|Kim Chaerim is popular for her love of all Arab countries.|
By Korea.net Honorary Reporter Bardise Muhammad
Photos = Kim Chaerim
Back then, people had to travel for days or weeks in order to get to another country and to learn more about different societies and traditions. However, with all of the new inventions nowadays, it only takes a few hours to go to a place that’s on the other side of the world. In order to learn more about different societies, of which you’ve never heard before, you don’t even need to travel. Thanks to the internet, almost everything you need to know about a foreign society is only a click away. Surprisingly, learning about different countries can open doors that’re filled with love and support, and that’s what happened with Kim Chaerim (김채림).
Her Arabic name is Al-Jawhara which means “The Jewel.” Kim is a young Korean woman who caught the attention of thousands of Arabs in a rather short period of time. She hasn’t had the opportunity to travel to any Arab country yet. However, social media was her gate to new adventures, experiences, happy moments and to a bright future. She started using social media a few years ago to share the love she has for all Arab societies, which she only just learned about, and she shared her love for the Arab world with all her Arabic-speaking followers, supporters and friends.
Kim started off with posting short videos of her speaking in different Arabic dialects. This gained her some respect and popularity among Arab viewers, even among those who didn’t know much about Korea or the Korean people. With thousands of people watching her short videos, snaps and pictures on a daily basis, she also helped introduce different aspects of Korean society and daily life in Korea to them.
I decided to interview Kim and talk about her experiences as a Korean person interacting with Arab people.
– How long have you been studying Arabic?
For two and a half years. When I was a high school student, I started studying the Arabic alphabet first.
I didn’t know anything about the Arab world or Arabic. Also, I had a typical negative stereotype about the concept of “Arabs” in general and Islam, too, just like everyone else who doesn’t know anything about the Arab people. However, it was absolutely not true. I started to want to learn more about them.
The Arabic language is very attractive. When I first heard its pronunciation, I felt like I was listening to a language from somewhere like another planet. It was so beautiful!
Arabic became my dream! I applied to Myongji University (명지대학교) and now I’m a student in the department of Arabic studies there.
– Is Arabic taught at Korean high schools?
No. I was the only student who studied Arabic at school. The teachers and students used to call me the “Arab girl.” I applied for an Arabic language section, too, when I had to take the national university entrance exam.
|Kim shows her love for her Syrian friends and followers on social media, and sends holiday greetings to her Arab friends and followers on Eid.|
– Is there a certain reason that motivated you to study Arabic?
I think nothing motivated me to study Arabic. Actually, I found my way to Arabic all by myself. As I said earlier, I had a typical negative stereotype about the concept of “Arabs” in general. However, that was just a stereotype that had nothing to do with reality. Also, my family had the same thoughts. After I learned how beautiful and attractive the Arab people are, that all changed.
Arabs still keep their traditions, while other societies are too Westernized now and they don’t keep their traditions, unlike the Arabs. The most important part is that I started to love the Arab people. It was their minds! Most Arab people treated me as one of their family, even if they were only meeting me for the first time. Their hearts are so warm! How impressive! I learned a lot of things from them.
– Do you speak Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or do you usually speak in different Arabic dialects?
I usually speak MSA and I learned it first. However, these days I’m also learning Saudi dialects. I use Saudi dialects a lot. It’s so easy, but I need to study it a lot more. I want to learn Egyptian, Bahraini, Emirati, Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and other dialects, too. I just want to learn every dialect that’s used in every Arab country. It’s going to be hard, but I will try. In the future, if I have the chance, I even want to learn the Moroccan dialect! It’s the hardest Arabic dialect, I think.
I can speak just a little bit of Egyptian, Qatari, Emirati and Moroccan. Usually when I speak Arabic, I mix the Saudi dialect and MSA a lot. I have to practice to speak MSA a lot. Actually, my favorite dialects are Saudi, Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and Syrian.
– How did you learn to speak all those dialects?
I asked my Arab friends from various Arab countries for help and learned from them. Also, I learned from my followers. Some people taught me about their dialects, to share their dialects with me by email, and I didn’t ignore them. I kept writing everything in my notebooks and studied their dialects.
|Kim poses for a photo with her Moroccan friend Ibtissam (left) and her Egyptian friend Deena.|
– Since there aren’t many Koreans who speak Arabic, are Arabs surprised when they see you, a young Korean woman, speaking not just MSA but also different dialects?
A lot of people are surprised! They laugh a lot at my videos and also a lot of people started to love me. One day, I saw an article about me posted on the Buyemen News Network. They wrote me about me and my video of myself speaking the dialect of the Yemeni capital Aden.
– Most of your followers are Arab or Korean?
Most of my followers are Arab; from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and many more Arab countries. I have few Korean followers, too.
|Kim has received many gifts from her Arab followers, including coffee, musk, postcards, Arabic learning books, and necklaces for her and her younger sister.|
|Her Arab followers take photos for her in front of the most popular places in their countries: at the Al Masjid Al Nabawai in Saudi Arabia, at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and at Petra in Jordan.|
– Have you ever tried Arab food?
Of course! I love Arab food more than Korean food. My favorite food is kabsa, a Saudi dish, and falafel. Also, I love tajin, a Moroccan dish, so much. I tried tajin once with my Moroccan friend. It was so delicious. I want to try mahshi waraq enab, or stuffed vine leaves, and couscous, too. My favorite tea is Arab milk tea.
|Falafel is often served as breakfast in Arab countries, alongside with green salad, bread and hummus. Falafel is made from beans or chickpeas.|
– Where can you get Arab food in Korea?
In the neighborhood of Itaewon (이태원) in Seoul, there’s usually some Arab restaurants. Because there’s a mosque in Itaewon, a lot of halal restaurants are near Iteawon. Itaewon is an exotic place in Seoul where people — whether they are Korean or non-Korean — get to see and experience a lot of different cuisines due to Itaewon’s diverse nature.
– Have you tried wearing Arab traditional clothing?
Yes. I wore an abaya.
|Kim also tries on Arab traditional clothing.|
– Are there many Koreans who are interested in the Arabic language or in Arab societies?
When I was in high school, I was the only person who loved the Arabs. After I entered university with an Arabic major, I saw a lot of my classmates who also love the Arabic language and Arab society. They’re really interested in that.
– Have you participated in any events in Korea to help promote all things Arab?
Yes I have! I participated in the ninth Arab Cultural Festival last year as a supporter when I was a high school student.
The Arab Cultural Festival is an annual festival that introduces Arab countries to the Korean people. Through this festival, Koreans can experience Arab countries through various programs, exhibitions and hands-on activities. This annual festival helps people better understand Arab countries and also brings Koreans and Arabs together.
It’s held once a year in May or June at major exhibition or performance halls across Korea, such as at the COEX convention center, at the KITA world trade academy, or at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
|Kim attends the ninth Arab Cultural Festival in Seoul.|
Kim and people like her are one of the main reasons why people have a positive image about Korea and the Korean people.
People often worry that they may face racism when they travel abroad, but with people like Kim, who shows the real Korea to people and shows how the Koreans are open to learning and respecting other peoples, more and more Koreans will unite, help and love each other, regardless of race, nationality or language.