Pop culture diplomacy

What’s in a name?”

There are many names that I get called by pedestrians in Rwanda. Most often people call me:

Muzungu: A foreigner (a colonial term for White person)
Umuchinois: A Chinese
Umujapan: A Japanese

More ridiculous ones include:
Jacky (as Jacky Chan)
Jet (as Jet Li)

Sometimes, I try to correct them by explaining that I am umucorea (a Korean). Usually, they don’t see the difference and just call me back umuchinois. Can’t blame them I guess – for them, we all look alike.

There’s been a significant change however on this front. Rwandans now recognise Korea as a unique and different country from our more well-known neighbours. This recognition is in part thanks to the Korean pop media. The import of Korean TV series (or drama) in Rwanda has risen in the past few years and Rwandans have fallen in love with it. “Jumong”, “Iris”, and “East of Eden” are some of the big household dramas that many Rwandans have watched, laughed, cried and adore. Whenever people find out that I am Korean, they share their excitement, joy and respect for Korean culture (or more specifically their favourite characters).

What’s interesting is regardless of differences in culture, language and lifestyle, both Koreans and Rwandans can relate to the universal human experiences of personal and family relationships and tragedies, struggles for a decent living, and of course, all-time-best-seller, love trials.

I am not sure if there is any hidden agenda in this Pop culture diplomacy by the Korean government, but I get to add another name on my list of nicknames in Rwanda: “Hey you! Jumong!”

East of Eden - a popular Korean series in Rwanda

East of Eden – a popular Korean series in Rwanda