From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Counsellor/Director, Korean Cultural Centre in Nigeria (KCCN) of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Lee Jin Su, has opened up on his most memorable experience as head of the centre. In an interview with Saturday Sun, he spoke about the necessity of the establishment of the centre, its activities, and patronage by Nigerians.
When was this centre established, and why was it necessary to establish such a centre in Nigeria?
The Korean Cultural Centre Nigeria (KCCN) was established in Abuja in May 2010 to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Nigeria, and to expand cultural exchanges and cooperation between the two countries. KCCN is the first and only Korean Cultural Centre in West Africa, and has been making great efforts to promote cultural exchange and cooperation between South Korea and Nigeria over the past decade since its opening. Thanks to these efforts, Nigeria has now increased its preference for the Korean wave (Hallyu), including K-Pop, Taekwondo, K-drama and K-movie. Especially, I am aware that KCCN has 130,000 followers on its social media platforms.
Culture can be the most basic and core principles of communication. One of the best ways to get to know a country is to understand its culture. I believe that cultural exchanges are much more than an activity directed at strengthening diplomatic relations between countries. I look forward to the development of a more future-oriented relationship between South Korea and Nigeria through active cultural exchanges and communication.
What has the experience been like since you took charge of the place? What can you say has been your most memorable experience so far?
The Korean Cultural Centre Nigeria holds dozens of large and small cultural events every year; including a K-POP dance competition, a Taekwondo competition, Korean Cultural Festival, and Korean Film Festival. The Nigerian people’s response and interest in these events are very high, and these cultural events are firmly establishing themselves as a venue for Hallyu experience. In addition, in Abuja, KCCN runs Taekwondo and Korean language classes four times a week for those interested. There is also a special music class with Korean percussion instrument Janggu which is opened in Nigeria’s economic capital of Lagos. Furthermore, KCCN selects more than five students of bachelors, masters, and doctorates in the first and second half of each year through the Global Korean Scholarship (GKS) programme to study in Korea. They returned to Nigeria after four to five years of study at reputable universities in Korea. Now they are playing an important role as a major talent in each field, contributing to the development of Nigeria, as well as serving as a bridgehead for strengthening cooperation between South Korea and Nigeria.
Is this place visited only by Koreans and other nationals, or do your visitors include Nigerians?
The Korean Cultural Centre Nigeria is open to any nationality – Nigerians, South Koreans all living in Nigeria. KCCN has become a cultural hub where international, local and Korean culture co-exist, creating a new culture and means of communication. Cultural exchange is based on two ways and in order to create a higher synergy effect, the two countries agree to develop bilateral cooperation in the fields of culture and share the mutual benefit. Through bilateral exchanges between the two countries, South Korea and Nigeria, will keep providing practical help and benefits to each other. In preparation for the Post-COVID-19 era, we will actively seek various personal interchanges, and also continue to make efforts in creating online cultural events of high quality, using digital technology to provide cultural opportunities to more people even under this current restriction on face-to-face events.
What kind of Nigerians patronise this cultural centre and why? What do they come here to do or to learn?
Recently, the global popularity of Korean culture is increasing due to the influence of K-pop, K-movie, and K-drama. The increase in international interest in South Korea and its popular culture, the number of Nigerian citizens who want to learn Korean language and Taekwondo is growing rapidly. In particular, Nigerians have a very high affinity for Korean culture, so they voluntarily promote Korean culture. In 2015, 15 Nigerians consisting of artistes, Hallyu fans, popular bloggers, journalists, educational officials, and students formed K-Culture Supporters to establish a cooperative network with the Korean Cultural Centre. Since then they have been carrying out various tasks in promoting the Korean Wave. In addition, every year, an honorary Korean culture promotion reporter group is formed for those interested in Korean culture to actively participate in Korean Cultural Centre’s events and share the contents of events and promotional materials with the entire people of Nigeria through social media and its bloggers.
What would a Nigerian who doesn’t come here lose, and what will the ones who do gain?
Korean Cultural Centre plays a significant role as a window to a new world of culture. In 2017, the Hallyu Experience Studio, a state-of-the-art cultural facility equipped with sophisticated experience facilities and high-definition multimedia image facilities, was remodelled with a Korean styled beauty. So, every week, many students and teachers, and anyone interested in Korean culture, visit the Hallyu Experience Studio. Over the past decade, KCCN has made great efforts to exchange culture between South Korea and Nigeria and has made many achievements. However, these achievements would never have been possible without the participation and cooperation of Nigerian citizens.
Culture can be said to be the embodiment of lifestyle. Culture is the essence of life in which people belonging to a community have lived together for a long time and naturally solidified into their present form. Understanding culture means that you can understand the sentiments of the people who belong to it. Therefore, cultural exchange is the best way of communication.
In what ways is the Korean culture different from the Nigerian culture, and in which ways is it similar?
There are two things I realized when I first came here in Nigeria as the Director of the Korean Cultural Centre. First, the people of Nigeria have strong cultural sensitivity to other cultures. They are highly culturally inclined, with diverse and great traditional cultures. But they are also very open to foreign cultures. It seems to make Nigerians excellent in their way of embracing different cultures and making them their own. Second, the people of Nigeria are creating amazing cultural achievements by demonstrating their natural aptitude in various fields. As a country that has produced Nobel Prize winner, it has a deep knowledge of literature, and its passion and talent for music and dance are drawing attention from all over the world. I am very proud of the fact that I am working to vitalize cultural exchanges between the two countries for such a great people here. Nigerian and Korean cultures are similar in that they value tradition and the old things. In addition, like Nigeria, which has many cultures, South Korea has been very receptive and accommodating towards other cultures.
One of the high points of Korean culture is respect for elders and family. How does that work for someone like you who are far away from your country, South Korea? Do you still practise or observe that now that you are in Nigeria, not South Korea? If yes, how?
Korea has been known since ancient times as the “Eastern Courtesy Country” by many countries around the world due to its culture of filial piety towards parents and respect for the elderly. So, I have awakened society and used it as an example by treating wrong behaviours and crimes against elders or parents more strictly than other punishments. Even today, these traditions and cultures are still strong, so there are many people in Korea who live with their parents even after marriage. And it is a virtue and custom to visit and greet relatives for traditional holidays who live far away, or to visit the graves of their deceased ancestors. Born in Korea and raised up learning these traditions and manners from my parents, I also take that it is very natural to respect and behave politely to the elders, and I am trying to fulfill such human duty even here in Nigeria.
Many cultures in Nigeria do have that too. But from your observation, in what ways is your own culture different from ours in that area, and in what ways are they similar?
South Korea is ethnically homogeneous nation and has over 5,000 years of long history and tradition. South Koreans are affectionate and peace-loving people. The fact that South Korea had never invaded another country by force in history is enough to prove this. As I mentioned earlier, South Korea has been very receptive and accommodating towards other cultures similar to Nigeria. Traditional Korean attire ‘Hanbok’ has now become modernized or reformed, thanks to western and other cultural fashion influences. And K-Pop, which gave a rise to new genre influenced by western pop music, can be seen as a good example. Nigeria is a culturally diverse country with more than 250 different ethnic groups. Nigeria also has a rich cultural heritage that has developed independently regardless of other regions, although it has many cities with a long history and has been influenced by Arab or Western European cultures. It is a place where diverse cultures and multiple ethnic groups co-exist, and the world is paying attention to the indigenous culture and traditional arts of Nigeria.
Compare Korean dances with Nigeria’s.
Nigeria’s passion and talent for music and dance are incomparable. Both Korea and Nigeria are continuously leading the global trends by creating new style of music and dance. While Korean dance, including the recent K-POP dance group, is somewhat dynamic and powerful, Nigerian dance seems to have a natural groove and unique rhythm.