Guido Gonzalez/Staff Writer
Students of all backgrounds gathered at the Graham Center Ballrooms for the second annual Korean Culture Festival and Contest, united by their passion for the culture and history of the small but impressionable peninsula.
The festival was hosted by FIU’s Korean Culture Club and the Department of Modern Languages with help from Korean professor Sungmin Cho.
Cho has been teaching the Korean language, business, modern and traditional culture, and other special topics at FIU since August 2018.
“I found at FIU many students with a strong desire to learn Korean language and culture,” said Cho. “There were even students with plans to study, work and live in Korea. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to teach them.”
Cho worked with both students organizing the festival and those participating in competitions in the year before. Now, she encourages the students and hosts the guests and judges.
Bobbie-Gaye Ebanks, a senior and president of the KCC, also believes that the festival is a great opportunity to share one of her greatest passions with others.
“I really want people to take away how diverse and intriguing Korean culture is, whether it is through traditional or modern means,” said Ebanks.
The culture festival included food, games, music performances and competitions, each celebrating the ancient and modern customs of the historically rich nation.
“Though FIU may not have many Korean students, there’s still a community of us on campus eager to learn and have lots of fun in the most respectful way possible,” said Ebanks.
Fun was indeed the biggest priority of the festival that occurred last Saturday.
One of the first musical performances of the festival was a love ballad sung by Joshua Ho, an FIU alumni who is also the program director for the Asian American Advisory Board.
The board focuses on culture advancement, civic engagement and economic development for Asian Americans living in Miami-Dade County.
“We realize this program is special because FIU is the only school down here that offers credited Korean courses,” said Ho. “We have to make sure that this program is viable, available and shared among others so they can learn about Korean culture and history.”
Ho has attended FIU from 1994 to 2003, where he got his master’s in vocal performance. This is the second consecutive year that Ho was involved in the festivities both as a board member and as a singer.
“I’ve been singing for a long time,” Ho said. “A lot of Korean songs before K-pop came into fruition were love ballads. Songs about saying goodbye or remembering others.”
Another musical performance was done by Sook Young Kim, who performed twice during the festival by playing the gayageum, a traditional Korean 12-string instrument, similar to Chinese and Japanese string instruments.
One highlight of the festival was a competition in which students recited a five minute speech entirely in Korean before a panel of judges.
Sarah Alkhwlani, a student of professor Cho’s classes, was one of those contestants.
Alkhwlani has been practicing her speech for up to a month.
“The most difficult part isn’t memorizing or rehearsing,” Alkhwlani said. “It was overcoming my nerves and going up on stage in front of everyone.”
Alkhwlani’s method of preparation was simple but effective.
She wrote the speech with help from Cho and reread it until she knew every word by heart.
“Since mid-high school, I was interested in a lot of things without realizing that they were Korean,” said Alkhwlani. “For me, it’s a little bit of everything both modern and traditional.”
Alkhwlani would go on to deliver her speech fluently and completely by memory.
She won first place for the speech competition.
Other competitions included singing, dancing, and PowerPoint presentations focusing on almost every Korean topic imaginable.
“I remember joining the Spanish club in high school, in which I was the only Korean there,” Ho said. “But I love Spanish culture, and the same thing is happening now with Korean culture.”
While Koreans are not the largest population in FIU or South Florida, there is no doubt that the student’s love, passion and willingness to learn about the country is genuine.
“There aren’t that many Koreans here in this school, but that’s the beauty of it,” Ho said. “When I was involved during last year’s festival, I realized the passion that was in the students.”