Title: From Ethiopia to England, The Life of a Global Citizen
City: Chuncheon, South Korea
Introduction: 5 years ago, I was working as a cashier at The Home Depot in Austin, TX. While working, I met a man from Ethiopia for the very first time. I was really curious about how he ended up in such an uncommon situation and began talking with him. We became very close friends over the next few years, and I grew to have a deep appreciation for Ethiopian people and culture. He also taught me how to cook Ethiopian food and it has been my favorite ever since!
When I got to Korea, I found an African neighborhood in an area called Itaewon. There were restaurants with food from many African countries, but none from Ethiopia! I became curious to see if there were any Ethiopians in Korea at all. I searched and searched for any information I could. Finally, after much searching, I met a very special Korean girl who happened to be an expert on minorities of all kinds in Korea! She was able to answer all my questions and I was fascinated by her own story too. I can’t wait for you to meet this inspiring global citizen as well!
1. What is your full name? My full name is Mina Eom.
2. Where do you live? What is your house like?
I live in Chuncheon. It is in the Kangwon Province in the east of Korea. My two roommates are colleagues at my university. Because we are students and don’t make much money, the government supports our housing. It paid the deposit money for our shared apartment. We live together because we can’t afford to rent a place individually. We only pay a small fee (about $50USD) and our utility bills each month.
Most Korean people live in apartments. To have a yard or garden like may homes I’ve seen in the U.S.A and other big countries is a dream for us! My hometown is in the same province where I currently live, but it is a small village in a very rural area.
3. What is your family like?
My parents got divorced when I was 15 years old. I don’t know exactly why, but I remember my mother left when I was 11 years old. She returned after a little while, but the marriage just didn’t work. Finally, they separated and I lived permanently with my sister and father.
The divorce has been a challenge for all of us, but I think my mother had the most challenges. It’s difficult for her to be away from her daughters. However, things have ended on a better note!
After high school graduation, I went to live with my mother when we found she had gotten cancer. I spent four years with her to improve her condition. Fortunately, our family likes to talk to each other. I really think that the time I spent with my mother just talking and being with her was really the best therapy. Now, she is so positive and cheerful! Also, she and my father have a much better friendship now!
My story is not common in Korea. My generation is beginning to change family traditions. For my parents’ generation, the concept of family was that it must always be together because their lives were based on agriculture and Confucian ideas. Have you heard of Confucius? He was a famous Asian philosopher.
My generation grew up having strong ties to our family members, but we are becoming quite independent and want to make our own life. We respect and love our parents. However, we don’t want to live exactly like they lived. That’s why there is a bit of contrast between generations in Korea.
4. How do you get around?
Some say it’s difficult to live in Chuncheon without a personal car. We don’t have a large public transportation system like Seoul. However, I don’t really mind because I love to walk or ride my bike! Walking from my apartment to my university only takes 30 minutes. I usually walk to get there.
It’s easy to get to Seoul from Chuncheon because we can use the subway. It takes about one hour. In Seoul or other big cities, I enjoy using the public transportation. I pay for every type, such as bus and subway, with only one card! It’s easy, economical in terms of saving time and money and good for the environment.
5. What types of clothing do you like to wear?
I really dislike the color black. I think the colors of my clothes have an influence on my mood. I prefer clothes with bright colors or floral prints! My friends tell me I have an ‘ethnic’ style, but I’m not quite sure what that means. What do you think they mean?
6. What do you like to do in your free time?
When I am free, I like going to a cafe alone and writing to express my feelings, thoughts, or current events. I also love to walk around my city, sometimes for hours at a time. My city is quite beautiful to walk around in. I also like to stay in my room sometimes. I spend most of my time working or studying away from home. When I have the chance to relax, I lay down on the floor with an easy-to-read book before falling asleep.
7. What languages do you speak? How do you say “Hello” in those languages?
I can speak Korean, English, and Amharic. Amharic is one of the main languages of Ethiopia.
We say “Annyung” for “Hello” in Korean. “Hello” in Amharic is “Selam”.
I love learning to say “Hello” other languages when I travel or meet foreign friends.
8. Do you have pets?
I’ve always had pets. I live with a cat, and I’ve had her for 4 years. I all animals! When I was in my hometown, I had dogs, guinea pigs, a bird, hamsters, and even fish! My wish is that people who own pets would let them move and play freely.
9. Have you traveled? Where have you traveled to?
I first traveled overseas when I was 16 years old through support from a public enterprise.
Since then, I have traveled to Japan, Thailand, England, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Morocco, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Turkey, and Ethiopia.
Since my visit to Thailand in 2007, I have been very interested ‘fair travel'(or responsible travel). I think we need to identify the difference between touring and travelling. Travelling requires special motivations and includes meeting and doing things with local people. When I travel to other countries, I try to stay, eat, and do everything I can with the people who live there. It’s the best way to understand their way of life, hear their concerns and even to discover myself and my country. Moreover, I can make cross-cultural connections with the people themselves.
10. What do you do for work?
I’ve been working since I was 16. I have worked in many different jobs! From a dishwasher to research assistant, every job I had gave me a chance to learn something new!
Now, I am searching for a job that can use my special knowledge and experiences. I am also writing my own book about minorities around the world that I met in Korea or during my travels.
11. Is there anything else you would like to say to students in the United States?
I think we are just the same, ordinary people despite our different nationalities. When I was young, the small village of my hometown was the only world I knew. Now, I have traveled a lot and I have learned that this planet is filled with really diverse people, things and ideas.
I know that traveling can be very expensive and time consuming, but it’s the best way to learn about other cultures. If you cannot travel a lot, there are other ways to meet people from different cultures. For example, I learn about Ethiopia though my Ethiopian friends in Korea. They are migrant workers here. I built my knowledge about Latin America by studying, watching movies and reading. It’s not difficult to encounter the outside world at all! Just be ready to meet a new world and it can happen anywhere or anytime if you really look for it.