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City stories: Mona

Written by
Hwang Hye Young

Barista at Naeilcoffee in Daehangno

How’d you end up in Korea?
I was born in Africa, and I didn't come to Korea because I particularly liked the country, but because I didn't  have many options back then. Come to think of it, I am thankful. With the help of Refuge pNan, which helps  refugees like me settle into Korea, I received training to become a barista. At the church that I go to, I met the owner of Naeilcoffee and became the third African barista to work at the coffee shop.

Were you already familiar with coffee culture?
When I first came to Korea in 2013, I was pregnant with my daughter and I thought that I should do whatever I could as soon as the baby was born. I can't tell you exactly where I am from due to personal reasons, but it's one of the countries that exports the best coffee beans in Africa. But people living in Africa don't drink  coffee like Seoulites do. Because they mostly export good coffee beans, people often drink low quality coffee. And because it used to be under British rule, tea culture is more developed than that of coffee.

How is Seoul different from where you grew up?
There is no subway system where I grew up. Public transportation here is very convenient and highly developed. And in [where I’m from in] Africa, families are at the center of communities, but people living in Seoul are somewhat more individualistic. Sometimes it seems like they don't even want to make eye contact.  [laughs] Oh! And food is different as well! Where I grew up, beef barbeque was the most common dish, but it's so expensive here in Seoul.

Do you have plans to return to your home country?
People think that refugees take away their jobs and that they want to live in other countries but that is far from the truth. Everyone sincerely wants to go back home as soon as the situation back there gets better. One of my dreams is to make a barista school in Africa. I would love to show people the real taste of good coffee. And I also believe that I am spreading my home country's culture by making coffee.

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