American Summer Camp Teaches About Korean Culture

23 August, 2018

Campers and teachers at Korean Culture Camp in St. Paul, Minnesota, start the day by saying "hello" in Korean.

"Anyunghaseyo, Anyunghaseyo."

After a short group class, campers go off to a day of activities. They learn drumming, dance and Taekwondo, a Korean martial art.

Some of these are usual activities for summer camps around the United States. This camp, however, has one big difference. The camp is a weeklong immersion in all things Korean.

Elain Ekstedt is the director of the camp. She said it was started in 1977 by parents of adopted Korean children. The parents wanted their children to understand the country and culture they had left behind.

"And they wanted their children to feel good about their Korean heritage and to experience Korean culture, so they began a summer camp."

The international adoption of South Korean children began after the Korean War in the early 1950s. Beginning in 1987, the South Korean government began to limit the number of children who could be adopted.

This year, the camp has 235 children aged four to 13. There also are about 250 volunteers.

"Most of the volunteers are the parents of the campers. It becomes a whole family experience. Those campers grow up, after they're no longer campers, then they become teen helpers. We have a hundred teen helpers in our camp this year. And then after they're teen helpers, they can become young adult volunteers.

Parker Yellick is a teenager who assists at the camp. He spoke about his own story and how attending the camp helped him.

"I was adopted when I was eight months old. I was always self-conscious about like being a Korean adoptee. But when I like came here, I got to hear and see a bunch of other people who have the same story as I do. And it was really cool because it then helped me accept who I am, and it made me proud to be of Korean heritage."

Yellick has volunteered at the camp for four years. "I've kept volunteering because I wanted to help other kids who may have been like me. It's also very fun," he said.

College student and adult volunteer Kevin Cunningham has been to camp for 22 years.

"Korean Culture Camp, when I was a kid, was my favorite week of the year and I would say it still is, as an adult, because now I get to come back and see all the kids doing what I did, going to the class and learning about language, history, and doing Taekwondo together."

Camp director Ekstedt adopted a daughter from Korea. She said, in the 1990s, the large number of Korean adoptees led to an enrollment as high as 700. Now there are fewer adoptees. Camp enrollment is from 250 to 300 every summer.

But former campers now bring their own children. Other campers come from the Korean community. This new group has brought changes.

"So our self-esteem classes have changed. It is not so much about adoption anymore. It's about feeling good about being Korean, having a Korean heritage."

"I love to see those kids who are very excited about what they are doing here, what they are learning," said education director Hongjoo Lee. "That's why I've been here for 14 years, that makes me really happy."

I'm Susan Shand.

VOA's June Soh reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. The editor was Mario Ritter.

Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

martial adj.related to military or defense

immersion– n.complete involvement in some activity or interest

adopt– v. to take a child as your own

heritage– n. the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation

self-conscious– adj.uncomfortably nervous about or embarrassed by what other people think about you

enrollment– n.the number of people who agree to participate in something

self-esteem– n.the feeling of having respect for oneself and abilities