When Professor Joonghwa Lee left Middle Tennessee State University in 2015 to teach at UND, his Tennessee colleagues expressed some concern.
“You will see bears there,” they said.
The warning was yet another proof of famed newsman and commentator Eric Sevareid’s lament that people elsewhere know precious little about his home state. North Dakota, he said, is a large, rectangular blank spot in the nation’s consciousness.
Lee and his wife, Soojung Kim, who teach strategic communication and other courses in UND’s Communication Department, did not find bears roaming the Grand Forks campus. But neither did they find many people like themselves, natives of the Republic of Korea, or people whose knowledge of Korea wasn’t limited to “M*A*S*H” TV reruns, a jar of kimchi or, if younger, the K-pop music that has become a global sensation.
“We found here no Korean restaurants, no market – nothing related to Korea,” Lee said. “Just a small number of Korean people lived here, no Korean community.”
They did find a few Korean and Korean-American students enrolled at UND, and in 2016 the professors and those students established the Korean Culture Exchange Club. The club has grown to include American and other students interested in Korean culture, and in 2019 Lee and Kim took 17 students on a 10-day study abroad program in their homeland.
They had hoped to repeat the study tour in 2020, but the pandemic got in the way. They hope to revive it in late 2022 or early 2023, Lee said.
(Full disclosure: I am a part-time adjunct instructor in the Communication Department, where professors Lee and Kim – who specialize in new media and digital communication – graciously tolerate my affinity for old-time print media. I also am quite fond of kimchi.)
And kimchi, fermented cabbage, will be on the menu Friday, Nov. 5, at “Feel of Korea,” eight hours of traditional food, dance, music and other presentations reflecting the culture of that Asian country, organized by Professor Lee. The event will be in the ballroom of UND's new Memorial Union.
“Understanding another culture is a great opportunity,” he said, “a chance to break bias” and stereotypes.
“We have a long history,” he said, but people may only know about the 1950-53 war that divided Korea into North and South, a war in which the United States and other member states of the United Nations fought alongside the South. China was aligned with the North.
Lee said he would like to see area veterans of that war, if any are still with us, come to see how the country they defended has developed since then.
“It will give a glimpse of our world back home,” he said. “It is the kind of event I have dreamed about since we came here.”
“Culture nights” have become popular social events on campus, offering tastes of special foods, dances and other features of another land. Campus clubs formed by UND students from Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Korea, India and others have produced these mini-festivals in recent years, and many of the university’s 1,000-plus international students – representing nearly 100 countries – come together each year for the Feast of Nations. The 60th such extravaganza is set for March 5, 2022, at the Alerus Center.
In addition to traditional foods – among them galbi, Korean-style marinated short ribs; japchae, sweet potato starch noodles stir fried with vegetables, and jjangbap, black bean sauce over rice – “Feel of Korea” will feature performances by two professional Korean dance and music groups from Chicago.
Volunteers will offer lessons in hangul, the writing system of the Korean language, and show examples of Korean art and traditional costumes. The 2020 film "Minari," a Golden Globe winner about a Korean immigrant family putting down new roots in Arkansas, will be screened at 10 a.m.
Much of the cost of the event is covered by the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Chicago, and Consul General Young Sok Kim is scheduled to attend, Lee said.
The event is free and open to all. For more information and a full schedule, see https://calendar.und.edu or #FeelofKoreaUND.
Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.