What words come to mind when you hear Ethiopia? Probably, it is poverty. Though the whole world thinks about Ethiopia in this way, South Korea citizens should not. Koreans have to feel thankful to Ethiopia, because today’s peaceful and thriving life is owed to the brave Ethiopian soldiers, who fought during the Korean War. In the ‘Korean War’ between North Korea and South Korea, which started on the 25th of June, 1950, South Korea received help from the United Nations, including Ethiopia. Let’s listen to the grandchildren of one of the glorious Ethiopian soldiers, who came to Korea to study and receives a special scholarship in his grandfather’s honor.
● Would you please introduce yourself?
My name is Israel Fisseha, I came to Hallym University in Gangwon-do province in 2013. I did my Korean language training and Master’s degree there. Also, there I met my wife and got married in 2016. Sometime last year my wife and I moved to Jeonju and I started my PhD at the Department of Social Welfare in Chonbuk National University. The main focus of my research is on the mental health of society.
● Who was your grandfather?
My grandfather’s name is Feyissa Tuffa. In his twenties, he was a part of the Imperial bodyguard, who fought alongside during the Korean War. As a member of the United Nations, Ethiopia actively took part in various international wars. My grandfather was part of the infantry, made-up of regular soldiers in charge of groundwork, for three years from 1950 to 1953. Unfortunately, he got hurt during the war, but it wasn’t deep and he could recover.
● Did you hear a lot about Korea from your grandfather?
I lived with him when I was a child. We were separated and we lived in different cities. So, as I was a child then, he didn’t mention about war, because it was a hard subject for me to comprehend. When I grew up, I saw him in a soldier’s outfit in a photo and I asked my parents about him. This is when I first heard about his story.
● What kind of scholarship did you get in your grandfather’s honor?
It was an unexpected scholarship for me. As I’d already finished my undergraduate degree, I was looking for graduate study programs at the time. I took a chance and came to Korea. The academic scholarship was for bloodline descendants of UN Korean War veterans who served in the Korean War. It was a fully funded program, which included airplane expenses and living allowance. Now, I’ve finished my master’s degree and for my PhD I also received a research scholarship.
● What was your motivation to study in Korea?
Culturally speaking, we are not really drawn to Eastern countries. I might have come to Korea to travel around or for a short stay. So, I hadn’t planned on coming to Korea to study, because I am from an English-speaking country. I assumed there would be some language barriers making is more challenging. Nevertheless, I felt the Korean atmosphere in my country, while learning the Korean language before coming to Korea, together with learning about my grandfather’s sacrifices during the Korean War. These are the main reasons I came to know about Korea.
● Did you face difficulties while adapting to local conditions?
I took it completely with a sense of adventure, meaning that I had no idea what the country was all about, but I came here. I accepted everything with a grain of salt, everything seemed interesting. For example: trying different food, being surrounded by different people, seeing different places, and hearing a very different language, etc. So far, I have had the right attitude about learning new things. Everything is a mystery for me. So, I am willing to explore it and I even take hardships as a new experience. I was able to overcome some obstacles in adapting to local life with my positive mindset knowing that, over time I will become more familiar with the Korean culture. For example, we like Korean food now and cook Kimchi Jjigae every day at home.
● Can you tell us your plans in prospect?
I picture myself working at a University as an academician. I’m always looking for ways to learn new things. I don’t know where I may end up, but I want to be surrounded by students and teaching. In conclusion, I would like to mention that not every country remembers foreign veterans of their war and this was one thing that fascinated me about Korea. From the Ethiopian aspect, it was a generous gesture to send young soldiers to fight, as a favor, in a far-away country. From the Korean aspect, remembering the past, honoring the memory of those who fought in the Korean war, and working towards a gesture of gratitude by extending scholarships to the direct descendants of the Korean War veterans, is inspiring. If this Korean War hadn’t happened, and my grandfather had not fought in Korea, I probably would not be living here today. I am so thankful for my grandfather and to the Korean government.
As you can see, favors last for a lifetime. They will never be forgotten by the younger generations and will remain good life lessons. Let’s not forget what our ancestors sacrificed for us and remember them with gratefulness.