East meets West: Newcomers welcomed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 21, 2004

On Thursday night, those in attendance at the February meeting of the newly formed Greenville Area Newcomers and Neighbors Club on Thursday were treated to intriguing stories, lovely sights and delicious aromas of Korean culture, fashion and food.

It was a case of ‘East Meets West’ much enjoyed by GNNC members and their guests.

Michelle Kim of Montgomery, a native Korean who has lived for over 25 years in the Capitol City, gave a witty and insightful presentation on the similarities and differences between Korean and American culture.

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Kim, who is married to Young Kim, a chief consultant for many of the Tier One suppliers to Hyundai, considers herself a bit of a southerner now herself (&uot;Pecans can be used in this recipe, y’all&uot;).

Kim remarked on the culture shock for new Korean families as they move from a large, bustling city like Soeul to a &uot;very small town&uot; like Greenville.

&uot;It is very different when you are used to crowds of people everywhere – but there are many things to like here. It is a beautiful town, very peaceful – you do not have the crime like you do in a big city. So they are happy here,&uot; she said.

She related a story that demonstrates the confusion that can result from a misunderstanding of cultural differences. &uot;I have a Korean friend in Montgomery whose little boy was having problems at school…in Korea, you take your shoes off when you enter the classroom. Here of course, you do not. He was getting very tired of wearing his shoes all the time – so he removed them.&uot;

The child’s teacher was not amused. When she admonished the child about it, he avoided looking into her eyes – which only upset his teacher all the more, Kim said.

&uot;What the teacher didn’t understand is, in Korea, it is a sign of respect for those in authority, for older people, when we drop our gaze. Here in America we expect eye contact always.

&uot;Once everyone understand what was going on, the situation straightened itself out,&uot; she explained.

Kim explained Korean children spend much more time on their studies than most American children do. Competition to be well prepared in order to into a good college and get a good job is intense, she said.

&uot;In Korea, children go to school six days a week…high school students pack two lunches, one for lunch and one for dinner,&uot; she said.

After regular school hours, older Korean students receive tutoring at the school in various subjects, and may remain at their studies until midnight. &uot;We don’t have ‘soccer moms’ in Korea shuttling their kids around after school,&uot; Kim said jokingly.

Something that surprises many Westerners on their visits to her native country, Kim said, are &uot;all the crosses they see glowing at night&uot; – crosses that belong to the numerous Christian churches found across Korea.

&uot;We have mostly Presbyterian, then Methodist. There are a few Baptist churches, also,&uot; explained Kim. (She and her husband are Christians and founded a Korean church in Montgomery.)

Kim said Korean women are very free to pursue careers in comparison to those in the Middle East. &uot;We are very Westernized…women become doctors, lawyers, politicians. I don’t think it will be long before we have a women president [in Korea],&uot; she said with a smile.

After a lively question-and-answer period, Kim and several local Korean wives, along with Judy Kim, wife of Hyundai CEO Y.S. Kim, prepared several traditional Korean dishes for the ladies in attendance to sample.

Dishes served included Bul-go-ki (Korean barbecue beef), which proved a particular favorite with the Americans, Job Chae (Korean sweet potato pasta and assorted veggies) and Yark-Sick (Korean-style sweet rice fruit cake) among others. &uot;Wow, this is great,&uot; enthused GNNC board member Jill Stallworth, who, like a number of others, went back for seconds. &uot;This was really, really interesting,&uot; remarked member Frances Benson.

Though most of the Americans opted to use forks, Kim also gave an impromptu lesson in the proper use of chopsticks to several of the ladies.

Catherine Oh and her five-year-old daughter Jane charmed the American attendees with their beautiful traditional Korean costumes, featuring vibrant shades of red and blue and intricate floral embroidery. Other local Koreans in attendance included Jennifer Choi, Michelle Kim and Helen Nam among others.

GNNC member Linda Horn, who organized the program for the meeting, was pleased at the positive reception given to the group’s Korean guests. &uot;It was wonderful to be able to sample their foods and learn about the culture…I thought it was a good night,&uot; she said.