South Korea in Africa: My Culture Shock in Kenya



Africa is receiving plenty of positive attention lately, thanks to the fictitious yet interesting “Black Panther”- a new all-Black Hollywood blockbuster shot in South Africa and South Korea featuring A-listed stars. My experience in and recollection of Africa is different.

My family moved to Kenya in 2010. I had just completed elementary school and was looking forward to the big transition to high school. Nothing is worse than leaving behind your friends to Africa. I was very skeptical and did not look forward to Kenya.

In retrospect, of all the countries I have visited, the most memorable is Kenya, Africa. The way of life there is very different from Korea and my firsthand knowledge helped break the stereotypes I had about Africa. Living in Kenya made me aware of several deep issues I may not have thought about when living in Seoul.

The main experiences were related to the school setting. Most people assume that I was home-schooled when I tell them that I lived in Africa. They often imagine a country in the wilderness with wild animals roaming around. However, Africa is far more developed and urbanized than most people think.

Within the city side, Kenya consists of tall buildings, shopping malls, and national parks. There are many local and international schools. The high school I attended was located near nature, surrounded by flora and fauna.

The campus atmosphere was really different from a typical high school campus in Korea. School in Kenya are open, environmental friendly and warm. This encourages students to be active in sports and other outdoor activities. I think that more schools in Korea should encourage students to participate in extracurricular activities rather than focusing on just academics.

The second culture shock was my coming in contact with the Korean community in Kenya. Upon arrival, I was introduced to church community. This helped me to get more connected. I was helped to figure out issues such as transportation and safety.

Apart from this, I think that by being a minority when living in a country that is not yours influences a person a lot. I was able to gain a sense of belonging by being active and participating within the Korean community.  Being part of the community was a major support because I felt comfortable and welcomed at the beginning.

I believe that this was the case for me because I always have a difficult time adjusting to a new country and its culture whenever I move to another country. I have consistently have a problem with feeling like I have no place that I belong since I was exposed to many various cultures since I was a child.

In sum, my encounters in Kenya shaped me. My way of thought changed and I am able to relate more with issues that affect Africa. I am more aware of the Kenyan culture as well as their ways of life. I better understand the similarities and differences within the Korean and Kenyan culture.

For instance, being wealthy in Korea depends on how much money and property that you own but in the local areas in Kenya it is determined by the amount of cows or sheep’s that a family owns. I also came in contact with wild animals, natural water, and electricity difficulties. At the time I was unthankful but now I can see that I gained good knowledge about how to handle these issues in the future.

Written by Lina Song