Interview with Sam Okyere

Abnormal Summit is a new talk show format on Korean TV. Similar to the well known MiSuDa a group of foreigners is invited to talk and discuss a variety of topics with the Korean hosts. Though while the group in MiSuDa was made up of women only, the cast members now are all male and the Show is set up to resemble a United Nations. Every episode 2 Korean celebrities are invited to present an “agenda” that the members will have to talk about. This has included topics such as ‘which is the right age to stop living with their parents’, ‘following your dreams’ or talking about men and sex education . They do not mince their words so it’s refreshing to see the men discuss with the Korean hosts and guests in a very honest and open manner.
Some of the foreign cast members have appeared in other Korean variety shows before and are well known and admired for their Korean speaking skills. One of them is Sam Okyere from Ghana and we had the chance to ask him a few questions about his live in Korea and Abnormal Summit.

K: You're fairly well known in Korea but our readers might not know you so could you shortly introduce yourself?

Sam: I am Sam Okyere and I come from Ghana. I have been in Korea for a little over five years now and still counting. I came here initially as a student and ended up in the broadcasting field. I am currently an entertainer in Korea.

K: How long did it take for you to learn Korean as fluent as you speak it now? Any tips for learners on how to improve?

Sam: My Korean didn’t pick up after a good three years in Korea. Compared to my fellow friends who I came to Korea with, I was the last to pick up on my speaking. However after I started university and lived in the all Korean dormitory a lot of things changed for me. My Korean went from beginner to intermediate in a very short period of time. I still consider myself as a learner as there are more dimensions of the Korean language that I want to explore. My advice to any learner is for them to not to only learn that language but understand the culture as well. This will take their Korean to a whole different level. There is always a huge difference between a foreigner who speaks just Korean and one who understand the meaning of the Korean language culture. Practice makes perfect. The more you practice, the better you become. It’s that simple.

K: Compared to other countries like the U.S, or in Europe foreigners still stick out much more in Korea and get treated differently. You've been in Korea for a long time and in the recent years more Korean learning and speaking foreigners have come into the country. Have you noticed a change in attitude towards them? And do you think it will become "normal" to see foreigners speaking Korean in everyday life?

Sam: Korea has changed drastically over the last couple of years I’ve been here. Five years ago, there weren’t so many foreigners who spoke Korean. But the number has grown rapidly over very little amount of time. Koreans are now very open to Foreigners and they are more aware of the fact that a good number of foreigners speak Korean now than before. Foreigners speaking Korean in everyday life is gradually becoming common as the years go by.

K: People who have been to Korea often hear about which celebrity they look alike. Do you get bothered being compared to Will Smith or how have you learned to cope with compliments like those?

Sam: To be honest, I never heard anybody back home (Ghana) tell me I looked like Will smith. However after coming to Korea, it’s what I hear more than anything else. It was very interesting in the beginning but it has become the first thing I hear from almost every Korean I meet. I take it as a compliment as Will Smith is my favourite actor. It does feel good from time to time especially being likened to someone you look up to.

K: Do people recognize you or are you still seen as just another foreigner in Korea?

Sam: Sometimes people do recognize me and sometimes they don’t. It’s a little unclear as to whether I’m just another foreigner in Korea. To most foreigners, that might be the case but to Koreans they do recognize who I am occasionally and when they do it is a very pleasant feeling.

K: You've appeared in other shows before, but how did the idea for Abnormal Summit come about and how did you get involved? Do you and the other cast members have any influence on the creation of the program?

Sam: I heard about Abnormal Summit through my company and I went for an interview which was successful and made a part of that show. Each individual member brings something unique to the table. Initially we had no influence on the creation of the show but working together has made us a part of the development and decision making process.

K: What language do you speak with each other outside the show, since most will probably know english quite good as well. Or has Korean become the common language between you guys? Did you know some of the others before joining the show and do you hang out a lot?

Sam: Outside the show we speak both English and Korean. Both languages have become very natural and for the members who don’t speak fluent English Korean is the way to go. I knew Enes from Turkey and had worked with Julian from Belgium once. We have great chemistry on and off the show and we do hang out as often as possible. We speak on a daily basis to keep each other updated and share our thoughts on how to make our program better week after week.

K: Can you tell us about the show a little bit more?What kind of topics would you like to discuss in the future and what guests would you want to meet?

Sam: The show is of one a kind in Korea and we plan to keep it as such. We focus on topics that face the Korean society as a whole from the older generation to the younger. We touch on very sensitive issues and discuss it from a foreign point of view. We also cover issues like gender issues, cultural differences, and race. I would like to discuss issues that involve the future of the younger Koreans and population issues. I would also like to touch on the importance of language and how it shapes a country. I would like to have female rights activists as guests on the show in the near future

K: In the show it's sometimes (more jokingly) said, that you'll change the world with Abnormal Summit. But do you actually believe that you'll have an influence on Korean society?

Sam: I do believe we change the world with this show. We have planted the seed of change and its effects are already visible. Most Koreans are getting more involved and approaching issues from a wider/international perspective. The idea of different people from diverse cultural backgrounds is being embraced in Korea and things are changing little by little. As representatives of our country we show the rest of the world that despite cultural differences and language barriers, we are still one people and can co-exist peacefully by respecting each others’ cultures and ideals

K: What has the feedback for the show from your Korean friends been? And how do Family and friends in Ghana react to you being on Korean TV?

Sam: The feedback has been amazing and none of us expected this. The ratings for the show go up after every broadcast and that’s a step in the right direction. Some foreign friends also watch the show outside of Korea and their responses have been overwhelming as well.

K: What's the thing you miss most from back home and think Korea should definitely try?

Sam: I miss going to the beach every weekend with my family and I think most Koreans should try that. It’s fun and a great way to enjoy the weekend.

Thank you to Sam Okyere who answered this interview via E-Mail.