribution.
In that regard, do you know how to speak Korean Language
I have been studying Korean for a long time. At the Embassy there is a program tailor made for employees. However it runs during specified times and by the time we pick up with classes again it is hard to keep up. I have therefore been limited to basics.
Having worked at the Embassy for many years, has it impacted your life in any way?
Yes. I have learnt a couple of skills such as diligence and hard work. I have learnt to work fast and not take any short cuts. My sense of patriotism has also been reinforced having seen the way Koreans love their country. I also managed to do my Masters in International Relations.
At such a position, what is your greatest achievement at the Embassy?
Working on the establishment of Korean Studies Department at the University of Nairobi. During Ambassador H.E. Chan Woo Kim’s time, there was a program invitation to give funding to any Sub-Saharan Higher learning institution towards starting a Korean Studies center. I was asked to give my opinion and suggested the University of Nairobi. I was picked to handle the matter. After consulting with UoN, I sent the application to Korean Foundation. To cut the long story short, the department is up and running.
Korean companies/organizations tend to have ‘hweishik’ (dinning out with company members). Does the same happen at the Korean Embassy, and what is your favorite Korean Cuisine?
Yes, we usually eat Korean cuisine together as employees. Sometimes we do it at the Ambassador’s residence. My favorite food is ‘Bulgogi’ and ‘Bibimbap.’
Last year you went to Korea courtesy of the Embassy, tell me about it
I was honored by the Embassy with a chance to go visit Korea on a program that awards long-term serving employees. Together with other employees from different countries we went to various cities including Seoul. During the stay, we visited a number of cultural heritage sites and saw beautiful landmarks such as the Seoul Tower.
Having seen Korea first hand, what can you say about Korean Culture
It was great to experience their culture first hand. What fascinated me was one could leave their belonging anywhere and it could not be stolen. Koreans are well organized. I believe they took conscious steps to get where they are.
I saw a quote at the forefront of POSCO (Pohang Steel Co.) Company in Ulsan that I loved. It stated, ‘Limited resources but unlimited creativity.’ This is something we need to pick up as Kenyans.
We speak to the Chairperson of the Korea Community Association in Kenya.
Kindly introduce yourself.
My name is Mr. Kang SoonKyu and I am the current Chairperson of the Korea Community in Kenya. I came to Kenya with my family in 1994 after 2 years of working in Cameroon. Arriving in Kenya, I was quite surprised at what I observed. The climate, the development of cities and the well-built infrastructure were good compared to West Africa.
My company is Hankang Enterprises LTD. We deal with importation of Korean car parts.
I have served as the chairman of Korean community in Kenya for the last two years and will continue to serve for two more years.
Tell us a little about Korean Community in Kenya. When was it formed, and what are some of its key responsibilities.
Korean community in Kenya was founded in 1985. The purpose is to promote the development and welfare of Korean society through the ties and unity of Koreans in Kenya and also contribute to the development and friendship between Korea and Kenya.
How are you able to maintain that sense of togetherness as a community of Koreans? Do you have events where you meet or activities that you do together?
For the last two years, we have had singing and athletics contests for Koreans. We have also made a Korean address & telephone book to help us contact each other and interact more easily.
Sometime back, we help a photography contest and the winning picture was published in our calendars. A calligraphy contest was organized by the King Sejong institute at Kenyatta University that we had sponsored. Apart from interacting amongst ourselves in Kenya we also believe in giving back to the community we live in. For that reason we have sponsored the medical treatment of six disabled Kenyans are glad that we brought back some hope and joy into their lives.
What kind of work are most Koreans in Kenya doing?
There are about 1,300 Korean residents in Kenya, 60% of which work with missionaries & NGO’s. The rest are working in companies such as LG electronics, Samsung electronics, Sana industries (wigs), Solpia Kenya (wigs), other trading companies as well as travel agencies, restaurants, and construction companies. The missionaries and NGO’s are active in education, health care, agriculture, orphans care and many other fields.
What do you love about Kenya, and by large, what do you think most Koreans love about Kenya?
If you ask Koreans what they like about Kenya, the first answer would be the climate. The atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed unlike Korea where everyone is always in a hurry. The mix of different cultures also makes it a great environment for their children to study in. This allows them to not only master foreign languages but to also live with people from other cultures and different traditions, making them all rounded.
Do you enjoy taking Kenyan food?
I mainly eat Korean food but I indulge in Kenyan food from time to time. I usually eat ugali, managu, githeri but my favorite is nyamachoma with kachumbari.
As a group, how do you relate with the Korean Embassy in Kenya. Have they been supportive?
The Korean embassy in Kenya is cooperative and we have had good relations. They work hard to make things more safe and convenient for us. The Korean Ambassador to Kenya Hon. Kwon Young Dae also takes part in various activities with our community, aside from his diplomatic duties.
What is your dream of the Korea Community in Kenya? Also, what do you hope for the future of Korea-Kenya relations?
Korea and Kenya are steadily developing a strong relationship in diplomacy, economics and culture which I believe will continue to grow in future. To accelerate the growth, we hope to restart the direct flights that had been stopped between Korea and Kenya. I hope Koreans will settle here and contribute to the development of Kenya and Korea.
I came here in the month of August 2010 for graduate school at the Academy of Korean Studies. This was eight months after graduating from the University of Nairobi. My plan was to go back to Kenya after two years of graduate school but Korea got me. I now live in Seoul and work at the Kenyan Embassy.
Experience with food, culture, people, technology and general life.
I love Korean food. In my early years every meal was an adventure. Mention the endless days of sugared meats, raw meat, live octopus, spicy cucumber and cabbage and sticky rice. There was so much to try!
Into daily life, I was struck by culture shock. First thing was bowing to seniors and sitting on floors. My knees got a beating. Second, was the endless use of swiping cards and the ‘smart life.’ There is little to no carrying of cash here. It drove me crazy at first but I got the hang of it. Suffice to say, automation, efficiency and convenience is the order of the day.
But life has been fun. Korean people are generous and courteous, with many willing to reach out. Although there are stark differences in our approach to life all is possible because we’ve tried to understand each other.
Highlights & Challenges
Korean winter is biting cold and one needs to prepare mentally. That, and buying winter clothes. The culture is very interesting. Having interacted a lot with locals, I have learnt much from Koreans that I will live to apply in life. We have a lot in common such as respect for strangers and elders. I am now a stickler for order and punctuality thanks to them. There is also a serious level of courtesy and hospitality, and the will to work hard in all things. Koreans like to develop themselves and the government supports and facilitates this through various forms of infrastructure and public facilities.
However, Koreans are very competitive. I am moderately competitive and leaning towards being a collaborator. This became a challenge in certain areas but I got used to it. Once you internalize their culture and environment, you understand their ways and how to work around them.
Working at the Embassy.
I love my job. Working for Kenya and Kenyans is richly satisfying. I speak Korean language and get to interact with Koreans daily, where I tell them all about Kenya. When I attend a cultural exhibition or tourism festival, it fills me with great joy to introduce Koreans to my wonderful country. It is indeed my pleasure since this is part of what brought me here; to try be Korea’s eye to Kenya and Kenya’s eye to Korea. Koreans look for ways to connect with Kenyans for diverse reasons and I am always happy to be part. From time to time, the Embassy hosts cultural events where we hold cultural programs for students. I have come across people who do not know anything or have misconstrued perceptions about Kenya and taken it as an opportunity to shine a light.
The Kenya Community in Korea(KCK) has kept me grounded over the years. As much as Korea is an exciting place to be, sometimes there are long and challenging days. Only people like you can relate and KCK has been that for me. We occasionally get together for some serious Kenyan-style hangouts; where we share Kenyan food, listen to Kenyan music, talk politics and share experiences.
Word of advice to those intending to come live/study in Korea.
Know how long you are going to stay. Be conscious about this over your entire stay. Learn the language. Life will be much more convenient and you will not miss out on opportunities. Be moderate to highly social. It is a pathway to money, family, careers and good mental health. Then, develop an open mind. An open mind is a good shock absorber and a good remedy for home sickness. It also makes you grow. You will find things you have never come across but have to live with.
Bring items that help you connect with the motherland; curio, music, maize flour, Royco, and Kenyan-wear. Being abroad has unique opportunities, but your connection to homeland keeps you grounded. Subscribe to health insurance as soon as you get here. Finally, let someone that matters know you are here. Register with the Kenya Embassy and the Kenyan Community in Korea.
We meet two ladies who are passionate about Korea. Let’s see what they have to say.
Ms. SANJANA BHANSALI
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Sanjana Bhansali. I am a Psychology graduate from the University of Nairobi. I have been learning Korean language and culture for the last three years. I indulge in photography and happen to be a board game fanatic.
When were you first drawn to Korean culture. How did you come to love Korean dramas and K-Pop?
My first encounter was in high school when a friend pointed me to ‘‘Boys over Flowers,’ a then popular Korean drama. I noticed a lot of similarities with the Indian culture and therefore did not suffer culture shock. It was to be the beginning of a journey of endless K-dramas and as today I have watched 72.
Who are some of your favorite K-Pop stars and K-Dramas.
That’s tough! Just like any other fan I have an endless list of favorites. However, I’ll mention a few who have caused goosebumps! First, my dream man is EXO’s Kai. He is quite the heartthrob. Other than Kai, there are many other Kpop stars who have left their mark; Miss A’s SUZY, GOT7’S, Mark AND Jinyoung, MONSTA X’s leader SHOWNU and RED VELVET’S Seoulgi. The list goes on.
I binge watch K-dramas. The most outstanding to date are,’Boys over flowers,’ ‘the Heirs,’ ‘Kill me Heal me,’ and ‘Wang’s Family.’
How can you compare Korean culture to Indian culture. Care mention any similarities. And differences.
The relationship between India and Korea dates back many years. There is respect for culture and a trace of similar religion(Buddhism) in both societies. There are other similarities such as language, where the commonality of words as chai (tea), mother (omma/amma),father(appa/appa) are surprisingly similar.
You’ve done your Test of Proficiency in Korean language (TOPIK) and attained level 3. How has the journey been like? And what advice do you have for students or anyone willing to reach that level, or go beyond.
Achieving TOPIK level 3 was very hard and I obviously did not achieve it on my first attempt. Although I have not moved beyond level 3, I take pride in where I have reached. This is despite not having been to Korea even once. The journey was quite difficult with several hurdles. I used to practice past examinations and sample papers every day.
Well, when one experiences the language and culture in the real sense, the individual develops their grasp. I tried to use several methods to reach that level. The first thing I thought necessary was to identify my weaknesses in the exam. Upon realizing my weakness, especially in the exam’s writing segment, I resolved to put in the extra efforts. Nonetheless, I equally gave importance to other segments and at minimum did one paper every day.
I also tried to broaden my language grasp by reading Korean news articles and watching the K-dramas without subtitles. It allowed me to measure my improvement process. I also kept a separate diary and kept filling it with Korean vocabulary. I still add new words to date.
What’s next; what do you hope to use with your TOPIK 3? Do you plan to go study in S.Korea?
I am planning to apply for a scholarship to go study in S. Korea. Upon completion of studies, I also hope to settle there. The culture, the people and the national values that the country espouses, do attract me.
Ms. SEHRISH NADEEM
My name is Sehrish Nadeem. I specialized in counselling psychology at the University of Nairobi. I have a great interest in Korea language and Korean culture.
When were you first drawn to Korean culture. How did you come to love Korean dramas and K-Pop? I was introduced to Korean in my first year of studies and was immediately drawn towards it. My teacher Prof. Park would always encourage me. My speaking skills improved and I eventually became fond of Korean dramas and the Korean culture.
Who are some of your favorite K-Pop stars and K-Dramas. And why?
My K-pop favorites are EXO, GOT7 and MONSTAX. They are extremely talented and passionate about music and their vast music styles never fail to impress me. My favorite K-drama is Goblin which has an amazing storyline and a line of brilliant actors.
How do you compare Korean culture to Pakistani culture. Care mention any similarities and differences?
Both cultures are similar when it comes to respect towards elders and superiors. The TV dramas in both cultures are very interesting. Pakistan does not have group singers however just like Korea solo singers are very famous internationally.
You’ve done your Test of Proficiency in Korean language (TOPIK) and achieved level 3. How has the journey been like? And what advice can you give students or anyone willing to reach that level, or go beyond?
The journey has been hard but it has taught me a lot. Reaching level 3 requires patience because while you are still studying you don’t know if you will succeed. Practicing for at least 2 hours a day and learning new grammars and vocabulary daily has helped me a lot. It is time consuming but practice makes perfect so it is important to take small steps daily to achieve a greater goal.
6. What’s next; what do you hope to use with your TOPIK 3? Do you plan to go study in S. Korea?
I plan to pursue my masters in clinical and counselling psychology in South Korea and I wish to achieve a higher level in TOPIK and hope to do so by studying much harder.
Often, we do not give much thought to the role of cinema in our lives and society in general. Not generalizing but I’d say most of us start out by watching movies that we think we will enjoy, or those that we already know are popular. That is sort of how our taste in movies begins. Eventually, we choose to stick to preferred genres – the familiarity is sure to set us into that movie mode. Occasionally though, we may venture into unfamiliar territory; and surprisingly get to enjoy. Either that or watching becomes as much a challenge as trying to understand the story embedded in the movie.
Films have an astonishing power to induce emotion by portraying our experiences, vulnerabilities, hopes, fantasies, dreams and aspirations while at the same time entertaining, educating and transmitting culture. Every country has stories to tell, about their past, their culture now, and views of what the future will look like through their eyes. You know those scenes with students, sassy girls, ghosts, soldiers, clowns, politicians, vagrants, artistes e.t.c – all form a part of social and cultural identity. Movies may as well be the most effective way to understand a society. Good films may leave us scared for ourselves and more respectful towards things we hold dear. That is therapy right there.
Movies have the ability to create controversy, and tell difficult stories. They create conversation. Pick a simple yet magnificent film like The King and the Clown. The film subtly addresses homosexuality in the conservative Korean society, while at the same time exposing such issues as political tension, corruption and other vices that the society faced at that particular time setting. Amidst all these, there is humor through satire, and values of courage, love, loyalty, commitment, and a beautiful sense of music still prevail. The same can be said about 18 Hours. In this 2017 film, a pedestrian is involved in a hit-and-run that leaves him with serious head injuries. What follows is an insight into the plight of Kenya’s healthcare system – precisely the sorry state of emergency care services. Still, there is love, resilience, and a unique sense of beauty in the story.
If you want to appreciate cinema in a different way, and from a different perspective, then the best way would be to plunge into those movies that you are not familiar with. In the spirit of the magazine – and if you haven’t tried it already – why not bridge to a movie from Korea, if you are Kenyan; a Kenyan one, if you’re Korean; or both, if you are neither?