Interview with H.E. Clare Fearnley, New Zealand's Ambassador to the Republic of Korea

H.E. Clare Fearnley

Having lived in North Asia for almost five years and being a native Mandarin speaker, Ambassador Clare Fearnley is no stranger to the region. In February this year, Ambassador Fearnley took up her role as New Zealand's Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. The Asia Society Korea Center caught up with Ambassador Fearnley to discuss how she has adjusted to Korean life and culture while becoming acquainted with the customs and language over the past six months.


How easy or difficult was it for you to adjust to life in Korea?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first six months here. Seoul’s a great city to live in. There’s a lot to do – professionally, culturally, socially. I’ve spent time in other parts of North Asia in the past – added together this will be my thirteenth year living in the region. One of the joys of being here is seeing both the similarities and differences between Korea and the other places I’ve lived – as well as getting a better understanding of the linkages between Korea and its neighbors.

Seoul is constantly becoming more multicultural. Do you find it easy to blend in as a Westerner here?
I find Seoul a welcoming place. Some 4,000 fellow Kiwis are resident here – so clearly Korea’s a very attractive place for New Zealanders. And, in turn, New Zealand attracts a very good number of Korean residents and visitors.

In your free time away from the office, what are some things that you like to do?
It’s great to get a sense of the vibe of the different districts in Seoul – I’m finding that each has its own character. I’m enjoying exploring Korea’s museums and galleries – Seoul has a wealth of excellent places - and I’ve been looking a bit further afield as well. Visiting other parts of the country has been a great pleasure – Busan, Jeju, Gwangju, South Jeolla, Gyeonggi, and South Chungcheong. Most recently, I travelled across to Gangwon Province for some events in Pyeongchang. I had the opportunity to take a look at the 2018 Winter Olympics venue and returned to Seoul via Soeraksan. So much natural beauty. I’m looking forward to returning in the autumn to see the leaves.

What are some uniquely Korean customs you particularly enjoy?
A couple of things come to mind immediately. I admire the particular way that Korean friends and co-workers support each other in practical ways when one of their number is going through hard times - or happy times for that matter. There’s an inclusiveness in the way that both bereavements and celebrations involve a wider circle.
A phenomenon that’s visible on the street each working day is the groups of colleagues walking to lunch together – it strikes me as quite a distinctive Korean thing. I also admire the care that goes into the way things are wrapped and the materials they’re wrapped in. My museum visits tell me that this isn’t a new thing - there’s clearly a long history of embroidered wrapping cloths and other wrapping accoutrement that are works of folk art.

You are fluent in Mandarin having spent a lot of time in North Asia. How is your Korean coming on?
Well…..I thoroughly enjoy studying Korean language. After completing a month of study before I started in this role, and another month of study over the summer, I’m now not completely helpless in Korean language situations. There’s some vocab overlap between Korean and Mandarin – around the Hanja – and that helps, but Korean grammar is certainly unique to itself! I have a long way to go and my progress is not rapid – but I’m persistent – ilbo ilbo (step by step).

* Interview by Matthew Fennell, Asia Society Korea Center's Contributing Writer