We are New Zealand


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We are New Zealand

  1. 1. 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 and opportunities. 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.
  2. 2. 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 strengths. 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
  3. 3. 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. Thank you.