Media’s perspective of foreigners can be better

Edited version published in Joongang Daily, December 10th, 2013. http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2981768

I have lived in Korea for seven years now. Despite firsthand experience and research on media and education, I still do not claim to be an expert in Korean media culture. No doubt that media are powerful tools that orient us to reality particularly in societies like Korea where the media are a near ubiquitous. The significance of new media in contemporary Korea lies in its proximity; smartphones have become our closest consultants. In the words of Marshall McLuhan four decades ago that “the media work us over completely” couldn’t be truer today. McLuhan is considered the father of modern communications.

It is also common knowledge that the media largely influence our choices: what we buy, what we eat, how we dress and sometimes invokes our thinking on topical issues. Beyond the traditional functions of media to inform, educate, persuade, entertain and set agenda for deliberations, the media too form deep-seating cultural perspectives or worldviews. In fact, McLuhan asserted that all media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values. His claim that the media are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, or unaltered is quite evident in modern life.

In the recent days, there has been a series of publications focusing on multicultural aspect of the Korean Read the rest of this entry »

Korea’s college entry exams and the ‘inconsolable’ desire

 Edited version published in Joongang Ilbo (http://mengnews.joinsmsn.com/view.aspx?gCat=010&aId=2944395)

Last week, over 600,000 Korean students sat an exam that seemingly determines their destiny in life. To most of them, the college entry exam is also a postern to their critical goal of entering Seoul National University, Korea University or Yonsei University. The three institutions are commonly christened as SKY. And they know quite well, that credentials from the “sky” comfortably land graduates plum jobs with big companies or the government. The three institutions are considered the academic cream of Korea.

There is nothing wrong with education that assures one a stable, happy future; after all, it is every parent’s dream to see their children prosper in all aspects. However, observers have termed the College Scholastic Ability Test or CSAT in Korea as either a national obsession or radically esteemed.

On the day of the nine hour exam, the country literally changes. All flight landings and take-offs at the airports are put on hold while the arriving international aircrafts are ordered to circle at altitudes above 10,000 feet for some while. Motorists are also asked to lower their speed and to avoid honking near the test locations during the listening comprehension assessment. In fact, traffic is usually banned from within 200 meters of the test centers until the exam is over.

At the periphery, parents, friends and school juniors of test-takers gather to wish their loved ones success. Some parents would be praying outside the exam centers. In the recent past a mother reportedly vowed to bow 3,000 times, kneeling down with her forehead touching a red cushion perhaps to invoke luck to her beloved son. Most schools will also give a day off to students who are not sitting the exam.

But beyond the facade lies fundamental question that many parents and educationists raise regarding Read the rest of this entry »

The young and unsatisfied? My wonder on smoking and cosmetics in Korea

By Millicent Omollo and B. Kamary, Edited version Published in The Seoul Times – Nov. 3, 2011
 

Puffing off the smoke

Sitting at a roof balcony as I wait for my next lecture to begin, one by one they streamed in, each pulling out a cigarette. Before I knew it I was seated amongst teens – all puffing off streams of smoke into the otherwise blue skies. I have seen similar scenes before, but today’s scenario sends my mind into a wonderland; yes, I simply wondered why.

Don’t mistake me, I have nothing to do with smokers yet I am always irked by smoking itself. Would it be fair to say I detest smoking but not smokers? Yes, I love smokers but hate smoking and I am yet to know why smoking is such an attractive addiction particularly to teens. But as they say, opinion is free and facts sacred. My sentiments on the subjects are likewise freely given and freely to be taken.  Back home in Africa where I was born and raised, a cigarette advert comes along with quite a stern warning: “harmful to your health!” Who doesn’t know that? I have a friend, a medical doctor but a chain smoker, who spares no chance to warn his sons against smoking. “You better do as I say and not as I do,” he would often rumble.

Hey, did you know they now say cancer is a deadlier than HiV/Aids? I think this is where most of us would pause to care. Possibly pharmaceutical companies are better ready themselves to fund a scientist who will be genius enough to discover cure for cancer. And at rate we are Read the rest of this entry »

Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes Community

By Shane Hipps (http://www.qideas.org/essays/our-nomadic-existence-how-electronic-culture-shapes-community.aspx?page=5)

Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes CommunityI remember flinching for the dashboard as if that was going to help. The car was careening toward a snake-like elbow in the track. I glanced at the driver expecting him to slam on the brakes and save us from catastrophe. He looked almost bored; I think he may have even yawned. The car glided smoothly in and out of the turn as if it had prepared its whole life for that moment. As he accelerated out of the curve, the driver apologized for not going faster. Apparently, if you’re not wearing a helmet — and I wasn’t — drivers are only allowed to take the track at 70 percent speed. This was part of my “research” for the new account I had been assigned — Porsche Cars North America. At the time, I was working for an ad agency. The people at Porsche had taken us to a racetrack to develop an appreciation for their product. Apart from nearly soiling my drawers, it worked.

My role as an account planner in advertising was to serve as a kind of consumer anthropologist. Basically, I was to keep my finger on the pulse of what consumers influenced and what they were influenced by. There were no rules for this task, no formal training, no manual — just raw intuition, ingenuity, and a dose of insanity. As a result, I go Read the rest of this entry »

I quit, but let my people think!

A reflection on Kenya by Paul Kihiro. First published in Jambo Kenya Korea, 2011 Fall Edition. Republished with permission.
 
As Ravi Zacharias, an India-born Christian apologist, like teaching in his program called, “Let My People Think,” and from whom I borrowed the title of this article, so I say to my fellow Kenyans. It has been a short journey of three years since I came to Korea. In 2009 Koreans looked very strange people and theirs was a very awkward language and a peculiar culture. Oh, and the food! It messed me up. That was three years ago. Now I can eat any Korea dish. Of course there are those which I like most. Now I look forward to quit and go back to Kenya by winter. I am quitting by I have gathered enough to take back home and I hope I am not alone. I just hope!

Besides the books that have helped raise my worldview to another level of global interaction with ideas from various minds, the people I met here have helped me shape my next phase of life. My leadership at KCK Busan County as the chairman since its inception in 2010, and, at Kosin University as the leader of the international community, has given me an international outlook of life. This will remain etched in my life; the Busan Global Gathering, Changwon Arirang Festival, Kosin University Food Festival and culture night, among others. And having handed-over the mantle recently I now ponder.

I appreciate the hardworking individuals like His Excellency the Ambassador Ngovi Kitau. He has a sharp mind and knows what he is doing. He is one person among few leaders of our land who have impressed my heart with understanding and vision. He challenged us at a Busan dinner and kindled the fire now ablaze among the Busan community. He is man of substance and his leadership should be emulated by all who know him. Thanks to him again for opening up the embassy to all Kenyans and making it our office of interaction with each other. I really respect this man.

No doubt the KCK national office has been working very hard lately. Read the rest of this entry »

Wangari Maathai: Audacious Woman of Her Time

Also published in The Seoul Times, Oct. 4, 2011 and The Korea Times, Oct 2, 2011

Sometime in January, 1999, I came face to face with quite a frightening sight in Nairobi. I was just about to cross the road when a speeding anti-riot police truck swerved past followed by a jeep full of policemen with wooden clubs. Panic raged high prompting women to grab their children and flee. Some shops were shut instantaneously. Were it not for my school uniform, a distinctive red shirt and blue pair of shorts, I would not have been allowed into a matatu, public transport van, heading East. I was a high school sophomore.

Inside the van grape vine was churning from every other tongue but the theme was, “Wangari was in the forest planting trees”. You see, I knew Wangari Maathai from my Boy Scout training on environmental conservation, but it took me longer to comprehend why one can be clobbered for planting trees. The television’s chilling images later in the evening and newspaper pictures the following morning are still fresh in my memory – unsettling.

This woman never quit. Sooner than later Wangari Maathai was back in the forest or Uhuru park either attempting to plant trees or dodging tear gas from the authorities. Today Uhuru Park is scenic and Karura Forest where she was beaten by hired guards as the police watched is mostly saved from the hands of land grabbers.

The woman was also unbowed; a fitting title she gave to her biography Read the rest of this entry »

Zambia: Slow but sure, a new sunrise is going up

Also published in The Seoul Times. September 29, 2011

By Patriciah Njambi & Benson Kamary

A new political sunrise in sub-Saharan Africa is seemingly licking away outdated regimes and leaving an aroma of democracy. But this is not to say that democracy is the redeemer of Africa. Not yet. Like any other political system impacted by a corrupted world, democracy can be abused, and seriously so. Even in the West where democracy is hailed as an assuring pragmatic system, it has severally been turned into the ‘tyranny of the majority’ with persecuting claws on the minority and their feeble voice.

Well, at least in the savannah land, the ‘jasmine revolution’ of a kind has just arrived if the recent polls in Zambia are anything to count on.  But unlike the mass action and street battles witnessed in the Arabic Northern regions, sub-Saharan Africa is getting new governments with a reduced violence. Optimistically, minimal or no Read the rest of this entry »

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