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Vacation Camp Teaches Children About Korean Culture

  • Myoung Ju, of Bradford, teaches Olivia Allard, 10, of North Haverhill, left, and Samantha Tullar, 12, of Bradford, right, a fan dance during Korean Culture Camp at Grace United Methodist Church in Bradford, Vt., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. The students will perform the dance during an event for parents at the conclusion of the week. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Violet Riester, 6, of Hanover, has a snack during a Korean culture themed school vacation camp at the Grace United Methodist Church in Bradford, Vt., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Abby Fleming, of Bradford, reads a Korean folk tale to children attending a Korean culture themed school vacation camp ar Grace United Methodist Church in Bradford, Vt., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Children also made crafts and performed skits during the week-long camp. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Hazel Fleming, 11, of Bradford, fans Olivia Allard, 10, of North Haverhill, during a break in dance practice at Grace United Methodist Church in Bradford, Vt., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. They were learning a Korean fan dance to be performed on the last day of the camp. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/26/2018 10:00:26 PM
Modified: 2/26/2018 10:00:27 PM

There was a bright, simple melody filling the main hall of the Grace United Methodist Church last Wednesday afternoon, but it wasn’t a hymn or psalm. It was traditional Korean music that accompanied the Buchaechum, or fan dance, and it was part of a week-long Korean Culture Camp at the church.

Myoungju Lee — who was a dance professor at a university in Seoul, the South Korean capital, before moving to Bradford last year with her husband, Pastor Bumshik Min — led the group of 9- to 12-year-olds.

“Watch me,” she said, holding up her fan, which featured a bold floral print and a prominent crown of pink feathers, and fluttered it to get the class’ attention. The students were to slither their fans up and down in an S-like pattern. If they stood close together, so that the edges of their fans overlapped slightly to create a continuous line, they could time their fans’ movements to “make like waves,” she said.

It went smoothly at first, then fell apart. Lee laughed. “It’s OK. First time. Getting better,” she said. “Again. One, two, three, four.”

Church member and camp director Abby Fleming thought Lee had a lot to offer local children, and figured that winter break — which happened to overlap with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — was a good time to teach students about aspects of Korean culture that they might not see in the media. After getting an enthusiastic green light from Pastor Min and the church council, Fleming, Lee and other volunteers set to work planning activities.

It was important to Fleming that the camp was free and open to all, not just church members or those who could pay, so she garnered donations from a GoFundMe page to cover the cost of art supplies, T-shirts and Korean food.

“I think the more kids learn and understand about other people around the world, the better they are able to get along with different kinds of people, and that’s good for our world,” she said.

As the 20 to 30 children filtered in at the start of camp that day, they gravitated toward activities designed to meet this goal. There were tables littered with coloring-book pictures of a hanok, a traditional Korean house that’s broken up into several structures that share a central courtyard. Also on the table was a fan, imprinted with images of Korean women in vibrant indigenous formal-wear called hanbok, that was starting to show signs of abuse.

Beyond the tables, there was a rowdy stick-tossing game being played, called teo heo, said 15-year-old Willow Schaefer, of Bradford, who was volunteering her language skills during the week. Willow has been teaching herself Korean in honor of her late Taekwondo masters, who instilled in her a love of the martial arts form. Both of her teachers died in the past year.

“I promised myself that I would learn to speak Korean and go to Korea someday,” she said. She likes the idea of serving as a bridge between Korean and American cultures, teaching one about the other, because she thinks it can help bring the world closer together. Throughout the afternoon she chatted in a Korean-English mix with Lee, whose English is limited.

“We help each other out,” she said.

Over the course of the day, the kids, depending on their ages, would hear a legend about a magical amber stone that fills up pots with rice, and should be shared; practice a skit about two lovers the Sky King banished to opposite sides of the Milky Way, but who still meet once a year when two stars appear to merge at the top of the sky; create silk-and-paper versions of pojagi, a colorful wrapping cloth; bang on traditional barrel drums called janggu; and dance with Lee.

Among the camp-goers were Violet and Mischa Riester, ages 6½ and 9, respectively. The Hanover sisters’ father was born in South Korea — something that made them feel “like celebrities” at camp, said their mom, Krista Riester.

“Kids were like, ‘You’re Korean? Wow!’ I think they enjoyed having people be so interested in knowing more about that part of who they are,” she said.

The girls’ dad, A.J. Riester, was adopted from South Korea as an infant, and grew up as one of the only people of color in his “middle-of-nowhere” Iowa town. His parents didn’t make a big deal out of his roots, but now that he has children of his own, lessons about their heritage are something “we try to incorporate when we can,” Krista said. It’s not always easy, she added: In areas with more diverse populations, South Korea is not considered especially obscure, but its culture is far less visible in more “remote” pockets of the United States, such as the Upper Valley.

“I think with the Korean people, as a whole, not a lot is known about them culturally. People go ‘oh, is this Japanese?’ or ‘oh, is this Chinese?’ I guess because those are the two (East Asian) ethnicities they’re most familiar with,” she said. “But Korea has taken elements from other cultures to make its own distinct one that’s really great.”

So when the Riesters heard about the Korean Culture Camp, they were excited.

“There’s obviously a need out there to understand more about different cultures, and to step out of your comfort zone with the cultures you know about,” A.J. Riester said.

While making her pojagi, Violet said that aside from craft time, her favorite part of camp was learning the words for “hello,” “thank you” and “goodbye,” courtesy of Willow’s word-of-the-day activity.

Several camp-goers were excited to share what they’d learned about the symbology of the South Korean flag. The four black “trigrams” surrounding the central um-yang represent the four elements and their corresponding celestial bodies: geon (air/heaven), ri (fire/sun), gam (water/moon) and gon (earth), explained Seamus Fleming, 9, who is Abigail Fleming’s son.

Boston French, 10, spoke for a number of participants when he said he was big on the snack table, especially the Korean barbecue-flavored items and the “Oh Yes!” bars, a small chocolate-covered cake with sweet potato filling, the wrapper says.

And by mid-afternoon on Wednesday, 9-year-old Ainsley Smith had found something she said she wanted to learn more about when she got home: Korean dancing.

“I just really like the way they do it,” she said. “I like the way they move.”

The week capped off on Friday evening with a Korean Culture Night, at which students performed dance routines and the skit about the star-crossed lovers, showcased their artwork and dined on authentic Korean cuisine.

And as the Winter Olympics drew to a close, Upper Valley students said goodbye to a week of Korean culture, and an-nyeong ha se yo — “hello” — to their own familiar corners of the Western world.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

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