Korean students at MU are preparing to celebrate Chusok, an ancient festival that marks the fall harvest and is the biggest holiday on the Korean calender.
The event, which takes place Friday at Tiger Plaza on the South Quadrangle, is the culmination of MU’s third annual Korea Week. Wonju Lee, president of the Korean Student Association at MU, describes the week as a chance for Columbia residents to experience both the traditional and contemporary sides of Korean culture. Among those he hopes will join the Chosuk celebration are students from Columbia public schools, who were invited to participate.
Family is the focus of Chusok, the Korean equivalent to Thanksgiving. Like American families every third Thursday in November, Korean families often travel long distances to gather for a feast. MU’s celebration of Chusok will include ethnic Korean cuisine, students in traditional costumes and games. The events are free and open to the public.
Although many of MU’s Korean students are far from their loved ones, Korea Week helps them form bonds with other Korean students. The week includes lectures, Korean movies and a children’s talent show.
“We have to prepare and practice a lot for things going on this week,” said Seung Hee Lee, a senior, “and we’re like one big family.”
In 2005, according to the most recent figures from MU, 191 students from Korea attended classes on campus. The Korean Student Association helps them adjust to life at an American university. The organization works with other campus groups like the International Center and International Student Career Services to help Korean students with their English language skills and to find jobs in the United States after graduation.
“This may sound strange, but when Korean students get here sometimes they want to do some shopping and don’t know where to go,” said MU sophomore Song Lee Hen. “So the KSA will take group trips to Wal-Mart, to make it easier.”
Hen said that celebrating Korea Week makes her feel at home while helping her learn more about her heritage.
“I came to America when I was young, so I want to learn more about Korean history,” she said.
While Korea Week brings Columbia’s Korean community together, organizers also aim to reach out to students and residents from other backgrounds. Jenna Hur, a visiting associate with the MU Asian Affairs Center, said she hopes Chusok and the other events will help to change some misconceptions Americans may have about Korean students.
“Many people think Koreans are very conservative, but really we are open-minded and just want to get to know people,” Hur said.
On Friday, Lee will be wearing hambok, a traditional Chusok costume, and posing for photographs with students so that they can learn about a part of Korean culture.
“When I got to America I was surprised by how many students did not even know where Korea was,” she said.
Randall Ireson, of the American Friends Service Committee, said that the American media provides only a narrow view of Korean life, focusing on political issues such as North Korea’s nuclear program and the presence of U.S. military forces in the Republic of Korea.
Ireson, who gave a presentation on life in North Korea on Tuesday at Memorial Union, said events like Korea Week help all students better understand the world.
“Providing opportunities for students to explore other cultures and learn about them first-hand should be a central goal of all universities,” he said.