A Visit to Gwangju – History, Culture and Sports

A couple weeks ago, I visited the lovely city of Gwangju for the first time.  Gwangju is a city famous in Korea and throughout the world for its passion for democracy and human rights.  I began my trip to Gwangju with a visit to the May 18th Memorial Cemetery to pay my respects to those who died in defense of these noble ideals. While visiting the Cemetery, I was moved to hear the personal stories of some of the men and women who died fighting for democracy in 1980.  Through the efforts of these brave souls and many others, the Republic of Korea has transformed itself into one of the world’s leading democracies.  Gwangju was at the center of that.  Sejun was with us for the visit and, while he won’t remember the visit itself, we plan on telling him one day about its significance.

 At the May 18th Memorial Cemetery

Another stop on my trip was to Gwangju Speer Girls’ High School.  You could say this school is one of the earliest examples of U.S.-Korea educational cooperation.  It was founded in 1908 by American missionary Reverend Eugene Bell.  It is great to see the school thriving today, and I was quite impressed by the students.  They asked me great questions using their strong English skills.  I predict that many of these students will go on to be future leaders in business, politics, and culture.  I also discovered that the school was the site of the first-ever women’s basketball team in Korea.

Took a selfie with the principal and students!

At our American Corner in Gwangju, I met with a group of local youth and asked them for their feedback on our programs there.  We had a very good exchange, and it was impressive to see what our program alumni are doing.  The Gwangju American Corner is one of three American Corners in Korea where we conduct regular programming to reach out to audiences outside the capital.  If you live in Gwangju, Busan, or Daegu, please “like” the Facebook page of the American Corner and attend one of our next programs!

Visit here!

The city of Gwangju has done a fantastic job of preparing to welcome the world’s best collegiate athletes to Korea.  Being a big fan of sports, I was also honored to attend the Universiade, or “University Games,” Opening Ceremonies.  With over 43,000 attendees, you can imagine how exciting the atmosphere was!  President Park was in attendance, and we all very much enjoyed the carefully prepared choreography of the event.

Fantastic performance at the Opening Ceremony

The Games are a huge deal!  Over 12,000 athletes and officials from approximately 150 countries are participating.  I was thrilled to be able to show my support for Team USA!   A large delegation represented America including the University of Kansas Men’s basketball team and the Stanford women’s water polo team.  As you may know, the University of Kansas basketball team, the Jayhawks, is one of the most storied teams in the NCAA.  The University of Kansas has a special place in the history of basketball as the inventor of the sport of basketball, James Naismith, was actually the school’s first head coach.  I had the opportunity to meet their amazing coach, Bill Self.  Also KU means a lot to my family as my late grandfather is a KU alum and my mother was born in Norton, Kansas.

Cheers to Team USA!

One thing all the athletes mentioned was what a fantastic time they were having in Korea.  The University of Kansas team held some basketball clinics with local Korean youth.  The Stanford women’s water polo team were required to do some research and make a presentation on Korean culture and history before their trip.  They are truly building connections between our two countries.

I very much enjoyed catching up on the latest news about the Stanford campus when I had lunch with the Stanford women’s water polo team at the Athlete’s Village. Watch a video of this event https://goo.gl/0iVzTv Water polo is a very difficult, demanding sport, and I admire them for their athleticism.

Gwangju has always been a city rich in culture and history.  I was proud to hear from people in Gwangju that they are taking the lead on issues including integration and acceptance of multicultural families, which will benefit all members of the Gwangju community.  Gwangju continues to play an important role in shaping culture in Korea for the past, present, and future.  I look forward to visiting again soon.

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