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 northwestern Paris suburb of Asnieres-sur-Seine home.
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 and 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 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 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.
When asked what advice she would give to “20-somethings” who want to move to France and build a life for themselves there, Karen recommended the following:
– Planning is key! Prepare a plan in which you set short term and long term goals for your new life.
– If you do not speak French, be sure to take some lessons to gain basic knowledge of the language before moving.
– Familiarize yourself with French immigration laws and policies.
– 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.
Monique Y. Wells
Monique Y. Wells is the co-founder of Discover Paris! and the creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours.