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Korean program joins Chinese to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival

BY EMILY BUSSE | OCTOBER 02, 2009 7:20 AM

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Chinese and Korean language students crammed into a small classroom in Phillips Hall on Thursday night under red hanging paper lanterns to watch live performances of kung fu, music, and poetry readings.

The festivities celebrated the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival, an East Asian holiday that is similar to Thanksgiving, said Chinese program coordinator and Associate Professor Helen Shen.

This was the first time in six years Korean language students also joined the party.

Students filled the seats, used up all available floor space, and spilled out into the hallway to attend the festival together, something several attendees appreciated.

“It’s a good opportunity because we don’t know too much about Korean culture,” said Lilly Chen, a UI senior studying Chinese. “It’s good that we’re all good friends with each other. There are no tensions.”

Because the Korean language program has roughly 45 students, compared with 180 in Chinese, the Korean celebration in past years had been minimal and held during class, Korean instructor Ho Jung Choi said, and he looked forward to the collaboration.

“Of course I am excited, and my students are excited,” Choi said. “[Korea and China] share a lot of things … and students can see, ‘Oh, in China we celebrate the same thing, but in different ways.’ ”

Although this year’s festival required more planning because of the combination of cultures, Shen sees it is an opportunity for American students to branch out.

“It first motivates students to learn language but also motivates students to learn Chinese culture,” she said.

A presentation from students who studied abroad in Tianjin, China, added to the night’s educational benefits.

UI junior Hanna Wolle, a Chinese and economics major, attended the trip to Tianjin two summers ago and said the mixing of cultures goes beyond just Korean and Chinese.

“A couple of my good friends, one is white and one is Indian, came for a little bit, and it’s good to get awareness, not just for cultural diversity, but for Chinese and Koreans,” she said.

Choi and Shen said they want to see the festival grow even more in coming years, something for which Chen had an idea.

“It would be cool if the Japanese [program] could join us, too, to be friends with each other,” Chen said.

For now though, the meshing of the two countries is an opportunity to share their similar backgrounds.

“I think it’s really cool that the Korean department and the Chinese are coming together this year just because, [although] the Mid-Autumn Festival is a Chinese celebration, what [it] really represents is important to all East Asian cultures,” Wolle said.


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