Chronicles of a student’s life in S. Korea
Editor’s note: Paris Norris is a former soldier turned student who is studying in Korea. She will chronicle her time on the peninsula in Stripes Korea and on Korea.Stripes.com.
I can’t believe I’ve already been in Seoul for one month. Where has the time gone? What with all of the traveling, concerts, and “taste field trips” I’ve been going on, time seems to be passing me by.
As fall sets upon Seoul, and in the midst of upcoming midterms, there is a sense of anticipation in the air on the Yonsei University campus. Endless queues for tickets and t-shirt sales abound as everyone prepares for the annual Yonko-jeon. Yonko-jeon, also known as the YONko Games, is an inter-university sports and cheering competition between Yonsei and Korea University.
It instantly reminded me of the first time I participated in spirit week when I was stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base. I remember the excitement I felt preparing to go up against the Air Force and Navy in the track and field events, which were my area of expertise. Participating in the YONko games, I felt the same excitement, even though this time, I was merely a spectator.
Yonsei, Korea University and SKY-Seoul National University are the three top universities in the country, with Yonsei and Korea U being the strongest rivals. The winner of YONko Jeon or KOyon Jeon, depending on which university you belong to, earns the honor and bragging rights for the remainder of the academic year. The games consist of a series of athletic events held by each university, including baseball, basketball, hockey, rugby, and soccer. However, the real sport has nothing to do with the athletes on the fields. The real sport is, in fact, the cheering.
Go, fight, cheer?
When I first arrived at Yonsei, I was required to attend orientation, per usual university standard for all incoming students. The orientation at Yonsei was more or less the same as my home university, with the exception of a list of specialized events offered for international students studying in Korea, and of course, an introduction to all that is YONko Jeon.
The introduction to YONko Jeon consisted of a history of the games and a “cheering” orientation, which lasted for three hours. Three hours of nonstop, continuous cheering practice. But unlike cheering in the States, cheering in Korea is a culmination of chanting, singing, and most importantly, dancing. And if you missed the cheering practice at orientation, Yonsei also holds a joint cheering festival with Korea University the night before the games.
Thousands of students, both from Yonsei and Korea U, gather in Yonsei’s outdoor amphitheater and learn the same songs and dances, substituting their university’s name and shouting their support from top of their lungs. What’s even more impressive than the number of students singing and dancing, are the cheerleaders.
The cheerleaders at Yonsei are of superstar status on campus. They wear elaborate costumes and some of them even sing. The weekend of YONko Jeon, the cheerleaders shine and perform countless numbers of song and dance routines, nonstop, for the entirety of the games. That’s over 8 hours of constant singing and dancing, but there’s no complaining to be heard from anyone participating in the games. What I found to be even more intriguing than the cheering, is the display of “friendly rivalry” between Yonsei and Korea U.
The games are over and the after-party shenanigans have ensued. There’s free beer, waffles, and Yonsei and Korea students singing and dancing in the streets of Anam, where Korea U is located. Korea U triumphed as the victor for the 2014 YONko games with an impressive 5-0 win. Yes, Korea won every event; though, looking into the streets of Anam, there was not even a hint of rivalry between the students.
When the term rivalry is used to describe the relationship between two top ranked universities, the last thing that would come to mind is a gathering of students from said opposed schools sharing a beer and singing together, especially not in the States. But at YONko games, that’s exactly what happens. There’s endless drinking, dancing, and cheering from all students, Yonsei and Korea alike. It’s a pleasant atmosphere, as all of the Korean students display what is most important to them: the love and pride that they share for their country.
The YONko games were a great introduction to Korean student life, and I look forward to participating in many more exciting events during my stay at Yonsei.