New Zealand Diversity Forum 22 August 2010
We are New Zealand
Yoonha Park, Christchurch
Thank you for inviting me to speak in front of you tonight. Though my journey maybe
the shortest out of all of the guest speakers here tonight, I have been extremely
blessed with the love of my family, friends and those that cheer me on. I’d like to
have the optimism that the journey yet to come will be full of amazing experiences
My name is Yoonha Park. I’m a Korean-Kiwi. I’ve been in NZ for 14 years. I don’t
remember much about Korea since I was only 8 when I came to NZ. But the
flashbacks I have of my home country seem like some faded pictures of an old
tattered book. I remember walking in winter to school by myself in early, frosty
mornings. I remember being quite independent and exploring the neighbourhood
alone, making friends with other kids in the playground. I was notoriously known for
being clumsy, and would often walk to my house crying after I had tripped over and
scratched by knees open. The whole neighbourhood would know that Yoonha was
coming home as they could all hear me cry.
My family and I left Korea to come to NZ for one reason and one reason only – our
education. Korea is an extremely busy and somewhat chaotic country to live in.
Students would go to school at around 7 or 8 in the morning, finish school around 4,
then go to after-school tutoring institutions to study until midnight or beyond. It is
extremely competitive and literally students do not have a life other than school. My
parents did not want such lifestyle for my sisters and I, and wanted us to have a
global outlook to life. When I was standard 1, my parents would wake us up some
ridiculous hours in the morning like 5, have breakfast, get dressed, and take my
sisters and I to their kindergarten. This was because both of them had work starting
early in the morning and if we didn’t get out of the house on time, they would miss
the traffic to their work. My parents often tell me that when they saw me holding my
twin sisters’ hands climbing up those stairs to the kindergarten and leave us there,
they cried inside. In the weekends, as much as we wanted to have some quality time
as a family, it was difficult because of being exhausted from the week. I remember
feeling quite stressed and worn out even at such a young age.
Having said that, I received lots of love from my family members in Korea. In
particular, my grandfather took care of my sisters and I, until the day we left. He
came over to live with us in NZ a year later. From him, I learnt to respect the elders,
and the traditional Korean value to take care of them in their old age.
I have gained more than what I have lost coming to NZ. Because I grew up in NZ,
my approach to life is everything but ordinary. If I had stayed in Korea, maybe I
would not have appreciated my uniqueness as a young woman of diversity. As a
Korean immigrant, I pride myself in being integrated with NZ culture as well as being
appreciative of many different cultures.
But I was never this appreciative and confident about the mixed cultures I have in
me. During primary school, I considered myself a full Kiwi, and did not want to
socialise with fellow Asian students. Even my peers would constantly say that they
consider me no different to them. They felt free to bully other Asian students and told
me that I was different to them. It was not until Year 11 when I felt like I didn’t really
belong anywhere. I looked like an ordinary Asian girl on the outside, but yearned to
be a Kiwi. At school I spoke English and wanted to fit in with the crowd, but at home I
spoke Korean and lived with Korean values. I think many young people go through
an identity crisis at some point in their lives, where they go back and forth between
the two cultures, not realising who they really are. Although I was 8 when I came to
NZ, my sisters were just 4. So although the age gap between the three of us is not
that great, it is just too natural that there is this generation gap where they have not
been exposed to the Korean culture as much as I have.
The truth is, I am a Korean. I have Korean heritage flowing through my veins. I have
been brought up by my Korean parents who taught me Korean values. But I am a
Korean-Kiwi. I live in a society where I am an ethnic minority. I acknowledged that
the two cultures are different and that I possess those cultures in me. I developed
myself to become capable of accepting that uniqueness and making it into my
When I was young, I judged the two cultures and put different values on them. But I
realised that it was wrong to think that one particular culture is superior to another. I
learnt to respect any sorts of culture. So the life skills that I have gained through
growing up as an immigrant in NZ has taught me the ability to relate well to others
from many different walks of life, and importantly, empathy.
Through this self-evaluating process, I have developed the passion for helping young
people and working with them to help them develop pride in themselves. This year,
I’m the secretary of the New Zealand Multi-Cultural Council Youth Group. This group
consists of excellent group of young and ambitious up-and-coming leaders of
tomorrow, scattered all over NZ from Auckland to Wellington, to Nelson, to
Christchurch, to Dunedin, who always puts in their extra effort to make their unique
marks in NZ. Currently we are working on publishing a Resource Kit – a one-stop
booklet for new young migrants with everything they need to help them settle in, from
practical tips such as how to set up a bank account, to advice on issues like
discrimination. I cannot wait until the day this is published so that our work
contributes even just a little to this society for better cultural tolerance and
acceptance in NZ.
I wanted to break away from the stereotype that cultural minorities have – that they
are led rather than leading. So in 2008 and 2009, I was on the Executive of the Law
Students’ Association of the Canterbury University and volunteered at the
Community Law Centre as a Caseworker so that they feel comfortable expressing
their concerns and communicate the facts of their issues accurately.
At every corner, on any street, you can meet people from Asia, Africa, the Middle
East, Europe – people from all over the world. You can see different ethnicities
everywhere. I often go to Jellie Park to work out at the gym and relax at the pools.
Even in such a small space like the sauna, I can hear a variety of languages being
exchanged. When I see that, NZ has already become so diverse that it is no longer
the responsibility of only the ethnic minorities to adapt to the majority – the majority
must learn to accept them too.
Cultural diversity is extremely important in NZ. And I have never been so sure of it
until this forum. The PM of NZ John Key constantly talks about NZ trying to catch up
to Australia. The priority, however, should shift to changing the way we think into a
more global thinking. Figures, numbers, graphs and statistics do not matter
significantly. Changing our narrow-mindedness and opening our perspectives,
preparing ourselves mentally for such change is where the priority should lie. We
must make NZ a comfortable and accepting place for cultural diversity and must
expose ourselves to experience different cultures. That will be the way to develop NZ
further. Even though NZ is geographically far apart from the rest of the world, you
can find the whole world in NZ.
I’m extremely thankful for NZ, for this wonderful environment for me to grow in my
body, my knowledge, and my spirit. I also feel very humbled to stand here to share
my life with you all. Most importantly, I’m extremely grateful for my parents and their
unconditional love for me. Because of them, if I just put my mind to it and make the
effort to take a step outside of my comfort zone, I can expose myself to over 160
different cultures even in one single city as small as Christchurch.