▲ A family admires Russian nesting dolls at the Jeju Multiracial Cultural Festival, earlier this year. Photo by Yang Ho Geun
On June 15, Inna Ishmourzina’s only child, Kseniya, visited her mother on Jeju for her summer vacation. Ishmourzina is a kirogi eomma, a Korean phrase meaning mother goose that is used to describe parents who live apart from their family. Kseniya has visited every year since her mother moved to the island in 2002, when she was 13 years old. According to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, Ishmourzina is only one of 26 Russians currently working, raising families and living on Jeju.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Korea and the former Soviet Union since Mikhail Gorbachev and President Roh Tae Woo attended a summit held in the United States in 1990. Jeju’s specific connection with Russia may not be that of epic proportions, but the effect Russia has had on the island can not be underestimated. On April 19, 1991, Gorbachev flew over the truce line between North and South Korea to reach the island. It was the first visit to South Korea by a president of the Soviet Union. This single event was the catalyst that led to Jeju being christened “The Island of World Peace” in 2005.
This connection between the two countries was proudly displayed at the Jeju Multiracial Cultural Festival, held in Jeju City this past May, with the Russian community exhibiting Russian traditional costumes, typical foods and Russian nesting dolls called matryoshka. Many of the Jeju Russian community attend regular meetings once every two weeks where they speak of home and Jeju in their native tongue.
Victor Ryashentsev began to study Korean as an elective to his economics degree from the Far Eastern National University in Russia, the program which was established in 1900, only three years shy of the first university outside of Korea to offer Korean, Saint Petersburg State University. His reason for studying Korean was due to his interested in the Asian country’s history, thus he participated in a joint Korean-Russian study program.
Ryashentsev first came to Jeju with friends in 1994 on an university trip. “When I visited Jeju first, I felt Jeju is special and was full of nature,” he said. “I traveled throughout Korea, but Jeju was the best.”
Similar to Ryashentsev, Ishmourzina’s reason for her first trip to Jeju was academically fueled. After an exchange visit by students of Jeju Halla College to Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service, where she taught, the Korean students recommended her to their professor and she was invited to teach at Jeju Halla College, leaving her husband and daughter behind.
Having visited Jeju and Korea several times during her early teens, Kseniya became interested in the language and the culture. “I began to study Korean, because there was such a subject in my middle school,” she said, “but then I liked it very much and want to continue studying it,” and unlike her mother, Kseniya speaks Korean.
Finally in 1998, after years of being exchange professors of Russian and Russian culture, Ryashentsev suggested to his wife, Natalia Nazarenko, that they move to Korea. Shortly, after a stint in Seoul teaching at Yonsei University they decided to move to Jeju and they had their first child on the island in 2001.
After the move to Jeju Ryashentsev switched occupations. Since coming to Korea he traveled extensively throughout Asia and realized the importance of travelling, but was concerned with its ramifications upon the environment, thus he created a tourist agency that specializes in Eco-travel. “I realized that the most important thing is feeling and getting experience from Nature,” he said, adding “There are not only tourist attractions here but also unknown beautiful sights.”
▲ Inna Ishmourzina, left, a professor at Jeju Halla College and her daughter Kseniya. Photo by Yang Ho Geun
During peak season, Ryashentsev, who also speaks English, provides service to tourists from around the world and appears successful as his phone rings constantly. “The majority of my customers are native English speakers and they tend to travel Jeju alone,” he said. “There is not enough information about Jeju World Natural Heritage sites in English.”
Lately, Ryashentsev has been promoting Jeju through his website, www.jejueco.com, and he uploads underwater pictures of the island to the New7-Wonders homepage, in hopes that Jeju will be selected as one of the new seven wonders of the world.
While here, Ishmourzina and her now 21-year-old daughter explored Jeju for a month and they went back to Russia on July 16. Ishmourzina returns home twice a year during summer and winter vacations. When she visits her hometown she boasts about Jeju by showing photos of her island. Thanks to her efforts, two Russian couples, who are friends of Ishmourzina, plan to take a sightseeing trip around Jeju this September.
Jeju citizens have not had ample opportunities to intimately learn of Russian culture, thus forcing the island denizens to create an abstract mother Russia from cliches and stereotypes. The Russians who have relocated to Jeju have an interest in their new home and actively promote it to their native country. We should embrace this opportunity to learn of a new, rich culture and more importantly to foster new friendships with those that we share this beautiful island with.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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