Fahim Nezam, 24, is pursuing an unusual dream: joining the Korean foreign service.
Born in Afghanistan, Nezam arrived in Korea eight years ago. He followed his father, who was sent to work as a cook for the Afghan Embassy in Seoul.
He now has a student visa, and is studying political science and international affairs at the Hankook University of Foreign Studies. In two years, he will be eligible to apply for South Korean citizenship.
“I want to be a Korean diplomat to promote Korea-Afghanistan relations,” Nezam said in fluent Korean during a recent interview with The Korea Times.
And all is on its way. He has been working as a translator/interpreter for Afghans who come for Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) training since 2010.
His primary responsibility is interpretation of lectures and translation of texts. With its subjects varying from gender equality to agricultural and medical development, he says the job has been a formidable learning process for him, and his dream was also influenced by this experience.
In his Itaewon home, signs of hardships are easy to find.
The apartment looks too small for the family of five currently occupying it. They all share the living space, a situation that his younger brother deplores.
At night the sofa in the living room is converted into a bed for his father, then his mother helps herself to the floor, covered with a Persian carpet.
The family hardly gets by with his father’s meager monthly income. Nezam’s earnings from KOICA are very precious as it covers the rest.
He receives a scholarship from the university, which means he is required to maintain good grades. He has school on Tuesday and Wednesday. The rest of the week, including Sunday, he either works on KOICA projects or does other work. Despite sometimes feeling overwhelmed Nezam instead of complaining, prefers to count his blessings.
“Compared to other people, especially people in Afghanistan, my situation is very good. I do have a place to stay. I can walk outside safely. I have running water and electricity,” he said.
Afghanistan at the time of his departure was in deep ruin. A war waged by the United States against the Taliban was engulfing the country. The capital Kabul where his family was living at that time had become a ghost town filled with gunbullet holes and rows of tanks. His unique status and fluent language skill got him an interesting experience with TV. He was invited to a couple of shows. For six months, he was a guest on a“Misuda” style talk show comprising of guests of different cultural backgrounds aired on KBS.
Korea is Nezam’s second home, and he truly means it when he says that.
What he has received from people around him is truly phenomenal.
The most outstanding experience is the support and care he has received from a local pastor here, since his High School days. The pastor financed his high school tuition and other miscellaneous expenses. Whilst touched by the pastor’s benevolence, he was struck more about the level of religious tolerance in this country.
“He never asks me about my religion. He never asks me to convert to Christianity, after all these years of support. This really shows love of Christianity and I do really respect that,” he said. He is a Muslim.
He also expressed thanks to his friends at the embassy, who have helped him and his family settle down in Seoul.
There are very few Afghan immigrants in Korea and even amongst those here, the majority are traders dealing in exporting garments from Korea to Afghanistan. They live between Korea and Afghanistan.
“I’d like to give back to this country for the sake of others in future,” he said.