Thursday, October 2, 2014

ETBP Interviews Karen Pong – Youth Peace Ambassador

Karen Pong is the founder of Youth against Human Trafficking in Europe (YAHTE) and co-founder of the Youth Peace Ambassadors (YPA) Network of the Council of Europe YPA project. Born in Cameroon, she was raised in Greece and has lived and worked in France since 2010. She currently calls the north-western Paris suburb of Asnieres-sur-Seine home.

Karen Pong – Another Peace Really Is Possible
Image courtesy of Karen Pong

Karen has traveled throughout the world to pursue her passion for human rights and peace education. Some of the nations she has visited are Bulgaria, China, Canada, Hungary, Norway, and Syria. Her first serious endeavor with regard to human rights activism came with the crisis in Darfur:

In 2008, I became very concerned by the crisis in Darfur. Together with some classmates, we started an awareness campaign on China’s dual role in this crisis. We organised a conference on campus as well as a peace march from AUP to the Peace Monument at Champs de Mars in Paris, and we were present to protest on Champs Elysées on the day the Olympic torch was carried by athletes on its way to Beijing for the competition. This was my first step towards active participation in civil society. It has grown and intensified with time.

The Youth Peace Ambassadors project promotes and supports the role of young people in peace-building activities that contribute to living together in dignity and dialogue through a network of specifically trained young people who strengthen the presence and promote the values of the Council of Europe in conflict-affected areas and communities. As an extension of YPA, Karen and others founded the YPA Network – an informal group of over seventy youth leaders from diverse backgrounds working for peace – during the first consolidation seminar of the YPA project held in Andorra.

YAHTE seeks to inspire and harness the energy of young men and women between the ages of 12 – 30. It was born as a result of Karen’s frustration with trying to work with existing NGOs to implement her thoughts, ideas, and enthusiasm for human rights and peace activism. She reached out to a few existing organizations by sending letters and e-mails and even visited their offices, but got little more than cursory responses. She launched YAHTE in April 2013 after a mentor from YPA suggested that the best way to deal with this situation was to start her own organization.

Karen’s long-term career goal is to join Interpol as a Criminal Intelligence Officer to combat human trafficking. Though a primary criterion for acceptance at Interpol is law enforcement experience, other factors such as relevant work experience and educational background are taken into consideration. Karen wants to challenge the requirement for law enforcement training and aspires to join the organization without it. She plans to continue acquiring hands-on experience in the field of human trafficking through YAHTE and believes that her engagement in human rights and peace education will provide her with skills and competencies that could be translated into the work of Interpol. She believes strongly in the role that youth can play in the prevention of human trafficking and would like to see this taken into consideration.

Karen was born in the English-speaking city of Bamenda in the bilingual (French and English) nation of Cameroon. She lived for some time in the cities of Yaounde, Buea, Tiko, and Douala before moving to Athens, Greece at the age of twelve. This is where she attended high school and one year in an American college before transferring to the American University of Paris for her BA. Though her family still lives in Athens, Karen felt compelled to make France her home base because of a personal romantic relationship and her studies at the American University of Paris (double Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs and International Economics with a Minor in International Law).

Because English is her native language, Karen is able to work as an English language trainer to support herself financially. She began by offering English lessons to children (3-12 years old – at times with babysitting) and to students preparing to sit for TOEFL exams. After months of struggling to establish herself as a teacher of professional clients, she secured a position at My Connecting English, a company that specializes in language training for professionals in companies all over Paris. She now works with upper and middle management professionals in some of the biggest companies in Paris, and in France, such as L’Oreal, Publicis, Caisses des Depots, and Havas Life. The work is compatible with her personality and she finds it to be wonderfully enriching.

Karen has often been asked about the origin of her last name – Pong – which is of Asian origin. As far as she knows, her entire lineage is Cameroonian. Her grandfather, Thomas Pong, is from a village called Mmen in the Menchum Division, NW of Cameroon, and she supposes that “Pong” is also a Cameroonian name. She shared the following anecdote about it:

In 2007, I went to China as part of an international youth volunteering activity via an organization called “i-to-I” based in the UK – I discovered this idea during my study abroad at UCLA. I was to be cultural volunteer working at the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum for one month. When I arrived to the airport in Xi’an, the host who came to pick me up loitered around me for over 40 minutes, not thinking that I was Karen Pong. Once we were able to find each other, he explained to me that he was expecting an Asian girl. Oh, what a surprise!

For leisure, Karen likes to read when she can find the time. She enjoys going to parks – big ones like the Champs de Mars and the Luxembourg Garden – as well as small neighborhood and community parks. She loves that Paris has beautiful green outdoors spaces where she can sit and read a novel, eat a sandwich during her lunch break, and picnic with friends. She also likes evening hang-outs over wine and apéritifs or just laying down to soak up the sun on one of Paris’ random hot and sunny autumn or spring days.

Eiffel Tower viewed from the Champs de Mars
© Discover Paris!

She ranks the 7th arrondissement as her favorite part of Paris, largely because she studied at AUP, which is on avenue Bosquet in the 7th. She spent nearly 5 years in this area between Invalides and Bir-Hakeim and is still quite attached to it – she frequently visits the AUP campus to benefit from alumnus privileges:

Despite being in the center of Paris, the 7th is a very residential neighborhood that is always full of life.

The area where the university is based is very vibrant with a youthful vibe. There are busy shops and restaurants, bars/brasseries, boulangeries and charcuteries, AUP students running back and forth to lessons, babysitters picking up kids from school…

It is a short walk from many interesting sites like the Eiffel Tower. There is also the famous rue Cler with yummy restaurants like Tribeca.

When asked what advice she would give to “20-somethings” who want to move to France and build a life for themselves here, Karen had no shortage of counsel! She recommends the following:

- Planning is key! Prepare a plan in which you set short term and long term goals for your new life. Be realistic – do not set goals that you will not be able to achieve for reasons such as the language barrier. Prepare a contingency plan in case things do not go as originally conceived.

- If you do not speak French, make sure to take some lessons to gain basic knowledge of the language before moving. Make plans to take language courses once you move – either through schools/universities or associations.

- Familiarize yourself with French immigration laws and policies (online on a website called “Services Publics”). Upon arrival, locate your local Prefecture to regularize your stay. This is very important for non-EU citizens. Keep this in mind because there are strict deadlines to respect that if not respected could cost you your stay in the country.

- Reflect on your skills and competencies and think of how they could be assets when looking for a job. Check the possibilities of employment in France before moving.

France is a wonderful country rich in EVERYTHING – the culture, the people, the heritage, the landscape, the lifestyle! It is full of opportunities for young people who are eager and perseverant. There may be bumps along the way, but from my experience, they can be overcome.

You can succeed in realizing your dreams by moving to France with the right amount of motivation and enthusiasm combined with a dose of hard work, which can sometimes seem endless. It is always easier to enjoy your time here as a student. But any young person who comes prepared, at least at a minimum, has chances on their side to build the life they desire to live in France.


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Unknown said...

Thanks for such a detailed interview! I believe the tips are valid not only for the ones who are moving to France but also anywhere else they call abroad! I wish luck and success to Karen Pong for the future years!

About Beauford Delaney said...

So glad you liked it and found it useful, Alper!

Unknown said...

Karen is as beautiful as she is intelligent. Joining Interpol is an admirable aspiration and I wish her all the luck in the world so she achieves that dream. Karen is able to do anything she puts her mind to and wherever she lands I have no doubt she will be very successful.

Maitre Siewe

Mr.&Mrs. Zucchini said...

Thank you, Alper and Jean Pascal for your kind comments. They are very much appreciated. Wishing you a sunny and productive day!