Black Jack gets a Head Start on Korea

by Staff Sgt. John Healy
U.S. Army

FORT HOOD, Texas - Professors from Pyeongtaek University, South Korea, arrived at Fort Hood last week to teach the first ever Head Start class on U.S. soil, here on April 11-14, in order to prepare the Soldiers of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, for their upcoming deployment to Korea.

The class is designed to prepare Soldiers by introducing them to Korean history, culture, politics, and basic language, said Eunsook Lee Zeilfelder, a professor in Human and Cultural Relations at Pyeongtaek University.

"While American military personnel are stationed in Korea, we want to give them a better understanding of our culture so that they can enjoy the country," said Zeilfelder. "We want them to understand and enjoy Korea."

"Most military members, I was told, just stay on base," said Zeilfelder. "My personal mission is to get American military members to experience and explore Korea more."

Many of the Soldiers of the 2nd ABCT are looking forward to the experience.

"I think it's going to be a good culture, I think it's going to be fun," said Pfc. Anthony Sprague, an infantryman in the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd ABCT.

While the Head Start program offers many individual benefits to Soldiers, the Army's incentive to continue the course is clear. Since the program began at Camp Humphreys, Korea, 10 years ago, the amount of crimes involving Americans in Korea has decreased, said Zeilfelder.

This is due in part to the cultural awareness taught during the course, said Zeilfelder.

Soldiers learn the basic customs involving showing courtesy in Korean culture in order to avoid misunderstandings between Americans and Koreans.

"The differences in the way they interact with each other, I think that will help more than language," said Spc. Timothy Long, an infantryman in 1-8 Cavalry, 2nd ABCT.

"It will help us interact with the people over there so that we can be respectful to them," added Sprague.

Reaching out to Soldiers in this way is more than enough of a reward for Zeilfelder.

"I'm so proud to be doing these programs," said Zeilfelder. "In nine years of teaching this class, we've taught nearly 7,000 people so far."

Zeilfelder's partner in the course is Nam Gyun Kim, a Professor of American Studies at Pyeongtaek University. Kim earned his doctorate in American History at the University of North Texas in 1995 and has since returned to follow other academic pursuits such as studying modern American civilization at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Kim developed an interest in American history and culture almost by happenstance. At an early age Kim went to a used bookstore looking for something written in English to aid him in learning the language. He left with a historical book, "The United States Since 1865."

"The main purpose of that book was to learn English," said Kim. "I found very different stories from what I expected."

Kim was particularly interested in the American Civil War.

"Usually when a civil war is finished there should be a lot of rejection for the losing side," said Kim. "That is what most countries experience."

"But in the United States, that kind of rejection didn't happen," said Kim. "That can be a good lesson for the people when we unify Korea."

Still, while America found its own way forward in the wake of the Civil War, so must Korea in the years to come.

"I think the most important thing is to acknowledge that Korea is a different country from the United States, and Korea has its own history and culture and value systems," said Kim.

"That's why I'm involved in this program," said Kim. "I can connect as a Korean, and as an American historian, I understand American history well."

Kim believes that the most important lessons to impart on the Soldiers in preparation for their stay are the distinct differences between the two cultures.

"We like to give a Korean perspective," said Kim. "Then probably they can understand better the Korean peoples mind and history and culture and attitude."

The three topics, Korean history, culture and attitude are inseparable, said Zeilfelder. Korea's history and culture date back more than 1,000 years. The customs and traditions established at the birth of the nation are still present today.

"Korea only has the one culture, and there has to be one way to do it," said Zeilfelder. "You have to be the same as the other Korean people, only one."

"When people come from that kind of cultural background, it's so challenging to accept different cultures," said Zeilfelder.

Zeilfelder herself is a Korean-American, having married a retired American Army chaplain. She sees the distinctions between Korean and American culture reflected in her students at Pyeongtaek University every day.

"They think that Korean culture is more stiff, more formal, and the younger generation hates that," said Zeilfelder.

"Western culture is more informal," said Zeilfelder. "My students always say that Americans have all kind of freedom, or that's what they think."

Zeilfelder makes sure to teach her students the distinction that while Americans may not have only one culturally acceptable way to act, they are still responsible for their actions.

"I have to teach my students that if you want to enjoy freedom, behind that there are huge responsibilities," said Zeilfelder. "You think American people have all kinds of freedom, but they still have a lot of responsibilities too."

Zeilfelder hopes that after completing the class, American Soldiers will be more inclined to interact with Koreans, and encourages cultural exchange.

"We are so happy to be part of this mission, and we're so happy to be here to share with Soldiers so that when they get to Korea we can share our culture," said Zeilfelder. "The more new experience you have the better you will be."

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