Ambassador Kwon Young-Dae

 

With Ms. Daisy Jemutai at the RoK Embassy offices, Nairobi.

By Daisy Jemutai

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.

With President Uhuru Kenyatta, Image Credits: https://www.scoopnest.com

Photography: Joshua Nyantika

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.