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America is literally a world apart from Korea, geographically and culturally, yet we at NIU have the perfect opportunity to gain some insight into the Korean way of life. There are approximately 150 Korean students on campus who are coping with this culture shock on a daily basis. And most of them are more than proud to have their home country as host to the XXIV Olympiad.

NIU economics teaching assistant Hoon Paik said he’s been watching the Olympics every night on television and was “very moved by the opening ceremonies. I was quite proud. It was a special moment and it brought me home again.”

Paik has been in America since 1983. He came to NIU to start his graduate program in economics. He plans to return to Korea after finishing his studies to be an economics professor.

“Teachers in Korea receive great respect, as opposed to those in America,” claimed Paik. “They are also paid much higher wages than American teachers since they are held in such high regard.”

Paik finds that he likes America and American students. What he likes most about the United States is its plains and flat lands, because “in Korea, all you see is mountains. You never see the horizon, because there is none.”

He does not, however, appreciate our extreme summers and winters. Korea’s seasons, which correspond directly with ours, are “more tender, with less bitter cold or sweltering heat. Also, spring and fall are more extended seasons.” The weather there now, he said, is quite similar to what we are now experiencing, with an average high of 70 degrees.

American students, according to Paik, are generally “happier and luckier because they have more freedom and are taught to be more independent” than Korean students.

This is not to say that all of his experiences with American students have been good ones. Paik said he sees discrimination against Koreans from time to time on campus and has felt its repercussions himself.

“I was just walking down the street, and a guy from a car started yelling derogatory names at me,” Paik explained. “It made me very upset, but I ignored him. Then, when I returned to my apartment, he was in the parking lot. I asked him to step outside with me, but he said nothing. It is this sort of prejudice that can make life very depressing for Korean students.”

Paik believes it is basically the language barrier which prevents Korean and American students from mixing socially on any kind of large scale. “Korean students on campus stick together and mainly speak Korean, because it is only natural,” Paik said. “But this only keeps them from learning better English.”

Koreans do learn the English language in school, but they learn text book English, not applied English. They have the general grasp of Engish grammar, but are not familiar with American slang and have little practice in informal conversation, he said.

The reason many Koreans move to America is because they have more opportunity to learn here, Paik said.

“Korea is very overcrowded and the only chance to get a good job is to study very hard,” Paik declared. “But in Korea, you must be accepted into the most prestigious universities in order to do well, and that is very hard to do. In America, not everyone has to go to Harvard to get a decent job.”

Korean education is also quite strict and formal. The teachers have a bureaucratic duty to control any urges the students’ might have to demonstrate against the school, the government, or the teacher, however small the action.

“For instance,” Paik declared, “in a Korean classroom, I would not be able to sit at my desk with my feet up like I might do in American classrooms. It is just not done.”

Paik believes the many recent protests by Korean students are helping to make some valid points, but he does not understand why violence must enter the picture. He also said he feels the U.S. media is somewhat unfair in its coverage of these demonstrations and that it ought to show both sides of the story. Paik thinks that such demonstrations and the threat of terrorism pose no threat to the Summer Games.

“It is true that there is much unrest between North and South Korea,” he admitted. “But the government is attempting to reunify the two. I would hope that students and others who may be capable of disrupting the ceremonies would be a little more mature and less selfish. After all, this is a world festival, not just Korea’s moment in the spotlight.”

Indo Kim, president of NIU’s 37-member Korean Graduate Student Association, has been in America for five years and in DeKalb for three and is here working towards a Ph.D. in economics.

He said he is “very proud” to have the Olympics in Korea.

He said he believes American students are “generally kind to others, but of course there is quite a cultural gap between us.”

He, like Paik, hopes to be an economics professor and will return to Korea to teach. He said he likes NIU and came here because “economics as a field of study is much more developed in the U.S. than in Korea.”

Kim has two children and said living in America is “nice for them because they have more of an opportunity to play sports, which is not common in Korean schools because the emphasis is placed on academics.”

Naekyeong Kim came to Sycamore in 1981 from Seoul to obtain his master’s degree in “Production and Operations Management.” He then attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and received his doctorate, only to return to NIU to become the faculty adviser for the American Production Inventory Control Society.

Kim said he is “proud that Korea has the chance to invite communist countries to come together for healthy competition against one another. The Olympics may also provide Korea with the opportunity to reunite its north and south regions by improving South Korea’s relations with China and Russia (North’s allies in the Korean War) thus helping to isolate North Korea from these nations. As a result, north and south may have no choice but to reunify themselves.”

Kim feels that the best thing about the Olympics is that “now people know that Korea exists and where it actually is.”

He said he “loves” the DeKalb-Sycamore area and calls his favorite part “the sight of the cornfields fresh with snow.”

Kim finds American students “so honest, friendly and energetic,” but he wishes that they would understand that “just because Korean students don’t smile much and are very quiet, it does not mean that they aren’t friendly, too. Don’t be afraid of them. They are very open and wish to make American friends.”

To the Korean students on campus, Kim offers this advice: “Try to get more involved in American student organizations and to get to know the other students better. It will enrich your educational experience.”