Teaching Korean Studies Through Teleconferencing

Ms. Anne with Prof, Kim

By Anne Achieng

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.

Prof Kim at UoN

Photos: Joshua Nyantika

Working as Secretary of the Amb. of the Republic of Korea to Kenya

Kindly introduce yourself

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.a plenipotentiary, 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.

Interview by Daisy Jemutai

 

 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?

 

 

 

 

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

 

Korean By Birth But Kenyan At Heart

 

Jauquelyne Kosgei speaks to Prof. Yuhjin Park, the Korean Studies Professor at the University of Nairobi.

The Bridge: For how long have you been in Kenya?

Prof. Park: I have been in Kenya for exactly four years; I arrived at the end of August 2013. I started teaching at UoN soon after.

The Bridge: Having been in Kenya for four years, what can you say of your initial feeling and impression compared to your experiences over time?

Prof. Park: Not much has changed, really. At first, I was surprised to find a very blue sky and huge birds flying in the air. These are not things you will usually see in Korea, and I was very fascinated. Until now, I still find Kenya’s natural environment and weather very captivating.

The Bridge: Please tell us about your academic journey.

Prof. Park: I enrolled for my BA degree in Ewha Womans University in 2000. I did not graduate until 2006 though, as I spent one semester visiting Beijing, China, and a whole academic year focusing on extracurricular activities. I majored in Chinese Language and Literature, and minored in Korean Language and Literature and also in Asian Studies. For three years after my BA, I worked in Korean Broadcasting Station (KBS) as an assistant writer. I then went to Shanghai, China, where I taught Korean Literature to Koreans studying there. I then returned to my alma mater where I did my Master of Education between 2010 and 2012. Soon after, I applied for the post of KF Visiting Professor, and I was fortunate to be hired. And here I am.

The Bridge:  So, was teaching always your dream career? If not, when did you consider being a teacher?

Prof. Park: Actually, I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school. I always loved to read novels and poems. That is why I studied Chinese and Korean literature. In fact, I took more literature units than linguistic ones! However, teaching Korean Literature in Shanghai, I realised I could make a good teacher. I found it easy and fun communicating with students.

The Bridge: Talking of which, we talked to some of your students. All of them say you are an excellent teacher. What do you think you do that would make them see you so?

Prof. Park: Thank you! I think that is because I am friends with them besides being just a teacher. I have made them very comfortable with me, and I always have time to talk about their family, relationships, and sometimes their dreams and aspirations. That may be the reason.

The Bridge: What is the one thing your students do not know about you?

Prof. Park: Uh, nothing! I think my students know everything about me.

The Bridge: What is one day like for a teacher?

Prof. Park: In my case, I don’t go to school every day, but I would prepare handouts for my students, have a class for 2-3 hours, give a make-up class for those who need it, and sometimes have coffee or pizza with my students. For now, I am also writing a paper for an upcoming conference in Egypt.

The Bridge: What is the one expectation you have of (your) students?

Prof. Park: I expect them to study extra even without homework assigned to them. They are not primary or high school kids anymore, and should study independently. Also, as a language teacher, I don’t expect them to rely on Google Translate as a tutor, especially for basic expressions we have learned in class. Trust me, Google Translate can sometimes generate weird sentences, some of which I have received.

The Bridge: Having said that, what is the best thing about your students?

Prof. Park: Generally, I find my students very enthusiastic about Korean language and Korea in general. They are always excited and actually show up for Korean events like the Korean Film Festival, the Korean Food Festival, and the Korean National Foundation Day. They put so much energy into making these occasions a success, and I am happy about that.

The Bridge: It is obvious that you have blended into the Kenyan culture now, but what is the most shocking thing you ever observed in Kenya?

Prof. Park: I have gone to a few clubs here in Kenya, and I am still shocked about the dance styles here. Put simply, there is too much hip movement in Kenyan dance.

The Bridge: What hobbies have you adopted in Kenya?

Prof. Park: These aren’t new hobbies, really, but I love reading comic books and playing the violin. I also like playing mobile games, with Clash of Clans as my current favourite. I am actually the leader of my clan at the moment. I also love going on holiday sometimes, with Mombasa and Zanzibar being the best destinations to experience the Indian Ocean, and Maasai Mara the best reserve to observe the animal species.

The Bridge: What are your plans for the future?

Prof. Park: I plan to keep teaching at UoN for a few more years, which tells you that I am happy to be here. I am currently developing my doctoral thesis to be presented at UoN.