By Lee Jin Su
May 24, 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of Korean Cultural Centre Nigeria. Korean Cultural Centre Nigeria (KCCN) opened in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, to promote cooperation through the expansion of cultural exchanges between Korea and Nigeria in 2010, which was the 30th anniversary of Korea-Nigeria diplomatic relations. This year marks the 40th anniversary.
There are a total of 32 Korean Cultural Centres worldwide. Among them, KCCN is the first-ever Korean Cultural Centre in Africa, working hard to promote Korean culture throughout Africa including Nigeria. As of March 30, 2020, the number of KCCN’s Facebook Followers is the third-highest among all centres, which gives an idea of KCCN’s activities.
As a Korean proverb says “10 years is an epoch”, 10 years is enough time to create new history from many different events. During this period, KCCN has been making great efforts in different fields from education, literature, music, art, sports to movies for the vitalization of cultural exchange between Korea and Nigeria.
The cultural exchange activities began in earnest after establishing the foundation through Korea-Nigeria Cooperation Agreement on Culture and Education in 2012.
KCC Nigeria hosts various small and large cultural events such as K-POP Dance Competition, Taekwondo Competition, Korean Cultural Festival, Korean Film Festival, etc. Nigerians’ response and interest in these events are very high in such a way that these events are settling down as the place for Korean cultural experience.
In particular, Nigerians are especially outstanding in dance with their innate talent and participated in the K-POP World Festival 2016 in Changwon, Korea, where a Nigerian team ‘Supreme Task’ won the first prize. In 2015, Pacific Starz won the grand prize. Also, Taekwondo has become one of the most popular sports that hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are learning throughout Nigeria, and Korean Ambassador’s Cup Taekwondo Championship has become one of the major events of the year at KCC Nigeria.
KCC Nigeria offers Taekwondo and Korean classes 4 times a week to the public. In addition, Taekwondo classes were opened in 4 public primary and secondary schools since 2014, and the KCCN coaches are teaching these classes to discover young children with talent in Taekwondo.
In Lagos, a class for Janggu, a Korean traditional instrument, is available. This brings two different benefits of expanding the spread of Korean traditional music while fostering artists in the country of residence.
There are small and big local festivals throughout Nigeria, and KCCN participates each year to promote Korean culture and understand Nigerian culture. In particular, it designated December 26 in Africa’s biggest street festival ‘2016 Calabar Carnival’ as ‘Korean Culture Day’ and invited a traditional performance group from Korea to perform.
Each year, KCCN selects 10 students in graduate and doctorate courses in the first and second half through GKS (Global Korea Scholarship) Program. They get to study at noteable graduate schools in Korea for 4~5 years and return to Nigeria, where they can perform a significant role in their respective areas for the national development, as well as act as the bridge between Korea-Nigeria in their cooperation.
Nigerians’ favorability of Korean Culture is very high that they even voluntarily promote Korean Wave. In 2015, a group consisting of artists, K-Wave fans, power bloggers, reporters, public educational officers, and students formed K-Culture Supporters to establish a cooperative network with KCCN and has been performing various duties including the promotion of the Korean Wave. Also, they recruit honorary reporters among anyone with interest in Korean culture to participate in KCCN’s events and share about them with Nigerians on blogs and social media.
In 2017, KCCN’s exhibition space was remodeled into a Korean Wave Experience Hall with high definition multimedia facility. It is open to all Nigerians who are interested in Korean Culture, including students and teachers, to pay a visit.
Culture is the ensemble of lifestyle. In other words, it is the essence of life as a result of people living together for a long time in a community. Knowing the culture means understanding the emotions and sentiment of people that belong to such a group. Therefore, cultural exchange is the optimum method for communication.
With the effects of COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, many people around the world are facing difficulties, and their survival is being threatened.
KCCN is replacing all events to online events to prevent further spread of the situation among Nigerians and is communicating with staff and people using video conference or SNS.
With the exponential increase of local demand on Korean culture in the last 10 years and digitization, enjoyment of culture is not a luxury anymore but has become a part of life. At this point, KCCN’s role and responsibility are more important than ever.
Now, KCCN is preparing for the next 10 years based on the last 10 years of performance in Korea-Nigeria cultural exchange.
What is KCCN’s Approach Going Forward?
First, Korea-Nigeria cultural exchange will take the interactive direction, which can bring substantial help and benefits to both countries. Cultural activities are the new business area of the future with infinite possibilities of kick-starting a new industry or business or contributing to job creation. For cultural exchanges to be sustained, a well-balanced interactive cultural exchange, which stimulates and influences each other’s culture and contributes to economic development, is the key.
Second is to promote active cultural space by offering the opportunity of cultural benefits to more people in conjunction with promotional activities using digital technology. Nigeria is a country with a large territory of over 210 million population, and the KCCN in Abuja can only do so much to host an event that can cover such a large area and population. It needs to create an environment where more residents can enjoy the culture through an aggressive promotion by uploading and sharing videos of cultural events and performances on YouTube or SNS.
Third, it will focus on tailored cultural activities that correspond to Nigeria’s local environment and people. In particular, people of Nigeria have profound knowledge in literature. They also present sophisticated music with their extraordinary passion and talent in dance music and have excellent clothing production techniques. Reflecting such advantages and characteristics in planning cultural events or presenting a collaborated performance by teams of both countries can create a more meaningful and effective cultural activity outcome.
Fourth, as the first Korean Cultural Centre in Africa, it will expand its area of activity throughout Africa beyond Nigeria. As mentioned earlier, cultural promotion using digital technology and collaboration between Korean and African cultural performance teams will create greater synergy in cultural events. In particular, sending Nigerian K-POP dance teams that achieved excellent results in the past K-POP World Festivals to perform in nearby African countries more frequently will enhance the level of intimacy in many countries in Africa beyond the friendship between Korea and Nigeria.
Fifth, KCCN will play its role as a bridge to vitalize exchanges between artists in both countries. One of the best ways to understand each other’s cultures is to meet often and spend time together. Until now, KCCN has not been able to provide such occasion frequently for artists of both countries for certain limitations and has not been able to satisfy the artists’ will to make cultural exchanges. If artists of both countries visit each other’s country to learn and understand each other’s culture by combining with their own cultures, it will aid the development of both countries’ cultures rapidly.
Lastly, it will create the environment for citizens of both countries to promote each other’s culture voluntarily to produce as many ‘honorary cultural ambassadors’ as possible in both countries. The Janggu class offered in Lagos consists of only Nigerians, including the instructor. They voluntarily learned and started the class simply because they liked the Korean traditional instrument, and produced over 100 graduates until now. They participate in local festivals throughout Nigeria and promote Korean Janggu, and sometimes combine it with Nigerian traditional instruments, eliciting a massive response from citizens. Such voluntary promotion is the biggest asset in vitalizing cultural exchange.
The world is changing rapidly day by day due to the development of IT, AI technology, etc. The speed of change also is reduced significantly from yearly basis to monthly, weekly, or daily basis, and it is becoming more difficult to predict the future.
The new upcoming 10 years that KCCN wants to face will be completely different from what it experienced in the last 10 years.
However, what may never change is the human nature to satisfy cultural demand. Its form has changed based on time and place, but its essence has continued until now. Now, culture has become an essential item of our lives.
As mentioned earlier, cultural exchange is the best means of communication, and a catalyst of cultural industrial revival.
In the last 10 years, KCCN has been making great efforts for Korea-Nigeria cultural exchange and achieved great results. Such results would never have been possible without the participation and cooperation of Nigerian citizens. The subject of cultural exchange is the citizens of Korea and Nigeria.
KCCN will not settle for the results of the last 10 years, but will move forward for the next 10 years – hand in hand with the people of Nigeria.
Jin Su is the Director Of Korean Cultural Centre, Nigeria.