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.

 

We Love 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

Tell us about yourself?
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.

 Understanding Cinema. Appreciating Film

By George Kinuthia

Image Credits: https://alchetron.com

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?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

JUSTICE KITAEK LEE

The late of August 2017, Justice Kitaek Lee (이기택),  a senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Korea visited Kenya. We met him and had the following interview.

Is it your first time in Kenya? How about Africa?

It is my second visit to Africa and my first in Kenya. I visited Egypt a while back.

Why did you come?

Africa is not well known in Korea so my interest came out of that realization. In addition, I personally see Kenya as a key African representative. With regards to my work, it was a dream of mine to meet students in the legal field receiving education to lead Kenya’s future entities. I had also heard about Korean studies being offered abroad in rare places, especially in Africa and was therefore curious to visit the University of Nairobi, Korean Studies department.

How do you find Kenya’s judiciary compared to the Republic of Korea’s judicial system?

Right now I don’t have a lot of understanding on the Kenyan judiciary but in Korea the court decides on its own working budget. The courts decide on their expenses by themselves in an independent manner. However, the Kenyan courts are governed by a committee when  they want to pay something. The committee makes decisions on court budgetary matters.

What are some of the comparisons you’ve been able to observe between the two countries’ judicial systems?

The two countries have a history of colonization and although negative, we cannot really do anything about it. I want to see both countries work fiercely to keep the principles of an independent judiciary.

Are there some areas where Kenya and Korea can cooperate to improve their respective judicial systems.

Korea is collaborating with a lot of countries at the moment including Kenya by learning from each other’s advantages. I think it is also a good opportunity to help Kenya in the process of teaching law since Korea is advanced in legal matters. The two countries could legally and positively use each other’s advantages in carrying out business together.

For example, from a personal experience, there was a case in 2002 where the Code of Civil Procedure was amended (it is still being implemented). The process of that amendment had begun through some groundwork that was made in 1995. What I had wanted was to learn from as many countries with more knowledge in Code of Civil Procedure as possible and who could introduce it to Korea. But then I only managed to get information from a few countries because it was so difficult to get it, as the other countries were somewhat cautious and reluctant. Suppose Kenya and Korea work together on developing the Code of Civil Procedure and I take all of Kenya’s good points and put them in the Korean law then later it will not be good so I think this is part of the reason why I only managed to get help from a few countries.

You’ve come at a time when the Kenya’s Supreme Court has just cancelled the presidential elections, a milestone for any African country. What are your thoughts about the transformation of Kenya’s judicial system?

No comment. There are political laws that apply for every country, and there can be issues with these particular laws everywhere. I just hope people can learn from it and get better.

From the talks you’ve had with the faculty of Law at the University of Nairobi, and the interactions you’ve had with some of their students, how can you compare Kenya’s legal education system and that of Korea?

Until 2008 Korea used to use the undergraduate system similar to Kenya’s but in 2009 we switched to the American graduate school system, and hence the differences. From my meetings with the UoN law students, I personally felt the students were very advanced about legal matters. I was very moved.

Are there any areas you think Kenya can emulate Korea on judicial matters?

Korea underwent a lot of changes and development in a short period of time. In these changes, it included the judiciary positively changing the society. So in Korea’s judiciary, there is this helping ability. Kenya’s may also have or develop a similar helpful ability.

Korea International Cooperation Agency, Nairobi

KOICA Alumni

Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is the Republic of Korea’s aid agency. Daisy Jemutai met up  with Annie Njoroge, the head of Projects at KOICA and this is what they talked about.

Daisy: Kindly tell me a little bit about yourself.

Annie: My name is Annie Njoroge. I joined KOICA in 2014 as a Project specialist having done my masters in Development studies. My interest in joining KOICA was based on my passion for project management in relation to community development. Currently I am in charge of KOICA projects at the Kenya Office.

Daisy: What does KOICA do?

Annie: As an aid organization it is primarily focused on two areas; the first is project implementation,that is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The second area is training of personnel, aimed at fostering Human Resource Development.

Daisy: So, what areas has KOICA  Kenya  delved  into.

Annie: We have had 12 local projects on education, water and health. The Kenyan Office is a champion on water development and therefore most of its projects are water based. Some of our water project areas are  Migori, Asembo, Naivasha, and Garissa (a diameter wall project). We have an ongoing project in Bungoma that is supposed to end by February 2018. Once the Bungoma water project is completed, it will benefit approximately 150,000 people. It will also benefit the neighboring Mt. Elgon region.

Daisy: What do these water projects entail.

Annie: The projects are mostly about water treatment plants.  It is a collaboration of both County and National government, and KOICA. What happens is that the county government and the Central government’s implementing body (on the ground) usually write a proposal, that is then taken to the Ministry of Water. The ministry reviews it and later  forwards it to the National treasury before  it ends up at the Korean Embassy.

Daisy: Tell us more about the other projects KOICA has done in Kenya.

Annie : We have done various renovations and constructions for schools. In Nakuru  we built one school and did two renovations. We built Kitengela Sub county Hospital, did a couple of renovations last year and supplied the hospital with equipment.

 

Daisy: How does KOICA pin-point the area that is in need of a project.

Annie: We don’t limit anyone when it comes to applying. Usually when a proposal is sent our way through the ministry, we review it and then hand it over to the HQ who look at the viability of the project -in terms of the budget, the need, and  the capacity of the office handling the project. Proposals sent are usually on a government to government basis.

Daisy: So, what projects are currently on-going?

Annie:

  1. Water development project – Improvement of water supply system in Bungoma County.
  2. The Primary school environment and ICT project – with the help of the Ministry of Education. It is running in Ngu’ndu Primary school in Kamulu and Uhuru Gardens Primary school in Langata where we are building classes and an ICT center.
  3. The National Industrial Training Authority Capacity Development Project – we are renovating their Mombasa Center. We intend to buy equipment for the institution.
  4. Kitengela Sub county Hospital renovation.
  5. Mother Child health program.

Daisy: When the former President Park Geun-Hye visited Kenya, she was involved in the establishment of the Mother-Child Health Program. How is the project going?

Annie: The mother-child health program is currently running and is being implemented in Kajiado County. It is an outreach program for both mothers and children, done 4 times in a month.  Our team (on the ground) does the implementation, in terms of treatment and diagnosis of various diseases. The program does not limit men though, as they can be treated as well. I would therefore label it more of a community development project, aimed at helping all the people in need.

Daisy: Let’s dive into KOICA’s other nascent area- Human Resource Development. How is the Kenya program running.

Annie: KOICA has 3 programs in training; Short term training that runs for 2-4 weeks, County Specific Training- where a county requests for a specific course, and Long-term training – a Masters program. Our HQ sends courses  that are offered in a particular year. Our work in the Kenya office is to receive these courses and send them to the department of Public Service Management, who then circulate them to specific ministries. It is the ministries that nominate the trainees and KOICA  finances the entire training including the flight, accommodation and meals.

Daisy: Where are these trainings carried out?

Annie: I would say that 90% of the trainings are  done in South Korea, although there are inland trainings where experts from Korea are send to Kenya to conduct the courses. The same thing happens with projects. For every project there are three trainings; the Policy makers training, Middle level managers training and an inland training.

Daisy: How many people have been impacted by these training programs and how successful have they  been?

Annie: Over the years we have managed to send over a thousand people for trainings. Personally I would say the project is successful because one is able to experience expertise that they had not gone through in Kenya. The cultural interaction opens one’s mind to new initiatives, and those who have gone to Korea have come back to implement the new things in their respective counties.

Daisy: There is the KOICA alumni, who are they?

Annie: The KOICA Alumni are people who have gone through our training programs and have come back to Kenya. They have various activities carried out quarterly. They go to schools to offer counseling in terms of career development and infrastructural support.

Daisy: Does KOICA support their activities ?

Annie: Yes. They simply tell KOICA the activities that they have for the year and are given a budget to run them. KOICA alumni are more independent, as they run there  own activities but in association with KOICA Offices.

Daisy: For your mission statement, as KOICA, what are your hopes for Kenya?

Annie: Considering that South Korea was once a poor nation, we hope that Kenya would rise from a developing country to a position where they can offer grants and aid just like South Korea at the moment.

Interview by Daisy Jemutai

 

 

 

 

Korean Studies at the University of Nairobi

From the year 2010, the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS) supported a networking project that was run by the Faculty of Arts in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) at the University of Nairobi (UoN). Three years later, it gave way to the establishment of Korean Studies at UoN. Housed in the Department of Linguistics and Languages, Korean Studies admitted its first students in September 2013.

This course majorly entails teaching Korean language, literature, culture, philosophy, economics and history. There are two programmes on offer: a Certificate in Korean Language, Literature and Culture; and a Bachelor of Arts in Korean Studies. Most of the core courses are taught by Prof. Yuhjin Park, the Korea Foundation (KF) Visiting Professor to UoN. The certificate course covers only eight months and admits students from any field of study. It therefore has a huge student enrollment. There have been four classes so far, and the numbers have steadily been going up.

On the other hand, the BA course covers four academic years. In each of the eight semesters, students take at least two core units on Korean Studies. The first cohort of students will graduate on December 15, 2017. They will be the first to graduate with a BA in Korean Studies from an African University. The numbers admitted to the BA course have also been rising with time, as Korean Studies gains popularity each day.

This popularity is in part the result of the many extracurricular activities students of Korean Studies take part in. There exists a vibrant students association, the Korean Studies Students Association (KSSA). Students taking any programme in Korean Studies can register as members of KSSA. The association is student led, but has the KF Visiting Professor as the patron. KSSA members take part in at least one activity in a semester.

The Korean Studies students

From July through December 2016, the association had Korea in Our Village, an activity funded by the AKS. During this six month’s project, Korean Studies students interacted with the Korean community in Kenya, shared Korean language and culture experiences with pupils and students of different institutions in Nairobi, and learned a thing or two by visiting Korean companies and institutions in Nairobi and Limuru. Experiences from Korea in Our Village are published on a YouTube channel (Korea in Our Village) and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Koreainourvillage/.

Korea Quarterly Magazine is another KSSA project as members collect news on matters relating to Kenya and Korea. This magazine will run for at least one year, and is also funded by AKS. Such activities as this have solidly improved the state of Korean Studies in the university. They have also become avenues of marketing Korean Studies at UoN both to students and to the public community. As students like to study courses that are fun as well as promising, Korean Studies continues to become an option every year.

The main stakeholders of Korean Studies at the University of Nairobi are AKS, KF, and the Korean Embassy in Kenya. While AKS kick started the project, KF provides a Korean Language teacher among other academic support. The Korean Embassy, on the other hand, has always supported both academic and extracurricular activities in Korean Studies at the university. There have been three speech competitions and one Quiz on Korea, all organised and closely supported by the Korean Embassy in Kenya. Winners of these competitions walked away with huge prizes, including chances to visit Korea.

In recent times, a Korea Corner has been established at UoN. This is a Korean culture experience room prepared by the Embassy. It has provided the perfect place for other students and staff of the university to come in contact with Korean culture, hence boosting the image of Korean Studies. We have also had the support of Korean Companies in Kenya, like Samsung and LG which have opened up chances for students to work and learn more about Korea. KOICA has also given students a chance to go to Korea for a period of up to four months, in which they engage in an intense language programme.

 

University of Nairobi’s Korea Corner

Korean Corner is a room for Korean cultural experience established by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Kenya at the University of Nairobi back in 2016. Initially, the plan was driven by the dream to put up a teleconferencing room where E-classes for Korean Studies could be held. The sponsor, Korean Foundation, had in mind a room where students could enjoy Korean cultural exchange at its visual best. It is also meant to display the history of South Korea; as well as allow university staff and students of the Korean language to have a preview of the richness that Korean culture embodies. The corner hosts beautiful framed photos, ceramics, a humongous LG TV screen and masks that elaborately showcase the history and culture of the Korean people. Its establishment marked a milestone in bringing Korean culture to Kenya.

Upon entering the room, one is met by wall pictorials, each of which embodies the myriad aspects of Korean culture. At the entrance one is met by the hands of a lady strumming ‘Gayageum’, one of the most popular Korean traditional musical instruments. At the opposite is a bride in ‘Hollyebok’ resplendent ‘Hanbok’(한복), a display of the Korean traditional wedding gown. The attire’s multiple colours do echo the vibrant ceremonies the Koreans practice to today. Among the other framed photos is the ‘Four Seasons of Korea.’ What is captivating about this picture is the way each season is shown through its colours, giving the viewer a vivid imagination of how warm and sunny summer is; how fiery autumn can be; how beautiful and white snowy winter is; as well as the flowery splendour that is spring. Another highlight is the Hanok (traditional Korean house) painting that gives  much insight into the kind of housing that is native to Korea.

Koreans can use the room to display cultural items. There are different ceramic pieces themed ‘Inspiration from the soil’ exhibited in the room. They are in display courtesy of the collaboration between the University of Nairobi and Prof. Kim Sung-jin, a ceramist. Walled masks and miniature hanboks are also found in the room. All the pieces of art are a sight to behold. Korean Corner truly stands as a room for cultural exchange for all who visit.

Korean Studies Resource Center

A visit to the Korean office allows us to come across a rich library of books, journals, magazines, movies and music albums; each of which affirms the nature of Korean culture. Books range from history collections, poetry, cooking, food, politics, among other genres. If you’re preparing for a TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean), you’ll find books here. For anyone who wants to indulge in the onset and future of K-Pop and Hallyu wave, well, this resource centre has got a lot to offer. Needless to say, students and staff alike interested in any Korean culture can find a lot of material here.

The student handbooks are written in English and Korean to enable the student to study without having an instructor around. They come with audio CDs to give guidance for improved listening and speaking. Being a lover of K-Pop music, I find the growing in-size collection of K-Pop albums an attraction. EXO, TWICE, Block B, Beenzino, Crush, San E, Sam Kim, Wheesung, Urban Zakapa, Lee Hi among others can be found on the shelves. If these do not tickle your fancy, well; there is Korean traditional music and classical music to entertain. The library may be small in size but it has profound information that caters to the whims and needs of everyone.

Story By Eva Wanjiru

Photography by Joshua Nyantika