Interview by Latoya Jones
There would be no enthralling tale to tell had there not been a Sabrina Morant- Marketing Executive at JPS. Sabrina’s account of her life experiences underscores the old adage that “life really is what we make it”. Laid back and easy going, she paints a picture of her life experiences and the sometimes tricky decisions she has had to make as if they were no big deal. In a world wrought with disappointment and uncertainty, it is not the norm for us to give up ‘sure for unsure’ or for us to go looking for birds in the bushes when we are already holding one in hand. Human beings, by default, are not wired like that. We tend, more often than not, to cling to the safety of the shoreline rather than to seek out the rigours of deep-sea expeditions. Interestingly too, is that we are constantly reminded of the peace that comes from staying in our lane with expressions like, ‘better safe than sorry,’ or ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,’ so it takes a different kind of mind- a maverick- if you will, to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of what could be, rather than settling for what actually is.
Enters Sabrina. Like most of us, she emerged from humble beginnings. She was raised by her mother and for a while, her stepfather, in the Waltham Park Road vicinity. She attended the St. Peter Claver Primary school and then Pembroke Hall High. She entered the work world shortly after high school and over time, did a diploma in Business at IMP (now the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean, UCC), in addition to which, she also studied Public Administration followed by Psychology with a minor in Criminology, at the University of the West Indies. The latter she attributes to her love for justice and an investigative mind. Post UWI, she admits to having made a post on Facebook that she didn’t know would have taken on a life of its own. Her question was simply, “I wonder if anyone wants to give me a scholarship?’
Fast forward to 2014, the year she applied for the East-West Power (EWP) scholarship to study in Korea but was unsuccessful. Undaunted, she applied again in 2015 for a scholarship being offered by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) through the Embassy of Korea and this time was successful. Accepting the scholarship meant she would be reading for a Masters in Urban and Regional Development, which is best complemented by an engineering background. She was at the time a Customer Information Analyst. Accepting the scholarship would also mean resigning her job, foregoing her enrollment at the Caribbean Maritime Institute where she was pursuing graduate studies, and moving East for a little less than two years, among a people whose language, custom and culture would be foreign to her. Against what would have been the better judgement of most, she accepted the scholarship.
Given how much moving from Jamaica to Korea seems like night and day, when asked, “Why go?” Sabrina responded by saying, “Because it was spontaneous and appeared to be a great opportunity to fulfil one of my life’s dreams!” She also mentions that she liked the notion of the movement itself and she was secretly curious about how a country that was once regarded as a developing nation, quite like Jamaica, managed to make the economic leaps and bounds that it did. She wanted to discover its secret to success. She admits to having gone as a blank slate, devoid of opinions and expectations, so as to minimise disappointment and was fascinated by the rich cultural display at the airport once she arrived.
While in Korea, Sabrina visited Trench Town (yes, you read that correctly), which is a burgeoning restaurant in Itaewon that serves typical Jamaican food. Naturally, jerked chicken and Red Stripe Beers are staples on the menu. There were several other Jamaican/Korean ventures which she reflected on, including her group of Jamaican friends who would take to the streets of Itaewon on Friday nights. These other Jamaicans currently reside there for work or as students as she once was. She reminisces about her encounter with foods like Kimchi (a fermented cabbage dish) and Bulgogi (a beef soup of sorts) as having been memorable experiences with Korean food. She gushes about a dark Heineken she discovered in Korea that she has not seen since. While she tried to eat as Western as possible, she did attest to the fact that most Korean dishes are quite good. She was even able to find salt mackerel under the guise of ‘fresh fish’ on Korean menus. She mentioned the potency of brand Jamaica and how she dreams of one day seeing more Jamaican household staples on the shelves of the stores and supermarkets in South Korea. “On the buses in Korea there are flags of other nations and surely enough, when the flag of every other Caribbean nation was absent, a Jamaican flag was very much present on said buses!”
On the point of culture, she was very moved by the sense of respect that’s deeply entrenched in Korean culture. “For example,” she said, “How you would greet a young person is different from how you would greet an older person in Korea?” The latter is done to show the utmost respect to the older person. She also spoke about the strong familial ties that seem pervasive among the people and their strong regard for education within the culture. “They are very disciplined and they are fast learners.” She mentions that in post-war Korea, that is Korea circa 1953, the children would sit on the ground in the dirt at school. This discipline to stay the course in war-torn Korea was necessary to help in its ultimate rebuilding as time progressed.
Among the most significant lessons learnt while in Korea, she says is the mantra that, “You can get it if you really want it.” The dedication of the Korean people coupled with the foresight of their politicians was critical in making Korea the country it is today.
She references President Park’s building of an expressway even before there was a large contingent of motor vehicles in Korea as an example of that foresight.
Overall, Sabrina describes the exchange as a, “wonderful experience.” She believes the experience has made her stronger emotionally and has added extensively to her network by the many relationships she formed.
She believes it taught her patience, particularly because the language was so difficult to learn. In going to Korea, she says, she took the pride of her Jamaican people with her. She tried to dispel many of the myths some persons held about Jamaica “No, we don’t all have (dread) locks and no, we don’t all smoke weed…you must come and visit if ever you get the chance,” and upon her return home, she has taken the belief that “We can all do better, if it’s even one person at a time.” Given all that she has taken from here to there, learnt in the process, and taken home upon her return, we would say that was indeed, quite an exchange!