Since coming to Korea last April, Kent Kamasumba, a 21-year-old Zambian student at Seoul National University, has experienced many facets of Korean culture and society firsthand.
From the homey rural village of Sancheong in South Gyeongsang Province to the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital, Kent has gone through a host of new things, which he sometimes found quite challenging.
“Coming to Seoul, I’ve come to know much about Korea. I’ve met different kinds of people. The experience here is much more compared to my time at Jirisan High School,” Kent told The Korea Herald.
After graduating in February last year from a high school in the southern African country of some 11 million people, he flew to Korea with the help of a Korean missionary to study at the small private high school in Sancheong.
Established in 2004, the school offers free education to a select group of students from poor economic backgrounds and houses them in a dormitory for free. Last year, the school had a total of 53 students including three foreign students such as Kent.
The Korean missionary, who had worked with Kent’s uncle, a pastor in Zambia, suggested that he attend the Korean high school. Kent was interested in the opportunity primarily because of Korea’s swift economic development and the lessons it could teach his motherland.
The high school in the mountain village was his first exposure to Korean culture and society.
“In Korea, they consider seniority very much. If someone is older than you, then you really have to respect him or her a lot. Back home I only did that with people who were of the same age as my mother, instead of just something like a couple of years difference like it is here,” he said.
It was also at the high school where he learned about the top state university, where he has faced many challenges due in part to the language barrier.
“A lot of people told me that SNU was the best university in Korea. I knew that I was going to find a lot of challenges. That’s what I was expecting,” Kent said.
With his good academic record from Zambia and recommendations from staff at Jirisan, Kent was admitted to study agricultural economics at SNU in November through a special admission program for foreign students.
The tuition fees and living expenses have been taken care of by the Global-Harmony Scholarship, a scholarship provided to students from developing countries by the Samsung Equal Opportunity Scholarship Foundation.
As Kent is required to maintain a high grade point average for his scholarship, his first semester at SNU proved to be quite challenging.
“Last semester I took a couple of core classes which were entirely in Korean. That was very challenging for me as I had to make sure that I did well on those courses,” he said.
He has taken Korean language classes at SNU since the summer vacation started last month.
Although he hasn’t had much free time during his first semester due to the heavy workload, Kent said he spent the little time he had to explore the large campus as well as to visit the sports center a few times.
“From my point of view, it seems like almost everyone concentrates on getting high scores, so they only focus on their books. Even at the cafeteria people only pay attention to the books in front of them,” he said.
As a result of all the reports and assignments given to students, Kent said that it hasn’t been very easy to make friends at SNU. Although he still keeps in touch with his high school friends from Jirisan, none of them are currently living in Seoul.
After a semester’s worth of work, however, Kent has found a level of comfort in the fact that agricultural economics is what he truly wants to pursue.
“I think from what I’ve seen in the first semester, it’s the right program. I also want to minor in international studies or business administration,” he said.
“I want to go back to help the development of my country. A lot of Zambians depend on agriculture. If I learn agricultural policies here, I could go back and change the policies in Zambia as well.”
Although he lives in a dorm on campus, and receives partial living costs from his scholarship, his friends and adopted family here have proved to be an immeasurable source of care and support.
Whether it’s just going out together to eat Kent’s favorite Korean food, samgyeopsal, or taking care of him after he had appendicitis, Kent’s newly adopted family has counseled and comforted him throughout his time in Korea.
A problem that even they couldn’t solve, however, was the distorted coverage he received from the media when he was first accepted to SNU.
A number of false and sensationalized stories were written about Kent’s life in Zambia, some of them going as far as to state that he had lived on just one meal of fruits and vegetables a day, or that he wasn’t able to contact his family for a month regarding his acceptance at SNU due to a lack of phones in his hometown.
“That’s simply untrue. We even have Samsung and LG brand cellphones in Zambia. I can call my family within a few seconds. There are also articles written by reporters whom I’ve never met,” he said.
Whatever the reason behind such warped reporting was, Kent said, the damage was already done.
“There is no way I can change it, so everyone has that same picture about me and Africa. I just hope that from the World Cup they have seen a lot of good things from Africa. Also, I don’t want to be the president of Zambia either. I don’t know why people made that up,” he said.
By Lee Hyuck-jae, Korea Herald intern reporter(firstname.lastname@example.org)