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Rivalry and Unity, The KoYon Games

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.

 

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Cheering orientation, the start of the madness.

 

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.

 

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Stadium divided by crimson red and royal blue students.

 

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!

 

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Students celebrate on the field after the games are over.

 

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.

 

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Fun after celebration in Anam with KU and Yonsei students.

 

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.

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows

Hello again! Since my last post, classes have started and I have been getting more acquainted with the city of Leuven. I’ve had my fill of Belgian frites and warm waffles and have explored different cities. The past 3 weeks have been an amazing roller-coaster and now I feel like I’m coasting on a high. But it didn’t start out like this.

When I was preparing to go abroad I knew that I would feel homesick but I thought that the idea of being in a new country would overshadow most feelings of homesickness. But the first few days here were a whirlwind of emotions. I was feeling really excited to be in Belgium but I was feeling so alone, even though I was on a hall with 13 other international students. After spending a month and a half at home with my parents prior to leaving, I was missing them a lot and missed being able to talk to them whenever. I also felt some FOMO (fear of missing out) with my friends at my home college and in turn started to miss all of my friends. Along with loneliness, it was hard to talk with people back at home because of the 6 hour time difference. There is only a small window of time when I can FaceTime with anyone in the States.

All of this made me sad and intensified my homesickness. This was definitely my lowest point during my time here in Leuven. But after a few days those feelings went away and it became easier for me to enjoy my time here in Leuven. When classes started, that definitely helped put me on a schedule and once I got comfortable navigating Leuven I started to explore other cities in Belgium and have planned a few trips to other countries. So even though it was a rough start, once I became settled it has been going smoothly ever since!

One of my favorite memories so far has been visiting Brussels. It was beautiful and definitely a sight to see. Like Leuven, in Brussels everything is within walking distance. I went with a group of girls from my hall and it was definitely a bonding experience for all of us. We walked to see the Manneken Pis, the Peeing Boy statue, which had a lot of hype surrounding it but in reality was a statue that was only a foot tall! People clamored around the fence protecting the statue to take pictures. Even though it was small it was definitely worth the experience. We visited a breathtakingly beautiful cathedral that garnered a lot of visitors. We also stopped at the city square, and the buildings there were absolutely beautiful. I was in awe of how surreal it felt to be in a foreign country. At every street corner, you could smell the fresh fried Belgian frites and sugary scent of freshly made waffles. The chocolate shops had window displays that were drool worthy and there were lots of fun little shops to buy souvenirs in. We tried to visit the Chocolate Museum there but missed it by 20 minutes, so it’s a must for the next time I go!

 

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Me in the middle of the city square in Brussels.

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Me and the girls in Brussels.

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Outside of a beautiful cathedral.

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One of the beautiful stained glass windows in the cathedral.

 

My absolute favorite part of being in Belgium so far has been the friendships I’ve been making here. The people in my hall are all amazing people and they have made my transition to a new country significantly easier for me. They’re all so kind and so fun to be around! We definitely have a mix of students too, ranging from America and England to Croatia, Spain, and Germany! All of us are already dreading having to leave once December comes around. I know I’ll always keep them, along with the experiences I’ve made abroad, with me as I go through life. We’ve also had a hall family dinner where we made tacos and just caught up with one another, so that was super fun! This was definitely one of my biggest fears when preparing to go abroad- the question of whether or not I would be able to connect with the people I live with. But I am so happy with the group of people in my hall and am so thankful for them!

To end, being in Belgium has already given me so many lasting memories and has helped me grow as a person. I’m off to a local flea market at the town square here, so I’ll be checking back in in a few weeks! Tot Ziens! (That’s good-bye in Dutch!!)

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Western Europe

Gilman Scholar Jeff Prasad Shares His First Impressions of South Korea

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

My New Host Country Crew

I remember boarding the plane to China, being really excited for the next twelve hours and feeling overwhelmingly nervous the final hour before landing. I didn’t know what to expect. I was worried about not speaking the language and not knowing anyone in my study abroad cohort of students. The first week was hard because I was missing home, friends, and most importantly my family.

The following week was a lot easier, I got to know my roommate, Juan, who hails from Argentina. We discovered that we have similar viewpoints, took turns cooking, and when we had overlapping free time, we would explore Shanghai together. Then Juan relocated and once again I was alone. When one door closes another door opens and sure enough that’s when I met Manav who has been my closest friend throughout this experience. I can honestly say my time abroad would not have been as eventful as it has been had we not become friends. Manav introduced me to Jagger who introduced me to his roommate Alec, and later we welcomed a new addition to the group, Luke.

The five of us have shared some great times together and I’m thankful for each one of these guys. During the week after we get off work, we all meet at my apartment and share a meal. Manav is Indian and the rest of the guys are American. I also have a lot of Chinese friends from my university back in the United States, but they are all scattered across China, which is a little bit smaller than the U.S. but with triple the population. My friend Peter drove three hours to come visit me and brought a lot of house warming gifts which meant a lot.

 

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A trip to the market.

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Our ingredients from the market for our home-cooked meal.

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Dinner with friends.

 

Last week my Chinese best friend Terry introduced me to his high school friends who took me out last weekend and showed me a great time. Frank came to my apartment then we met up with his friends; Ken and Gimy at a restaurant. We went to a very nice hot pot and they showed me their favorite hot spots. I am very grateful for Frank and his friends because they showed me that friendship transcends culture and language barriers (although they spoke very good English).

 

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Hot pot with Peter.

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Shopping for jerseys.

 

My friend Terry will visit again at the end of July, and then we will go to Chongqing which is very close to Sichuan and is famous for its spicy cuisine. I am very excited to see my friend as well as reunite with Frank, Ken, and Gimy. Afterwards, my Russian friend Val will visit China and we will meet in Beijing where my sister Manal is currently residing. After Beijing, we will visit Shanghai and explore the city with my new host country crew. Although I have a month left in China, I know I will miss this experience and the people I have met dearly. Everything from my job, my coworkers, my boss, and my new friends have exceeded my expectations. I am very thankful for this opportunity and the chance to document my experience through the Gilman Scholarship.

 

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Work selfie.

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Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

Recapping My Study Abroad Take Aways

This year I decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina to reconnect with my Argentine heritage and culture. As a first generation American, I never exactly knew where my family came from or why my parents decided to leave Argentina and I took it upon myself to learn about this unknown history.

 

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My parents in the States sometime in the mid-1980s.

 

Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to develop direct relationships with my distant family and other people in Argentina. With my family, I was able to trace back my roots through stories of immigration stemming from Italy, Colombia, Spain, and even native ancestry. These newly found discoveries in my family tree caused me to deeply appreciate the multiculturalism that exists within our world.

 

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My Colombian grandparents when they got married in 1944.

 

In addition, I saw this study abroad opportunity as way to improve my media skills. As an aspiring filmmaker, I volunteered and collaborated with talented individuals in Buenos Aires who represent Argentine culture and I created for them more media presence. Most of them were musicians, but others were actresses and restaurant owners. Without initially knowing it, I realized this was a powerful method to completely immerse myself in Argentine culture and disseminate it through social media outlets. With such newly found relationships, I was not only able to strengthen my language skills as I did in Spanish class, but I also deepened my Latin American identity and sensibilities both culturally and sociologically. Pretty soon I was being invited to what felt like every musical or theatrical event in Buenos Aires and that powerfully enriched my study abroad experience.

 

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Acrobat Pia Ponce, who lives off her art in Buenos Aires.

 

I continued to expand on this search for cultural identity and fluidity while traveling through other regions in Argentina. In the north I encountered people of pure altruism and generosity. For example, I remember the day I met Ricardo, a man who was on his way to donate big packets of flour to local schools in Salta, Argentina. Here I took this unexpected opportunity to witness and register this altruistic act while meeting and conversing with children from towns that are completely off the grid.

 

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Waiting for my ride from Angastaco to Seclantas (32 miles).

 

The various things I experienced through study abroad presented themselves in forms that were constantly mixing in a whirlwind of the familiar and the foreign. I converge with my experiences when I follow a direct path; but almost like a magnet, I am diverging from that path, thrown off course by other experiences happening around me so that when I return to my designated path I am no longer the same person.

Through study abroad, we become people who have a deeper understanding of the world that surrounds us and the people who make up not one but a myriad of world cultures.

 

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My trip to Seclantas lead me to this school of children where I had the opportunity to eat lunch and spend quality time learning about Ricardo’s charity foundation.

 

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Filed under Robert in Argentina, south america

Mi Amigo, Jesús Gonzalez Perez

As a child, Jesús Gonzalez Perez began to form his most early conclusions about Americans, and Texans specifically, from watching Western movies with his father. “Those were his favorite kinds of movies,” he says in his smooth, matter-of-fact way, “and if we wanted to see a movie, that is what we watched.” From such movies Jesús imagined Texas as a “wild” place where the people were “serious and brave.”

Thirty-three years old and a middle child of four children, Jesús says some of his favorite things are being a tio (uncle), playing guitar (although he admits he’s not very good at it), reading (he enjoys books on the history of Spain and cuentos or children’s tales), and visiting with friends at bars.

 

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A culture exchange: teaching and learning to play UNO in Spanish!

 

Jesús believes that being at some of his favorite bars with friends, laughing and talking about life is his way of self-care. “I enjoy listening to the music and talking with people and learning. I can do that in the corner bars and share a little of myself and gain a little of the people around me. I am better for this.” He says the best thing about Salamanca is the university because it brings diverse cultures to the city, adding to its identity and charm.

This writer would have to agree, seeing as how you can spot so many different people of different backgrounds on long walks through the streets. Before coming to Spain I expected to be an outcast here and quickly made up in my mind to put on the fasçade of indifference. And though I have gotten a few second glances and curious looks, mostly no one makes any special efforts to figure out what I am doing here. I appreciate that. Salamanca is a place where you can feel, not only welcome, but a part of its growing identity.

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Filed under Meya in Spain, Western Europe

Already Feels Like Home

Prior to my departure to Hong Kong, I made it my mission to spend a lot of quality time with those I hold dearly. This made my departure a breeze, and I felt I left on wonderful terms with all of my close friends and family.

My anxious feelings towards my Hong Kong endeavor were quickly outweighed by my excitement to leave my country and explore a continent I have been fascinated by since my youth. My plane ride was a mix of excitement and mild anxiety. Not anxiety from fear of the unknown, but my eagerness to be in Hong Kong already. My 15 hour flight to Taiwan, then 8 hour layover was excruciating, but still a wonderful experience.

On my flight to Hong Kong, I was fortunate to sit next to a HK local named Royal. We quickly became friends, and he later became responsible for making my first night in Hong Kong completely unforgettable. He took my friend and I to LKF (Lan Kwai Fong) a popular nightlife area of Hong Kong where we danced and met many welcoming locals that we conversed with for hours. Arriving in Hong Kong, I was blown away by my new environment.

 

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Dreaming big with big Buddha.

 

Hong Kong is a beautiful, vibrant place and it has really humbled me. I rarely thought of how people lived outside of the United States. The people of Hong Kong are extremely hard-working and have a great sense of pride in their country. This is different from my home country. Americans that are socially aware of the political and social injustices in our country usually tend to have anything but a sense of pride in being from the United States. A sense of pride in one’s home is something I have never experienced. But now that I am in my temporary home of Hong Kong, I am proud to be here. My culture shock has been nothing but positive. As an African American, I am a rare individual here. I get stares and double glances, but this is something I knew would happen because I researched the black experience in Hong Kong long before I arrived here.

A goal I would like to complete while I am here is to travel to Japan. Additionally, I have become so much more studious here. Recently I completed a paper assignment five days before the deadline because I am able to focus on my exciting coursework. I am definitely going to bring my new studious habits back to the States.

I have been here only four days and I have already seen magnificent sights. I have walked for a total of 15 hours covering 43 beautiful miles. Never in my life have I had such fun just walking and adventuring.

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Filed under East Asia, Sua in Hong Kong