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“Do Not Try to Label Me”

  • August 19, 2011
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Professor Liazzat J. Bonate Joined SNU Faculty

Professor Bonate

Of Kazakh heritage, citizen of Mozambique, married to an African. At present a civil servant of the Republic of Korea as an appointed professor at SNU. (Note: all faculty and staff at SNU are technically civil servants of Korea due to SNU being a national university.)

Professor Liazzat J. Bonate was born in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic to Asian parents. She spent her childhood speaking Kazakh, but once admitted to college, she was educated in Russian.

She met her husband from Africa in college. Mozambique, then a socialist state, used to send talented students like him to study in the Soviet Union. They left for Africa together as soon as they finished their studies, leaving the disintegrating Soviet Union behind.

Mozambique, introduced to her through marriage, was a unique place. Due to it previously being a colony of Portugal, the ruling hierarchy stressed the Portuguese language. This place in which a foreign culture and the local culture were jumbled reminded Professor Bonate of her home country. She started teaching in the Portuguese language as a lecturer in the history department of Eduardo Mondlane University a year after her arrival to Mozambique, the place that would become her life-long research project.

Professor Bonate then entered the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London, one of the leading institutions of higher education in African studies. And, after studying at Northwestern University in the United States and then receiving her PhD from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she resumed her work at Eduardo Mondlane University.

During her 18 years as a professor in Mozambique she was a devoted analyzer of African society. She closely observed people, and diligently conversing with the locals she was able to understand what they were really thinking. This is how she was able to produce numerous precious theses on African religion and women.

Mrs. and Mr. Bonate came to Seoul with their child early this year as SNU appointed Professor Bonate as a full-time professor, recognizing her long-time academic work. Coming to Seoul she is full of hope that her students will take interest in African studies as she has.

Upon being asked how SNU students can conduct their research by means of meeting people in Africa, she answered, “It is not as difficult as you think. In Africa, people of all generations gather for family and other celebrations, where they all dance together. It is an open place where people joke and interact with one another freely.

We should avoid approaching Africa through preconceptions and stereotypes that are, unfortunately, so widely publicized in the media. Famine, corruption, conflicts… People in Africa are as diverse as everywhere and their unique cultures, experiences and views should be taken into account and respected. Be open-minded, go to Africa, meet its people, learn its languages and cultures, and you’ll be surprised. I myself personally hate being labeled and shunned. Look at me. I am Asian, and I am often called “Chinese” in the West, though I have little to do with China; I am of Muslim heritage but not Arab and not exceedingly religious, for that matter. I am an African citizen but not black. I speak Russian and was raised in the Soviet Union, but I also studied and lived in the West, and now I am in Korea. In short, don’t define me from just one piece of information.”

Professor Bonate will be teaching “Women’s History”, a general course, and a major course in the Department of Western History this coming semester. She taught the same courses last semester, which was her first at SNU. Just like Professor Bonate, who cannot possibly be labeled with any one title, SNU will continue to foster daring and exceptional students.

Written by LEE BoYoung, SNU English Editor,   ?
Reviewed by Eli Park Sorensen, SNU Professor of Liberal Studies,
Reviewed by Liazzat Bonate, SNU Professor of Western History,
Proofread by Brett Johnson, SNU English Editor,
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