From Venice to Seoul

An interview with Alberto Mondi, the man who became South Korea’s most famous Italian thanks to a local TV show

  • From Venice to Seoul

If you were to ask Koreans to name a famous Italian personality, most likely they would not mention a soccer player, a politician, or even the Pope. Chances are, in fact, the answer would be Alberto Mondi, a thirty-four year old guy from Mirano, in the province of Venice. The reason is soon explained: Alberto has become a celebrity thanks to a South Korean television programNon Summit, featuring 10 foreigners discussing various current issues in a parody of a UN summit, an incredible success that brought him a sudden as much as unexpected fame. A graduate in Chinese, a former researcher at the Korea Institute of Public Finance, and a financial journalist, Alberto was recently knighted by the Italian Ambassador in Korea for his contribution in strengthening cultural relations between Italy and Korea and promoting an extremely positive image of Italy. He speaks perfect Korean, has a Korean wife and a three-year-old son, Leonardo, and definitely epitomizes a type of Italian man that shuns all stereotypes.
And maybe that is precisely why he is so loved. We asked him to tell us about his unique story and to give us his point of view on Seoul, his adoptive city, as seen through the eyes of an Italian.
Picturing someone from the Venetian countryside that arrives in Seoul is a bit like imagining an astronaut landing on another planet. What were your feelings the first time you set foot in the city?
I reached Sokcho, in the southern part of the country, on a ship from Vladivostock, Russia, after taking a train from Venice, crossing Eastern Europe and traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway. So yes, it definitely was a somewhat different and exciting experience. Of course, there are so many little things that you have to get used to, from taking off your shoes before entering any private space to sitting, eating and sleeping on the ground. Social relationships are also hard to get a grip on: in Korea culture is based on invisible hierarchies which are reflected on the language, so according to how the language is used and to its level of formality, relationships are established. You really need to take the utmost care of this and show respect and reverence when needed. 
As a long-time expat have you managed to find any common points between the Italian and the Korean culture?
After 11 years in Korea, I managed to find many things in common. The fact that Korea, like Italy, is a peninsula is not just a superficial resemblance. In a sense, we are the Koreans of Europe andKoreans are the Italians of the Far East. Starting from their warm and almost fiery nature. Koreans love spending time together and conviviality. They have a very rich food culture, with plenty of local varieties. Another thing we share is the central role of the family, including overprotective mothers and children who are hesitant to leave their parental home until their adult age. 
How do Koreans see Italians and how are you managing to change that image?
Everywhere in the world people tend to think of foreigners in terms of stereotypes, and South Korea is no exception. The see us as stylish, artistic, elegant, and creative people. As for me, I think they probably love me because I am spontaneous: I am not a television professional, and I have never tried to make an impression
How was living in Seoul as a foreigner before becoming a TV personality?
As a European, living in Korea is pretty easy, and people are generally very kind.Seoul is an increasingly international citywhere English is now widely spoken, especially by young people. Working, though, is a completely different matter, first of all because earning a work visa requires proving that you are literally irreplaceable in a certain role, and secondly because you need to know the language and embrace a challenging work culture that includes long hoursand total devotion to the company.
How did you end up becoming a Korean TV star?
It all happened by chance. Working for a multinational beer company, I had launched a famous beer brand in Korea and, in doing so, I had met many restaurant owners. One day, a former client of mine called me and told me he wanted me to meet someone: when I got to his office, I was instantly introduced to the casting manager of the first show I did. It was meant to be just one episode, I said yes just for fun, but the show became one of the biggest hits of South Korean TV. I've been lucky.
Do you ever miss Italy?
I certainly do! I miss my family, my friends, the beauty and the wonderful food of our country.
Where in Seoul do you live?
I live in the south-eastern part of the city, basically under the Lotte World Tower. I chose this neighborhood because there are the Olympic Park, a beautiful artificial lake and, only five minutes away, the beautiful park on the Han River. It is a super modern and convenient area with plenty of green spaces.
If we were to visit Seoul for the first time, would you have any recommendations for exploring the authentic face of the city?
I would definitely recommend the Noryangjin Fish Market, which is truly unique and really, really huge. You can buy fresh fish on the ground floor and have it cooked upstairs. Another place I love is Yeonnam, an emerging neighborhood in the north-western part of the city: here, on the old abandoned railway that used to connect Seoul to Pyongyang, in North Korea, there are now a nice park and many restaurants and clubs. The feel is vibrant, young, and definitely non-touristy.
The Seoul Forest, in the district of Seongsu, is a large park where you’ll find plenty of flowers species. And then of course there is the breathtaking Gwanghwamun squaresurrounded by Imperial palaces which, despite touristy, is an absolute must-see.

Author : The Slowear Journal


South Korea  | Venice  | Alberto Mondi  | TV personality  |

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