He doesn’t eat pork. He doesn’t drink. In a country where the quickest way to friendship is through samgyeopsal and a few bottles of soju, one would think Turkish actor Enes Kaya would be at a loss.
But after 10 years in Korea, he is still here and prospering, both on TV and in his own consulting business.
“In Korea, we have a good image. We’re a brother country,” he said of his homeland. “Most important part is, for me, how can I make this image better and better? Because from now on, I’m not just working for myself ― I’m working for my country.”
It’s because of this that Kaya says he carefully selects the roles he plays and the shows he goes on. If it fits with his work schedule, he’ll do it. But he made the decision after starring in his first movie in 2010, “Haunters,” that he wasn’t going to pursue acting full time.
“After my movie I had other auditions. It was not good for me, because ... (of) my culture and my religion. So I didn’t take it,” he said.
Kaya came here in 2002 to study. At the time it was not common for many foreigners to come to Korea, and he admits that he knew nothing about the country back then.
“My friends said, ‘Oh, you’re going to South Korea. It’s going to be summer all year,’” he joked.
He said he came here after his father commended Korea’s education system and asked him if he was interested in going. Ten days later, he was handed a plane ticket and came to Seoul.
Kaya spent his first year studying Korean at Konkuk University. He then applied to Seoul National University, Hanyang University and Korea University. He was accepted to all, and chose Hanyang, which offered him a scholarship, to study IT management.
During that time, he said, he was walking down a street in Gangnam when an older woman approached him and asked if he would be interested in modeling. He said, “Sure, why not?”
While working on a job, he befriended another foreign model, an American, who invited him to audition for a TV show that needed four foreigners who could speak Korean. They said they would let everyone know in a week, but offered Kaya the job before he left the audition, he said.
“My Korean is pretty good. It’s better than my English,” he said.
From that, Kaya went on to do shows with Arirang TV, SBS, KBS and MBC, appearing on “Global Beauties Chat” and doing a Chuseok holiday special. He also began to do translation work and took a job at a construction company while he finished school.
After he graduated in 2008, he went to China to work with a Turkish company there, but because of the conflict between Russia and Georgia, the company had to shut down and he returned to Korea. Before landing the role in “Haunters,” he worked at FC Seoul headquarters for a year as a manager and translator.
He said his first brush with popularity came from appearing on a show in 2008. It was just a talk show that was being run for fun, and all he did, he said, was just talk and have a good time.
Kaya said before the show, his Cyworld social networking page had only 40 or 50 views. After the show, which aired for about an hour and a half, his visitor count immediately jumped to more than 8,000.
“They asked what kind of girls I like, and I said I like girls who are older and have money. The point of it is to just be funny,” he joked. “After that, I became really famous in Korea.”
He said he hasn’t regretted his decision to “take his own path.” He realized that as a foreigner in Korea, he had limits and so decided to focus more on his work as a consultant. And that while he may face problems in Korea, he would face problems anywhere, even in Turkey.
“If I live in Turkey, I will have problems in Turkey ... I think that it’s the same situation. Either you have it in Turkey or you have it in Korea. The thing is you have to solve it.”
He added that if you think like a foreigner, solving a problem will be stressful, whereas if you think like a Korean, you’ll solve it. He used his own example of being Muslim and not eating pork or drinking alcohol.
“If I thought that, come on, I’m a Muslim, I don’t drink, but these people want me to drink so I won’t be friends with them, then it’s just stress for me, not for Korean people,” Kaya said.
So instead he still went out, but drank water, tea and soda instead.
“That is the way you can get closer with people in Korea,” he said. “You have to do your best to motivate yourself.”
By Emma Kalka (firstname.lastname@example.org)