“I’m Seongjing Kim and I’m South Korean. We have a different age system. My date of birth is 8th of September 1988, which makes me twenty-nine in Finland but in Korea I would be 30 this year.
When I was in South Korea I was following the steps of ordinary people: I studied and I ended up at university, I was conscripted to the military for two years. It’s not easy to have a dream in Korea because you have to make the obligatory steps. It made me determined to escape South Korea. During my last semester at university I went to Iceland for exchange. I was in Iceland for only four months, but it was the freedom that impressed me and it had a huge impact.
In South Korea you have to compare yourself to other people, you need to have a nice job, nice home, it’s kind of the standard for ‘evaluating’ people in South Korea. But in Iceland they didn’t care about me in that way, they just saw me as a single person. In Korea we’ve had an economic crisis since 1998. Money and politics is everything back home – it has always been like this.
“It’s not easy to have a dream in Korea because you have to make the obligatory steps. It made me determined to escape South Korea”
When I had to go back to South Korea after my exchange I cried a lot. Going back meant having to graduate and find a job, but the ferry disaster in South Korea on the 16th of April 2014 made me want to study more political science. More than 300 people, mostly high school students, drowned on their way to an island. The captain of the ferry was drunk and gambling, he didn’t care about the accident. It was a big deal because no one tried to rescue them and the president and the party didn’t do anything to help the parents of victims. At the end of last year the Korean president was forced to resign because of the disaster and endemic corruption. It was a big deal. I know it doesn’t have to be like this and I study politics because I want to make society a little bit better for the majority.
In the end I got the idea of having a safety net and social system, like in modern European countries. I really wanted to study political philosophy, but because I experienced this kind of event I decided to research more practical things: how to make social safety nets for people. I decided to come to Helsinki University for that.
I told my professor that I had decided to go to Finland to study politics. He tried to stop me. It’s almost impossible to get a job as a researcher in Korea with a Finnish degree. They were worried about my future. Korean schools consist of people who studied in the US or UK, not Finland.
I came to Finland in August 2015. I love everything here. My lifestyle has changed a lot. In South Korea I usually go out with people to drink, to watch sports or TV, it’s cheap there. In Finland I started reading books at home or at the library, I walk in parks and go to the seaside. I have a better quality of life.
“I know it doesn’t have to be like this and I study politics because I want to make society a little bit better for the majority”
I also have good friends here, I got to know a Finnish girl in Iceland. We didn’t speak much, she is a very typical Finn. Very shy. I didn’t expect to have a friends here because people are quiet and it’s hard to make friendships, but when I meet people they are very kind and try to help me. They’re interested in my background.
I met friends at the university, they study the same things. My best friend is from the US. I spend most of my time with guys from there. We watch baseball together. There are so many jokes about the relationship between the US and Korea. In the US there are many Korean people and Chinese people. There is Koreatown. We can share the experience and ideas more easily than other European people. If I start my PhD here I want to get my own place and I want to cook Korean food for my friends. In my current home I can’t do that.
I have missed my family since I arrived. They say I should try and settle in Finland if I can. We can take a plane to meet. We already had the experience when I was in the military. I got out every six weeks or so. We can Skype or Facetime. They are still young. I have a younger sister, she is 28 (26 international), my mum is 54 in Korea (52 international) and my father 58 (60 international). They have not been to Finland yet, but I want to invite them this autumn. Last December I went to South Korea to meet my family and join a candlelight protest against the former president.
The weather has been a problem in Finland. Also the holidays, because in South Korea people go out and spend time with their families. On Christmas eve I needed to write an essay and I went to the library. After 6pm when I left there was no transportation anymore. I didn’t want to spend money on a taxi. So I walked to Kannelmäki from here (centre of Helsinki). It took me 2.5 hours. I crossed the Central Park in the dark. I didn’t know there wouldn’t be any transport. I googled if there were bears in the Central Park. I found out that there are rabbits and foxes. That’s why I started to walk there. I was so depressed because I missed my family and friends in South Korea. I don’t usually miss them that much, but this time it was hard. I was a bit depressed until March or April this year, but I did what I had to do.
I live in Kannelmäki. I tried to understand the social structure. People start to hate immigrants because of the hard economy. I try to think people are not haters. It’s the state, government, the privileged, but not the individual. When I came here some people threw cigarettes at me after they smoked them. It has happened several times because I’m foreign. Also outside a train station a guy shouted at me and threw a bottle. But I think the problem is the individual, not the society.
“It took me 2.5 hours. I crossed the Central Park in the dark. I didn’t know there wouldn’t be any transport. I googled if there were bears in the Central Park. I found out that there are rabbits and foxes”
After Christmas this year some of my friends thought that I don’t like Finland. I think also in part because I started learning Swedish. But Finnish is just so difficult to learn and I wanted to learn Swedish because it was easy. I stopped that for my thesis. Sometimes I have dreamed about going to Sweden to study more but I also love learning languages. Most people ask me why I studied it. In Finnish I got to A2 level, but I have forgotten many things. I don’t try to speak it. I tried once to talk about the snow in Kannelmäki and the person I spoke to only said “noniin”.
Recently I bought a camera and started taking pictures. I like doing that. I also go to the sea, to the market place. It’s made me feel better. Early this year was the only time Finland has felt difficult, but I’m used to dark because of being in Iceland.
Even if times are hard I’ll never forget why I’m studying politics here. I don’t hate South Korea because it’s my mother country; I want to show that a researcher with a background from Finland can be impressive in Korean or any other Asian school. I want to talk about immigration and the social safety net issue, especially in Eastern Asian countries. I want to make sure that we build a nicer system in Korea, like Scandinavia and Finland. I want to deliver the nice things about Finland as a researcher and also introduce the Finnish school system back home. I want to make South Korea a better place, along with other Asian countries. And I would like to have a family in Finland, as soon as possible.
I worry about people who say that they hate politics. It can change your life and it’s important for your life. It changed my life, that’s why I’m here. Finland did that to me and I’m so happy to be here. In Finland I have everything.”
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This interview was recorded in 2017 in Helsinki by Peter Seenan. If you’d like to be involved in this project please visit our contact page and submit the form.