Living in S. Korea

By Beatrice Okech

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.

 

Experiencing Kenya

Taejeong Woo, known in Kenya as “Jay”, is a BA International Relations student at the University of Nairobi and an Intern at KOTRA Nairobi.

When did you begin your studies in Kenya?

I began my studies in June 2017. But because there were a couple of strikes, an election week and many demonstrations, I have barely studied yet. (Tears!)

What do you love the most about Nairobi?

Nairobi’s weather is the best in the world. The weather here has always made me feel so relaxed, ridding me all the stress from work and study. Breathing the air, the air breezing all over my face, is just my favorite thing!

What are some of the culture shocks you encountered upon landing in Kenya?

I had some shocking experiences. Upon my arrival in Kenya, I could not carry my entire luggage, so I asked for help from an employee at JKIA. He out rightly replied, “If you give me two dollars, I will help.” I wondered why he would ask for money to help me carry stuff within a short distance!

Another experience I had was being mugged in the taxi on my way to Westlands. A guy put his hand through the car window, grabbed my phone and ran away. I was SPEECHLESS. These are not culture shocks per se but rather a side of Kenya that I had not expected.

Do you get in touch with other Koreans in Kenya? Are you close?

Yes, I met a few Koreans. Since there are only two Korean students in University of Nairobi, I barely get the chance to get close to many. But, I have met some Koreans from the Korean Church in Kenya and we are quite close.

What advice do you have for Koreans who would want to study or visit Kenya?

At UoN, there are some Professors who are frequently late to classes for almost an hour. I guess this is called “Kenyan time”. Also, there are times when we can write notes for three hours non-stop. And then the black outs!

Surprisingly, UoN students do not rely   too much on anyone, neither professors nor school to get things done. Even if they don’t have proper textbooks for themselves, they will find a way out. When there is no electricity, they will pull out their phones, light them with the passion to learn. They find their own way to study rather than taking a back seat and making excuses.

These things I have learned here and I can only call them “legit Kenya”.  Here, in Kenya, you might face one of the most unbearable difficulties that you wouldn’t want to encounter. However, you will learn more after overcoming them. You will see yourself grow up. You will see the real Kenya. You will get people to help you from the beginning of your journey.

So, why not pay a visit?

Summer School in S.Korea

From the 26th of July to the 21st of August 2017, Virginia Chege attended summer school at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul. She narrates her thrilling encounter.

South Korea, Seoul in particular, proved to be all and more than I thought it would be. I can honestly say it was the best time of my life. I attended a summer school program at Sookmyung Women’s University courtesy of Korea Foundation. It was a program aimed at teaching students from all over the world Korean language and Korean culture. Of all the twenty eight students who attended the program, two were from Africa; a lady from Senegal and I. This in a way caused me to stand out. Korean people were   fascinated by my hair, which technically was not mine given that I had plaited my head with braids. It was funny, a tad ironic, how excited they were when touching my hair.

I took two classes; Korean language and Korean Arts/Crafts. Since almost all the students were knew to the language, the lecturer resorted to teaching us by way of song and games. It was lots of fun but felt a bit like kindergarten. The Korean Arts/Crafts class stirred the creativity in me. I got round to making several jewelry pieces; from bracelets, rings, pendants to more others. I also learnt various threading techniques and metal cutting.

Throughout my stay, I enjoyed authentic Korean cuisine; samgyeopsal, bulgogi, tteokboki, kimchi, japchae, kimbab, bibimpap and mandu just to name but a few. Korean food was very spicy but I made do. I also tried many coffee drinks inspired by the serious coffee drinking culture in that country. The level of technology in Korea made life so convenient. All the systems ran very efficiently, from the transport system to the internet speeds. Using the subway to move from one place to another proved easy.

Korean people were  kind and willing to offer help, more so to foreigners. There is no limit to the number of fascinating places one can visit in Seoul. For a start, visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace was a great experience. The sense of history and cultural heritage   it hoisted  was wonderful. It is amazing how well  all the buildings within the palace have  been  kept all over the years. At the DMZ zone I  viewed North Korea from a distance. It was really nice to relive history going down the tunnel dug by the North Korean soldiers in an invasion strategy to South Korea. Later, we  experienced performing arts at the Nanta Performance at Myeongdong . Nanta is a theater performance where performers  use food as their props. Viewing various beautiful art pieces was a good way to unwind after class. We did this at the MMCA Art Gallery and the Seoul National Museum.

Chilling along the banks of Han River enjoying chicken (and beer for those who drank), known as ‘Chimaek’ was very relaxing. Of all the places, Lotte World Adventures was the best  I  visited. All the roller coaster rides, speed trains, air balloons and candy did the trick. If I could relive all those moments with all the amazing friends I made, I definitely would.

 

 

A 10 DAY EXPERIENCE IN S.KOREA.

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Travel

The Journey begun at 5 pm on the 10th of July. Being my first journey by air to a far off continent, albeit to a country I had long longed to visit, it was a dream come true. I was thrilled. After 14 hours of air travel, I arrived at Incheon International Airport on Tuesday evening where I was met by a team from Duksung University. Shortly afterwards, we departed for Duksung University.

On the 12th of July, we had two educational trips to Korea’s National Assembly and Seoul National University’s Kyujanggak Institute for Korean studies which had an archive for the documented heritage of Joseon dynasty. Being a Korean history fanatic, I quickly understood the explanations given by the guide. It felt like the Korean Drama series I usually watch come to life. Later on, we proceeded to the National Institute for International Education, Korea (NIIED) center to spend the night.

The 3rd day was particularly exciting for me because we got round to practice and experience Taekwondo. It happened at Arirang Taekwondo centre for the greater part of our morning. My friends and I learnt some self-defense moves and then Kyukpa, the art of wood breaking. Afterwards we set off to the National Museum of Korea and Chandeokgung palace. The places made Korean culture and history come to life. As we travelled from place to place I interacted with other Korean Government Invitation program (KGIP) participants, allowing me to learn different cultures the world over.

Over the weekend, we watched a thrilling Nanta performance. Nanta is a famous Korean non-verbal comedy show that incorporates traditional salmunori rhythm. I really loved the combination of live music and comedy drama in this particular performance. At some point, I felt like leaving my seat to go join them.

Later on my friend and I ventured the Kyeongbok palace that was only a walking distance from where the Nanta was being staged. It was drizzling but that could not stop us. From Kyeongbok’kung, we then left for the popular Namsan Seoul Tower. Absorbing the length of this lush and tall structure, then glancing down at Seoul from this high point was too much fun.

The next day, we had a 3 hour road trip to Naksan in Gangwon-do province where we visited the Unification Observatory. There, we were able to see the border between North and South Korea from an elevated position by use of binoculars. Despite the presence of heavy military personnel everything looked calm. As I looked over the area, there were so many posters and sculptures preaching peace. Deep in my heart, I could not help but pray to God for the prevalence of peace, and that war would never break out again between the North and South.

Later on we went to Naksan temple. I did not participate in some of the Buddhist activities due to my strong Christian faith but then I got to discover that the religion had significantly impacted Korea’s history. I also enjoyed the breathtaking view of the ocean, beach and the different sceneries in this area.

The following day we travelled from Gangwon-Do to Suwon, then set off for Samsung Digital City. The city is where Samsung develops and tests the first designs of its electronic products. The guides were able to take us through Samsung’s evolution over the years from a mere rice shop to a world leading electronic brand. We got to see most of Samsung’s first electronic gadgets dating back to the 80’s to their latest models of mobile phones, tablets, laptops, fridges, curved UHD,LCD and LED screens just to mention but a few.

The following day my friends and I had the chance to prepare Bulgogi and Kimbap, Korea’s popular dishes. With the ingredients prepared beforehand and with a chef to help us, the process got on well.

On the second last day of our program, we travelled to Incheon Port located  at the mid-western coast of the Korean Peninsula. It is the third largest port in the world. At Incheon, we particularly visited the Incheon Free Economic Zone and Songdo International City. I learned the key details on Songdo’s efforts and progress towards becoming a global business hub. Later on we made our way to Lotte World Tower, the 5th tallest building in the world, and Lotte World (amusement park) where we visited various facilities.

We spent our final day in a hand craft activity, guided on how to create our own compact containers from hanji paper. Later on in the day, we donned the traditional Korean attire, the Hanbok.

Sharing the last moments and parting was really difficult. The strangers I knew had turned into friends and now we were family. While sharing our experiences, those final moments proved emotional. But we promised each other to work hard and possibly meet again in future. The Korean Government Invitation Program was really a great experience. I made many friends and together we made unforgettable memories. As an individual I developed a sense of accomplishment, improved my communication skills both in Korean and English and became more confident to face the world. At the end of it all I was grateful to God and everyone else who had made the program possible.

Story By Marvin Ji Won

 

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