Monday, July 22, 2013

Korea #14: An emotion time when a class ends

All my good wishes go with you tonight….”

The last two days in Korea were emotional ones for me.  I found myself in tears unexpectedly.  I know this was about my mortality and sad things in my life. It was occasioned, however, by having classmates 50 years younger than I with all of their lives ahead of them as well as being with people from other places and cultures. I hope it also came from that most welcome of experiences, letting go of pre-judgments.

You know how you find a line from a song in your head and wonder where that came from and why?  The line that set me off was “….all my good wishes go with you tonight….” I thought it was from Carousel and my earliest rapture with MGM musicals but instead Hello Young Lovers is by Tom Jones.

You also know how it often is that you start out with judgments and assessments of a group you join and then your preconceptions slip away and you’re glad for it?  (I have been taught to “drop judgment for your own mental health” but you can’t really drop judgment like a hot coal.  Rather, with a little patience for yourself, you can let judgments erode and disintegrate.)  That's what happened to me.

I took a class titled “Healthy Living with Korean Cuisine,” not a subject that I would go out of my way to learn, but which looked like the best of the morning offerings.  It turned out to be a good choice.  The professor, Dr. Won O. Song, was born in Korea but refused to be married off and stereotyped so moved to the U. S. 40 years ago.  She is a professor of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State, a vivacious and vital person who deeply engages her students.

The class was equally divided between Korean and Chinese students on the one hand and Americans--two of whom were of Asian heritage--and a pre-med from the Netherlands on the other.  The Koreans seemed painfully shy and reticent at first and mostly spoke in a low voice.  This is the reputation of Korea students and is identified within Korea as a problem:  students don't speak up or engage in critical thinking. To watch all this change in three weeks under Song’s mentoring was touching. 

I could feel how hard the young women in particular were working.  Then, it turns out, several of them have a dry sense of humor.  We were each making presentations about food supplements, “Lenny,” a Korean named Whang In-Yeong, put up a slide about “Masculine stamina,” a nature-based Viagra in a food supplement.  I was drinking coffee out of a can when I understood what she was saying and coffee exploded all over me. 

Everyone except me had mastered Power Point which meant they could throw funny videos into their presentation, usually with an straight face.  The young Korea men came alive as well.  I admire so much that they are all struggling with a good heart to put what they had to say into English.  Song saw to it that they spoke out and stood up straight, gaining confidence.

I could also see the difference between learning as a collective, mutual process and the competition I grew up with and bring to most tasks.

 Might we be living in an unprecedented time when young people are creating a world culture and when some extra-national spirit is at work as never before?  It was particularly poignant for me in the case of Chinese and Koreans who actually have natural historical and cultural bonds much greater than I had understood (and hope to address in a future blog). 

As for the Americans (all women except for myself), they were arm in arm with the Koreans and Chinese in the end, an easy, admirable, woman-to-woman companionship I did not realize had developed. 

I ended up giving a little talk on the last day about how I was moved by the young Asian women in particular.  I happened to see on the New York Times web site a few days before the remarkable speech at the United Nations by Malala Yousifzai, the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban, a moving call for the education of women everywhere.  It had the ring of a young Dr. King speech and was still with me that morning.
I was also aware of "Half the Sky," the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, also about empowering the world's women.  It has been chosen as the “campus read”for Boise State, a great choice. So I gave this blubbery little talk about opportunities and times much improved from when I was their age.

I’ll close with some pictures taken when our class went on a walk on the last morning, part of Song’s preachments about healthy living.  Perhaps you can pick up the spirit that prevailed at the end. 


Professor Song plays like a bird in the window of a bird blind....
Who can throw snacks into their mouth?  Briana is the champ...

Yes, guys care about nutrition, although Kim, on the left, chose as his subject how dogs are eaten in Korea....



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