|Since 2005, Park Kyung-won (far-right) has worked to create a cultural bridge between Korea and U.S. introducing the marvels of Korean culture. Photo provided by Park Kyung-won.
As the U.S. manager of Korean Spirit and Culture Promotion Project (KSCPP), Park Kyung-won passionately introduces and promotes Korean culture to the world. Through her experience of meeting various people all of unique cultures, Park shared some of her wisdom on cultural exchange with Ewha Voice.
After graduating from Ewha, Park moved to the U.S. with her husband. While living abroad, she wished to create a bridge between the country she was living in and her home country. Hence, since 2005, Park has held over 1,600 events across 26 states in the U.S., with the KSCPP playing a great role in her activities.
Created in 2005, KSCPP is a non-profit organization that introduces Korean culture to foreigners. It aims to properly introduce Korean culture to those who only identify the country with the Korean War, and to boost morale and pride among Koreans. For the past 12 years, KSCPP held over a thousand events in U.S. and 9,600 in other parts of the world. Rather than to teach Korean culture through vague descriptions, KSCPP is specific in introducing historic artifacts while also creating an enjoyable atmosphere through many activities that range from video screening, cooking lessons, and imitating traditional weddings.
“When I first started introducing Korean culture, Korea was not well known,” Park said. “North Korea dominated the media and China and Japan was the focus in textbooks. It was very hard to gather people’s interest and attend the events.”
Despite such barriers, Park persevered, sending numerous emails to universities, libraries, and rotary clubs. Now, KSCPP holds events at 350 rotary clubs and 650 libraries.
One significant achievement by KSCPP is the creation of eight English booklets introducing Korea’s renowned individuals and cultural heritages. KSCPP distributed the booklets to the U.S. president, vice president, governors, senators, and congressmen.
“167 government officials replied and the former vice president, Al Gore, sent us three letters regarding the booklets,” said Park. “Also, the principal of the United States Air Force Academy sent a letter stating he would utilize books on Admiral Yi Sun-sin and King Sejong as education materials for their cadets.”
As her cultural exchange events happen outside of Korea in the midst of various cultures, some similar while some drastically different, Park naturally came to learn about parts of Korean culture that are more attractive to foreigners. A single culture contains various aspects ranging from language and education to food and clothing.
“Hangeul is one-of-a-kind in that it is very creative and displays the Korean identity very well,” Park said. “Because of this, we focus on King Sejong’s work on creating Hangeul, along with his other social policies such as providing maternity leave for servants.”
Recently, Park has also witnessed foreigners’ interest in Korean cuisine. Since Korean food is mostly defined by its spiciness, she provides more information on health benefits.
“Many Americans are fascinated when we tell them that 70 percent of Korean food is fermented,” Park said. “Due to the high rate of obesity and heart disease in the U.S. there is great interest in fermented Korean cuisine that has weight-loss and cancer-preventing characteristics.”
However, Park has also occasionally faced individuals not open to new cultures, who refuse the unique aspects of Korean culture and rather disparage them.
“Similar to how he/she who loves oneself can understand and love others better, one can properly respect and understand other’s culture when they have healthy pride and understanding of their own culture,” Park shared on the fundamentals of effective cultural exchange.
With numerous chances to interact with diverse cultures every day, whether it be through SNS or face-to-face, Park emphasizes the importance of cultural exchange.
“Learning about or living in a different culture can greatly help expand your perspective of the world,” she said. “Even though there may be unfamiliarity and discomfort from new experiences, your effort to understand and learn from them will contribute to your inner growth. This will later guide you to be a more competent and harmonious leader in society.”