| A Korean in Greenland
| Web editor at Visit Greenland
I was born and raised in Seoul, Korea in 1985. My first trip abroad was to Japan when I was the age of 4. Back then my aunt lived in Tokyo so it was just a family trip with my parents. I remember nothing about the trip because I was too young. But luckily a bunch of photos left so I can see where I have been and what I did. Until the age of 20, I have never been outside of Korea. However after I entered university and started majoring in French civilization and learning different foreign languages, everything changed. When I was young, English was the first foreign language we learned in school in Korea. Besides English, I learned French, Japanese, and Spanish during my college years, and this made me have curiosity in foreign countries and other cultures. After entering university, I have tried to travel abroad every year. Sometimes the purpose of the trip was pure travelling but sometimes it was studying abroad, working holiday or volunteering activities. During my 20s, I travelled to 30 countries and Greenland was one of the countries that I travelled in my 20s.
I have lived in Greenland since 2015. Currently, I am working at Visit Greenland, the national tourist board of Greenland as a web editor. I have had a blog for 17 years and I love writing and taking pictures and sharing stories.
Q | How is your life changed because of COVID-19?
Once there was a period when there was no active case of COVID-19 in Greenland and it lasted for weeks. After that, shops, restaurants, and schools open again, but the moment when I am writing this (May 29th), we have a few active cases of Covid-19. Definitely I go to restaurants and cafes less than before. I used to love meeting a lot of people after work and during the weekend. I was quite social but recently I use more take away food than before and cook at home more than ever. In Greenland, people say hello by hugging. But now many people just touch elbows or shoes instead of hugging each other just as many people do in the world. Definitely there is a distance between people. People in Greenland keep those rules and try to have certain distance from each other.
Q | What made you move to Greenland? Are there any stories behind it?
This might be a long story :)
After spending one year in Tokyo as an exchange student, I realised that one year was not enough so I applied for a working holiday visa to Japan. So in 2009, I moved back to Japan and started working at an indoor amusement park for children. At the same time, I did an internship at the World Heritage department of the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in JAPAN. Back then, I was super interested in UNESCO World Heritage and I loved visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites. Anyway, it was a good opportunity for saving money and I wanted to go somewhere after the working holiday period. But I had no idea where to go. So I spread the world map and found an island at the top of the world map. It was divided into two at the edge of the world map and it was white-colored but it said Greenland. I wondered if people live on this island and if it is possible to travel. Now we have heard a lot of Greenland due to climate change but back then, Greenland was so new for me. So I started to research about this island. My curiosity on this island was really high and after a bit of research, I decided to travel to Greenland. And I found out that Greenland is located just next to Iceland. I thought that this would be the only chance to visit those islands in my life because they are so far from where I was. So my final destination was Greenland but I decided to drop by Iceland as well on the way to Greenland.
So after six months in Japan, I finally could make it to Greenland. The living cost in both Greenland and Iceland is crazily expensive. The money I have earned for 6 months in Japan was all gone within a month of travelling to Greenland and Iceland. Hahaha. But it was totally worth it! Because it totally changed my life!
I travelled Greenland in 2010 alone for two weeks and visited 7 towns from South to North. There is no road between towns in Greenland so you only can travel by boat or by plane. I took a plane to save my time on my first trip to Greenland. After two weeks I totally fell in love with Greenland. Those people and culture were fascinating and the landscape was just so wonderful. You know I am from Seoul and I lived in Tokyo. Both are big cities and when you live in a big city, you don’t say hello to strangers. But when I was travelling in Qaqortoq in South Greenland, people just said hello to me on the street! I was a total stranger and the locals knew that I was a stranger because it was such a small town with a population of 3000! They were just welcoming me! Some of them actually said “Welcome to Greenland” to me haha What a new experience! Then one time, I was invited by a woman who was having a kaffemik, Greenlandic home party, for her grandson's first day of school. In Greenland, there are several important celebrations and one of them is the first day of school. When I planned the trip to Greenland, I was eager to see Greenlandic national costume. Luckily the timing was perfect because it was August and in Greenland, schools start in August. When I was in Nanortalik, I was able to make it to the first day of school. Parents and the 1st-grade children all beautifully dressed up in national costume. Do you know the feeling when you see things you have dreamed of for a long time? It was such a beautiful day and it was so awesome to see their culture on the first day of school. I asked some of the locals to take pictures together. None of them said no and I enjoyed that day a lot. After amazing 2 weeks, I came back to Korea and back to school. I graduated from the university in Korea in 2011 and in 2012, I went to London to take a master’s degree. I have been interested in cultural heritage so I received a MA degree in Cultural Heritage Studies at University College London. After that, I came back to Korea and got a job at an intangible cultural heritage center but I kept missing Greenland so much. I was looking for a way to go back to Greenland and the easiest way was to become a student again. Eventually, I quit my job in Korea and became a student at the University of Greenland in 2015. Since then I have lived in Greenland. In addition, in 2018, I got married to a Greenlandic guy so now I call Greenland my second home. From 2016 and 2019, I have worked as a freelance writer, TV documentary coordinator and pianist sometimes. Now I am working full time at Visit Greenland as a web editor.
Q | What is it like to live in Greenland? What makes it unique?
I live in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. Compared to other towns in Greenland, Nuuk is quite modern and personally, there is no big difficulty to live here. Greenlandic nature and landscape are just so amazingly beautiful. Please do not only think about melting ice. If you googled Greenland, I am sure that many people would be fascinated by colourful houses with ice and a sea view. I meet those sceneries every single day but it never makes me bored. Every time I am just so thankful to be in this pure land. Greenlandic language, Greenlandic people, fresh Greenlandic water, food and music, I would say that all of them are very unique. Greenland is isolated from other parts of the world. That has helped Greenland keep its own unique culture. What I love the most about Greenland is whenever you go out, you would definitely meet at least one person you know. In Nuuk, the population is approximately 15,000. Do you think that it is not that many? But this is the biggest population in Greenland and you would meet different people every day and you can’t know everyone even if you live here for your whole life. hehe
Q | Are there any mysterious stories or beliefs in the folk? Something about nature, wildlife, spirits, or ancestors?
Of course, without nature, we can’t talk about Greenland. There are a lot of traditional tales. One of my favourite stories is Sassuma Arnaa - The Mother of the Sea. People in Greenland believe that there is a mother under the sea who takes care of nature. She has very very long hair but doesn't have fingers. She manages all the animals in both land and sea. When people abuse nature and catch or hunt too many animals than they actually need, the mother of the sea calls all the animals and hides them in her hair. When people regret what they have done and promise that they take good care of nature, the mother of the sea releases them and let people have their life and food again. Well, I made a long story very short but people in Greenland have lived so close to nature and they are always surrounded by nature.
Q | You wrote about Greenland, what message do you want to convey through the book?
In September 2019, I published my first book about Greenland in Korean language. Greenland is often featured in the media due to climate change. Still, many people consider that Greenland is a desperate land or a land full of ice that President Trump wants to buy but nothing else. It is actually not known what is in Greenland and how the life in Greenland is. Once I was asked a question like this when I studied in London. “Do people live in Greenland?” It was only 7 years ago when I was asked that question. People really do not know about Greenland. So I wanted to be the self ambassador of Greenland for the past few years. Hahaha in my book, I delivered my life in Greenland and included useful information for tourists. Since there has been no proper book about Greenland in Korea. Publishing my book was on the top of my bucket list for 10 years and I was so happy that one of my dreams came true. All the pictures in the book were taken by me. Thanks to several TV documentary projects, I had chances to travel from South to North Greenland and took a lot of pictures. Last year, when my book was published, I also held my first photo exhibition as well. I love Greenland and I will keep delivering stories from Greenland as much as I can. For now, it is hard to travel around but I believe that one day we will travel again as we did before. Hopefully I meet people who read this in Greenland in the future!
Q | How does the COVID -19 crisis change people's life in Greenland?
Restaurants, cafes, and shops equip hand sanitizer and limit the number of customers. In Greenland, COVID-19 came later than other parts of the world and for a few weeks, there were no active cases. Now there are only a few active cases but overall Greenland has been well controlled. For a few weeks, some workplaces in Greenland did experience working from home or working at the office but every two weeks. Some workers from Air Greenland which is the flag carrier airline of Greenland experienced lay-off.
Q | Climate change is another crisis for humankind. Living in one of the most affected areas, how do locals view this?
For example, people in North Greenland who use dogsled are quite affected a lot. They use dogsled for living when they go out hunting or fishing. But since climate changes, it is getting hard for them to expect the quality of ice and the period that they can use dogsled. Some places are experiencing the change of fish species.
Q | To the outside world, Greenland seems to be a remote and pure land. How do people in Greenland perceive the outside world?
Greenland might be a remote land from the view outside but in fact, people in Greenland travel a lot! But some people have to travel for different reasons such as education or business. So many young Greenlanders go to Denmark or abroad to take education. Of course, there are pros and cons. It is a good opportunity to broaden their view but sometimes it happens without their will. Besides that, if you live in Greenland and can start traveling from Iceland, it is actually relatively easy to get to North America or to Europe of course. I mean Greenlandic people travel a lot, especially during the summer holidays!
Q | In the face of the crisis, do you sense anything new about yourself, your neighborhood or the local communities around you?
I had to change one of my plans for this year, which is going to Korea. But I think it would be a good opportunity to explore Greenland. For example, I planned to go to Sisimiut in North Greenland in July. And my workplace, Visit Greenland launched a Staycation campaign which is called Nunarput Nuan (https://nunarputnuan.gl/kl/). It is Greenlandic which means our beautiful country. Many people in the world have Greenland on their bucket list. So why not explore this beautiful country this time? It is a good opportunity to visit other towns in Greenland here and there. Local tour operators in all the regions prepared for the Staycation offer for people in Greenland.
Q | If people have the opportunity to come to visit Greenland, where do you recommend people go?
I used to recommend people to go to Ilulissat in North Greenland where the ice fjord is located and has a fascinating landscape with fast-moving ice and huge icebergs. It is the most popular destination in Greenland. However Nuuk fjord is breathtaking, Qaqortoq, or Qassiarsuk where Norse ruins are perfect for historic freaks. During the wintertime Qaanaaq is the best destination for dog sledding. I have never been to East Greenland but I heard so many times that it is so different from the West so that is one of my Greenlandic dream destinations at the moment. I just can’t recommend one place! It would be better to check where you want to go and what to do on greenland.com I am sure that you will be able to find something that fits you! Because Greenland is huge and there are many things to experience! | TripCell