Stepping off of the plane into the blustery wind of Korea, I couldn’t help but smile. Prior to working at Destination Imagination, I was an English teacher in a small farming community in Korea for about a year. The country and culture hold a special place in my heart: the smells, the sounds, the food and the people are all a welcomed reminder of my first time living abroad and the impact it had on my life.
It was three years ago that DI Program Director, Sheila Swanson and I flew to Seoul to train the KASI Affiliate for their first tournament. Looking back, those three years have gone by in a flash. Taking on 150 teams at their first tournament is no easy task, and yet, they did it with diligence and ease. The following year, the team numbers increased and the tournament was ran smoothly as they welcomed additional teams from China and Vietnam.
This year, I anticipated a tournament similar to the past two years, but my expectations were surpassed. I walked into a new venue, which was alive with the excitement and energy that you can only find at a DI tournament. A smile instantly came across my face as I made my way through a sea of props, students and beaming parents. Opening Ceremony started off with a bang, with a stunning Korean drum performance. (If you ever have the chance to see a true Korean drum performance take advantage – you’ll be mesmerized by the rhythm, the precise movements and the overall intensity of the music.) A live broadcast of Opening Ceremony, by the prestigious news station YTN Korea, soon followed. Then the real magic began as over 180 solutions were presented.
Walking around the competition site, I was constantly in awe of what I saw around me: elaborate props, humorous performances and most prominently, the confidence and pride that emanated from the students. Thinking back to three years prior, I was amazed at how far the Affiliate tournament had come as well as the amount of outward innovation and creativity of the teams’ solutions. Despite my dismal Hangul (Korean), I spoke with students from around the country about their experience with DI and their hopes to make it to Global Finals. The day came to an end with a talent show and the heavily anticipated awards ceremony. After seeing some of the winning solutions, I can tell you KASI will be sending some stiff competition to Global Finals this year.
To me, the unique part of DI is that no matter where you are in the world, it’s the same. In this foreign country, with children speaking a different language, eating a different diet and coming from a different culture, they participate in DI. They participate in the same program as Turkish students, or Colombian students or New Jersey students – that’s amazing. We empower kids from all over the world to incorporate their culture into a program that will give them the skills to succeed no matter where they live or what language they speak.
Throughout the tournament and my general wanderings around the city, I immersed myself back into a culture that once seemed so foreign to me. The bright neon lights, steam rising from piping hot street food tents, the giggling of teenagers, and posters of K-Pop Stars plastered everywhere – that’s what Korea is to me. I was reminded of how much I like Kimichi dumplings, the kindness of the Korean people and sense of pride the country exudes. Each time I leave, I find myself a little wistful, but grateful to be involved in a program that embraces students around the world and allows me to experience Korea in a whole new way each time I attend a DI tournament.