Yang Gae-La – China
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself.
Hello, my name is Yang Gae-La and I am from China. It has been 5 years since I’ve been in Korea and currently I am studying at WooSong University. Since I was young, I’ve been raised differently from others. Starting at the age of 6, I grew up reading “The Nine Chinese Classics”, learning liberal arts, politics, history, economics, business management, etc. of not only China but also other foreign countries. Then, I finally decided to study abroad in Korean after learning Taekwondo for about 5 years.
I think learning a foreign language is not just learning the language itself but also learning about the history and culture of the foreign country. That is why I decided to self-study in those areas. Last year, my friend recommended me to join VANK and that led me to participate in the 11th Global Tourism and Culture Diplomat events and receive a reward. In the future, my dream is to become an analyst, but I want to use my skills for a better relationship between Korea and China.
2. How did you start interning at Vank?
At first, I thought Koreans introducing things about Korea and Chinese people introducing things about China was a given. However, after hearing Vank’s founder presentation and the activities that the young adults partake in, I changed my mind. Promoting Korea is not only a work for Koreans or democrats, but also something foreigners can do by learning about the culture and spreading the knowledge all across the world.
Especially, I don’t think Korean young adults are promoting Korea as the “#1 country”, but they are promoting Korea’s history and culture as challenging and emotional. To promote Korea myself, I studied a lot into Korea’s culture and I thought the Silla Dynasty was very interesting. Silla was the weakest of the 3 kingdoms but was still able to achieve unification between the 3 kingdoms. It is an emotional history where they made the impossible possible. Honestly, I went to visit Gwang-ju to see the area in person. Visiting a place with a history of over a thousand years made my heart race and became a very meaningful experience for myself who is promoting Korea.
3. How was your experience at VANK?
At first, I was introduced to VANK through a friend and I thought, “At a time where I should do things that would benefit me, should I work for a country where I am not from?” I had a lot of doubts. Wondering what I would do at VANK, I started to learn out of curiosity. Later, I met with the founder of VANK and became in love with the staff and the organization itself. I am not exaggerating that I fell in love at first sight and I developed an interest and love for the organization.
My duties in VANK are to find erroneous information about Korea through the Korean Culture and History Diplomat programs and to promote Korea. For VANK, I went to Thailand alone and I have also promoted Korea there. The supplemental materials that VANK provided me were useful. Additionally, I went back to China during Valentines’ Day and suggested to people to go to Korea while distributing roses. However, there was a dilemma. I also got the opportunity to use my Chinese on Chinese students and since I knew the stand point of Chinese people, I was able to communicate effectively and I received a lot of great responses.
Honestly, as a foreigner, promoting Korea was not an easy job. I am not too sure if this work is considered easy for Native Koreans, but as a person from China I thought it would be impossible. Especially, I was not adept at the language, culture, and history of Korea and I also had a personal issue. During middle school, I was diagnosed with a skin disorder so I received 4 surgeries on my face. Thereafter, my confidence fell and I eventually got caught into depression. I was not able to talk with people around. After coming to Korea and experiencing life in a foreign country, my confidence got a lot better but it was still difficult for me to promote Korea in front of people. However, overcoming this difficulty was a chance for me to improve myself so I worked with more confidence.
Honestly, I have always tried my best but I’ve never thought I would be rewarded as a Korean diplomat. Out of 300 people, being picked as top 50 was not an easy thing to do, especially for a foreigner. That is why I believe that if a person has the dedication then that person can do better than a person with a better skill set. It was a big life lesson for me. From this experience, I found out that I have no limits. It felt like I was born again.
4. What did you contribute to VANK’s goals?
I think VANK is an organization that inspires and help achieve dreams within young adults. However, seeing the negative information about VANK in the Chinese translation of Wikipedia, I was hurt to hear that a lot of people thought of VANK as an organization that was weird and had a too much pride on Korean supremacy. I corrected some information about VANK on a widely used Wikipedia-like site in China. Additionally, to change people’s opinions on VANK and their staff, I promoted VANK in a positive way through Weibo and many blogs. Furthermore, there are still many people who have negative opinions about VANK but I will respect their opinions while helping to build a better relationship between both countries.
5. During your internship, what were your goals and what did you learn? Did you achieve those goals?
It hurts to hear all these negative comments about VANK in China, so I went on 3 of the most visited online sites in China and promoted VANK and corrected information about Dokdo and the East Sea. Additionally, I decided to periodically post on Weibo and blogs about VANK. I feel like there are lots of Koreans who are experts on Japan and America, but not on China, so I set a goal to summarize information about Korea and Chinese historical figures in Chinese and Korean.
During my internship, I was able to achieve these goals. First of all, out of the 3 major sites in China, I was able to correct and upload information about VANK and the East Sea on 2 of the sites. However, I tried to correct information on Baidu and Wikipedia for 2 weeks but they did not approve of my request. It was to the point where Wikipedia told me they will blacklist my account. Secondly, I was able to promote Vank and Dokdo to netizens on Weibo and other blogs. Third, I uploaded some videos promoting Korea on online sites except one site which had problems with uploading the videos (the videos were still uploaded in parts). Lastly, I picked 4 historical figures for each China and Korea summarized about them in both languages so that people from China and Korea can learn each other’s history.
6. During your internship, what did you improve on?
I think the most difficult time for me was the Dokdo Camp. As a foreigner, it is difficult to give my opinion on topics like Dokdo so I was very worried during the camp. Haven’t nothing to do with my homeland, participating in the activities felt very awkward. On top of that, the weekend I went to Dokdo I coincidently saw a news article of my interview which they changed the title and content on their own which made me very furious. After many complaints, they took down the news article. There were information of THAAD, Korea-China relations, and territorial problems so I felt very bad that they had to take the article down. I felt very thankful to Park Gi-Tae who helped me through this situation.
Also, I’ve always did things according to a set plan but VANK taught me how to work in a different way which opened my imagination and creativity. With Korea being heavily influenced by the Confucianism culture in aspects such as age and work position, VANK was completely different.
7. Any feelings while working at VANK?
Don’t rely on others and don’t wait for the work to come to you. Instead, use your creativity to do what you have to do and do what you want to do. That is what I felt while interning at VANK. In other companies, you have to follow a certain curriculum or model but VANK is a great organization that trains young adults to be more imaginative and creative and offers them great opportunities.
8. Any advice for someone who wants to become a Korean Diplomat?
Through Vank’s activities, I wish you can overcome any personal difficulties you may have. A position in Vank is much better than a position as the president, am I right? Well, people might not agree but if you feel the confidence from VANK’s activities you may feel the pride of becoming a member. You can recover through any problems.
I feel like we aren’t enjoying life like westerners. From a young age, Korean students are pressured into intense studying and once they are in college, they have to prepare for a job. This way of life seems very mundane and there seems to be no real dreams. Just as you are continuously making an effort with VANK, you should also aim for your real dream.
9. Any advice on promoting Korea?
While learning about Korea’s History, it’s not about how successful you become or what job you got into, it’s the effort that matters the most. There are lots of difficulties that young adults face like unemployment. There are also Koreans who are ashamed of their own country because of all the current problems. However, as a foreigner, Korea seems like a dynamic country with a lot of potential. Hence, Korean young adults should have more pride in their country first.
When Koreans promote Korea, they only show the aspects that they want to or an aspect through the eyes of Koreans. Since I am a foreigner, I promote aspects from Korea’s perspective and also take China’s perspective into account. Additionally, using the vast 5,000 year history of Korea, start with a topic that the target audience would like and move from there to promoting Korea. Try to initiate the conversation with a broad subject like East Asia instead of starting with Korea. For example, while talking to people about General Yi Sun-Shin, try to talk about other historical figures from other countries during that time. To do this, it is imperative that we must be adept in other countries’ history. When I read articles that don’t have a stand with a single opinion, there were interesting things and many things to learn. Hence, I recommend reading books not only about Korea but also East Asian countries or even about countries on other continents so that you can promote Korea in a very friendly way.
10. What are your future plans?
Because of the recent THAAD deployment plans and conflicts between Korea and China in general, the relations between the two is very unstable. I want to prove to Korean young adults that Korea and China are not enemies but are friends.
I disagree with a lot of Vank’s statements on Balhae and Goguryeo’s history and China’s “Northeastern Project” opposition, etc. However I respect Vank’s position on Northeastern Peace and the unifying efforts between China, Korea, and Japan to play a bigger role in the world. That is how I became a Korean diplomat. That is why I will play a big role in promoting Korea and China when I go back to China. Furthermore, I will provide help for any situations where there are problems between the two countries that we can’t see.
11. Any last words for VANK and the staff?
Working at Vank was very difficult but it was the happiest period during my stay in Korea. While heading to Dokdo camp, I was uncomfortable and the company, students, and friends probably thought I was rude, considering relations in Korea. I want to thank the founder, Park Gi-Tae, for taking care of me and I want to apologize.
Since the beginning of my 5 year stay in Korea, I felt that my positive feelings of Korea have been diminishing over time. However, seeing everyone at VANK with friendly and open-minded personalities, I began to fall in love with Korea all over again. Not having many skills to offer, I am sorry that I couldn’t have met VANK’s expectations during the 2 months. However, if you need any help from me, I will always be willing to help.
Translated by: Elton Chun