The first week of school at Korea University had just finished and all of the international students seemed to have survived the class registration chaos and started settling in. A message is posted in the Korea University Buddy Assistants (KUBA) Facebook group by one of the leaders, Jihyun. “Our first official event as KUBA will be an amazing cheering orientation on Friday!” she wrote. “Through this cheering orientation the Young Tigers (official cheer team) will teach us the cheers, songs and dances for the KoYon games!” At first glance many were quite confused as we were thrown off by the word “cheering.” Why would anyone need to teach us how to cheer or root for our team? We had no idea for what was in store, as it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. At 5 pm, half of the KUBA groups met in a small auditorium while the other half met at 7 pm. Everything seemed normal as we took our seats and listened to the start of the presentation. Minutes later we found ourselves up and about dancing, singing, and sweating with the cheering. The schools have around 20 or more songs which were a range from traditional, nationalistic, patriotic, or simply poking fun at our rival university, Yonsei University. Around two hours later we finished the cheering orientation. Everyone was dripping with sweat and exhausted from what seemed to be the hardest workout any of us had ever done. No one seemed to mind though as there were huge smiles all around and many still humming or singing the cheering songs long after it was over.
Now the reason for all of this cheering was to prepare us for the Korea-Yonsei Games (KoYon Jeon). The KoYon games are a friendly rivalry sports competition between two of South Korea’s most prestigious universities- Korea University (KU) and Yonsei University- held annually in the fall. The games take place over two days and the schools compete in 5 sports: baseball, basketball, ice hockey, rugby, and soccer. Thousands of students fill the stadiums from both universities and cheer for around 6-8 hours at the games.
Two weeks fly by and the KoYon games were upon us. Friday is the first day of the games with baseball, basketball, and ice hockey on deck. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend basketball and ice hockey as tickets were given out based on a raffle. I decided to attend day 2 (Saturday) as no tickets were required. Each of the 8 KUBA groups met at the subway station near campus at different times between 7-8am. Once we arrived, we finally found the entrance we needed to enter through and waited for around two more hours. After the long wait, they finally let us in and handed each person a booklet with cheer song lyrics, a bottle of water, and a bread-like pastry. As we were entering we could already hear the Korean students who entered the stadium before us and then bam, fireworks shot off behind the stadium and the students erupted in cheer. Coming up the stairs was quite a sight to see. The entire stadium was packed with students split into two with KU crimson red on one side and Yonsei royal blue on the other. KU began cheering songs with the cheering team leading the way on a stage at field level while Yonsei does the same on the other half of the stadium with theirs. We quickly found a spot in the standing areas behind the seated sections. This worked out better as we had plenty of room to cheer and no one who had seats used them through the entirety of the rugby and soccer matches which went from 10am to 4pm.
It was quite surprising really, the cheering songs never stopped. It was one song after another. With our arms on each other’s shoulders we swayed to some songs, jumped or dipped our heads up and down to other songs, and screamed out what little lyrics we actually remembered. It sure was something seeing students from different parts of the world all joined together in this stadium like two huge families. All laughing, singing, dancing without a care in the world. Most of the games throughout the weekend were extremely close considering Korea University has won the KoYon games for the past 4 years. KU won baseball while ice hockey and basketball ended in a draw. With those scores we would only need to win one in order to win the overall KoYon games score. The rugby game as with the other sports was very close however KU ended up losing by 2 points. Now the stage was set, only soccer left and the winner would be crowned KoYon games victor. Talk about intense! The soccer game started. The cheering continued. This time however, everyone was paying close attention to the soccer game while cheering. Yonsei scored first and we could hear them singing their cheers over ours. Things looked grim for KU as the first half ended 1-0 in favor of Yonsei. The 2nd half started and KU students got really into the game along with cheering. Every scoring opportunity was “ooh” and “aah” all around us. Finally it happened, KU scored a goal and we were back to even. The entire crimson red erupted and burst into the victory song that is played whenever KU scores in a sport. Another goal by KU and now the students can taste victory. Just 15 more minutes to hang on. This was perhaps the longest 15 minutes ever. Yonsei kicked it into overdrive and had scoring chances one after another. The time ticked down slowly and it looked as if Yonsei was about to break through until a misstep and KU took advantage with goal number 3. KU was victorious!
The two days of sports games and cheering was over now but the KoYon weekend was not. It is tradition that after the KoYon games, all students from both universities will go to one of the home towns and have a celebration full of food, events, live music, and many other activities. The group leads instructed us that we would take the subway back to Anam (the town where KU is located) and the after party would commence fairly soon. It took about 3 subway trains to get everyone back to Anam but we managed to do so quite quickly despite that many students. I’ll never forget the moment when we arrived back at Anam station. I exited the train and looked up to see the entire platform and stairs leading out of the subway was a sea of students in their crimson red or royal blue shirts. It was a really magical moment to see the rival universities all next to each other sharing in the same excitement for the upcoming night full of fun and memories together. Once out of the subway we saw that one of the main streets with many shops and restaurants is closed off to the public. There was one stage at the start of the street and another stage at the far end about 10 blocks down. Once everyone made their way to the street, there had to have been maybe 10,000 or more students packed in the streets. At times it was difficult to get by because there was so many people. During the beginning of the after party all the students play the “train game,” which is when 10 students form a line, or train, and you go to different restaurants doing chants or songs to try and get free food. It was such a fun and unique experience to participate in the train game. Our train lead was a KUBA leader and shouted out a chant in Korean which we echoed. After a few stops with the train we all split off to do different things.
A friend and I made our way to the far end of the street to the second stage where they started doing short, fun dance competitions with randomly selected students in the crowd. These were fun to watch as there were some really good dancers and some just up there having fun. This however turned into playing cheering songs from both universities. This was perhaps one of my favorite moments of being a student at Korea University so far. To our surprise many students knew the cheering songs for both schools. We jumped into one of the cheering circles and it was such a great moment. I looked around the circle and saw students who didn’t know one another, students from rival universities, students with a language barrier, and students of varying ages, race and gender. None of that mattered as everyone was joined up arm in arm singing the songs, dancing around and having an absolute blast. We ended up loving the cheering so much that we participated in it for about the last 3 hours of the night. Needless to say, it was extremely tiring and I don’t think I’ve put my body through that kind of workout ever. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the stages packed up and restaurants closed. We said goodbye to our new friends from both KU and Yonsei and made our way back to the dorms. At my home university, I don’t live on campus so I am usually only there when I have classes. Because of this and working at the same time, I’ve had a hard time becoming really involved or having a lot of school spirit. That all changed after the KoYon games. I feel a sense of belonging and this is my new home. I’m a Korea University Tiger forever. I’ve done many exciting things in my life and ventured to many places around the world however the KoYon games and after celebration might just top them all.