Finding Something New in the Familiar
MPI Student Youngri Jung gets reacquainted with his own culture
August 7, 2013
Every year around May, the buzz of students on the SUU campus dies down to almost nothing. The world becomes quiet except for the birds, the maintenance crew and the occasional door swish of a lone summer student entering the library. But the peaceful stillness doesn’t last for long, because summer is also the time when student groups from Korea, Taiwan and other countries descend on Cedar City to experience what SUU has to offer. When a group from Cedar City’s sister city of Gapyeong, Korea arrived this July, it became both a leadership and learning opportunity for Youngri Jung, student of MPI. He volunteered as an assistant to the SUU teachers who would be working with the visitors.
The twenty Korean students, from middle and high schools, had come to Utah to take a few English classes, but mostly to learn the culture and have fun. Korean schools are extremely demanding, requiring long hours of study, so many of the students saw their trip as a vacation, a bit of free time away from the books. “Some of them were pretty rude at first,” Jung says. “They were loud. They didn’t listen to anyone, not to the teachers and not to me.” More than once, Jung was left behind after a class activity to wait for students who had disappeared. “They would just walk off, and there would be no way to contact them.” Most of the students didn’t have a cell phone that would work in the United States.
The job was physically demanding as well, involving walking tours around the city and long hikes through Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. Luckily for Jung, this was one of the parts he enjoyed. “I like to stay active. It was fun to get to go a lot of places and run around with the students.”
It was during one of these group trips, at the end of the student’s first week, that things began to change. Jung drove four students to Zion's National Park in his car and, with nothing better to do, they all started to talk. By the time the group arrived at Zion, they had become good friends. Jung realized that even though he and the students were all from the same country, they may have been separated by a culture gap.
“I think that in the last ten years, a lot of things have changed in Korea,” Jung says. “We are from different generations. They look at things differently from the way I do. They even use some slang I don’t understand.” Knowing this, things became much better between Jung and the group. He began to build a closer relationship with all of the students. As a result, they began to listen to him and do what he asked. “They told me I had changed,” Jung laughs. “They said now I was funny and interesting, but at the beginning I was too serious. But if I had acted silly when I first met them, they would have thought I was crazy.” Jung’s plan for next time is to get close to the students at the start, so that no time is wasted on getting used to each other. He wants to help the students see that they are here for a good time, but not to play. There is much to be learned if you approach the experience with the right mindset.
And though Jung only calls himself an assistant, it appears that to the students, he actually became more of a mentor. Some students hoping to attend a U.S. university asked him for detailed information about what the schools are like. Other students asked about the culture or about advice for their future. “I tried to teach them from what I had experienced, so that they won’t make some of the same mistakes I have,” Jung says.
In the end, the two weeks the students spent in Utah weren’t enough. “If we had more time, there are so many things I could have shown them. They didn’t even know about things like where to find the Asian foods aisle in Walmart.” As Jung settles back into the quiet final weeks before fall semester begins, he is equipped with a better knowledge of one of the most important aspects of leadership; understanding.
by David Cowley