A ‘mother’ to Koreans in RussiaNelly Em, 64, the principal of Russian-Korean School No. 1086 in Moscow, won the 2004 BiChuMi Grand Award last week for her contribution to educating ethnic Koreans in Russia.
The Korean Ministry of Gender Equality established the award in 2001 with sponsorship provided by the Samsung Life Foundation.
“When I was young, I felt miserable because of the way I was treated as a member of a minority,” she remembered. “Now I feel very proud of being an ethnic Korean. Educating our children to be proud Koreans is my calling.”
Ms. Em opened the school, the first of its kind in Russia, in 1992. “I faced strong opposition from residents when I tried to open the school,” she said. “But Korea has become more recognized, and people who protested the opening now ask me to enroll their grandchildren.”
Sixty percent of the students attending the institution, which offers primary, middle and high school classes, are ethnic Koreans. Other students attend in order to learn Korean, as well as other subjects, in the hope of better job opportunities.
The Korean language is very popular in Russia, noted Ms. Em, who learned it on her own when she was in her fifties. Students jokingly ask her why she doesn’t get a better-paying job, since she speaks the language so well.
A fourth-generation Korean, Ms. Em graduated from a teachers’ college in Moscow in 1965. She is considered a godmother by many Korean foreign students.
“I felt very sorry for Korean students in Russia, because many of them ate only instant noodles,” Ms. Em said. “I make two tons of kimchi every year for them. Congressman Lee In-young and lawyer Kim Seong-guk still call me ‘mother,’” she added with a smile.
Ms. Em said she planned to bring Korean language teaching materials with her to Russia to compensate for the lack of Korean teachers at her school.
by Shin Ye-ri