Children play, bridge cultural barriers
CAMP CASEY, South Korea -- Living in South Korea affords the children of the U.S. Army community here some unique opportunities, and on a recent Monday it gave them some time with English-speaking children from the host nation.
Nearly 30 Korean children in grades three to six from Dongam Elementary School in Uijeongbu joined their American counterparts at the School Age Center here Aug. 20.
The event was set up as a kind of fun cultural exchange between American and Korean youngsters.
It also served to fill the void left by the Aug. 18 finish of this summer's Area I Camp Adventure, part of the University of Northern Iowa's Camp Adventure Youth Services, which draws counselors from a wide variety of colleges.
The meet-up of the Korean and American kids at Casey was coordinated by Dong Mi Ragan, an instructional program specialist for the U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud's Child, Youth and School Services at Camp Casey. She worked with the City of Uijeongbu's External International and Cooperation Section to bring the children of both nations together.
"It is for our kids to laugh and have time together and learn cultural activities," she said.
Activities for the afternoon began with a game of "Indian Chief."
In this game, one child is asked to leave the room while another from the group is designated the "chief."
Upon return, the child must observe the group seated in a circle on the floor going through a series of hand gestures to determine which person is the "chief" leading the activity.
But this was just an ice-breaker to help the children from both nations get comfortable with one another.
Within a few minutes, the Korean kids, who'd been pretty shy at first, were eagerly involved and laughing along heartily with their new American friends.
The children were then broken into mixed groups to enable them to mingle, and assigned to one of several stations from which they rotated every 15 minutes or so.
Each child got a chance to participate in a dress-up and dramatic play activity, foosball -- a popular tabletop and sports game loosely associated with soccer -- games and puzzles, various kinds of building blocks like Lincoln Logs and a Tinkertoy construction set, as well as arts-and-crafts.
Snack time -- which they were all eager to experience -- allowed the Americans to share their milk, soft pretzels and cheese sticks with their Korean friends, who in turn shared chocolate-covered biscuits.
The significance of the opportunity for the children of both nations to spend time together wasn't lost on the teachers.
"They get to learn English from native speakers," said Howon Elementary School English teacher Son Mi-kyong -- one of three teachers who accompanied the Korean students, and who chose "Cinddy" as her Western nickname.
"It's the first time they got to experience the American lifestyle so it's a very important thing," she said. "They usually experience it through movies or books, but here they can experience it in person. They were very excited to come here."
While it was a first for the children, Ragan said she hopes to coordinate similar events in the future because they foster social skills, cross-cultural understanding and language development for the children.