While the world had its eyes on South Korea for a few weeks last month to watch the best winter athletes from across the world compete, Flagstaff resident Juhee Park was back in her home country for the first time in about 17 years.
Park and her family moved from South Korea to Michigan when she was young, and she moved to Flagstaff after receiving a scholarship to Northern Arizona University’s music program. After a hand injury left her unable to complete some of the more strenuous piano practices required for a major, she ended up receiving a graduate degree in math and now teaches at Basis Flagstaff.
Park also plays as an accompanist for some local churches and the Master Chorale of Flagstaff.
She traveled back to South Korea in February to attend a wedding, not to see the Olympics, but said the airport was full of travelers eager to see the games.
“It was really interesting being there,” Park said. “Everywhere we went, the Olympics were on.”
Figure skater Yuna Kim was the country’s most recent Olympics superstar, and since she stopped competing at the Olympics the country has been looking for new breakout stars, Park said. The women’s curling team became popular this year, because many in the country had never heard of the sport, and the team had very little time to practice before the games, Park said.
The South Korean women ended up earning the silver medal, which came as a surprise to the whole country, she said.
“Curling got really famous,” Park said. “People didn’t really know about the sport before.”
One of the Korean couples in figure skating used a traditional Korean song, which Park said was a hit with local fans.
Park cheers for both the United States and Korean teams, and she had some funny moments when people in Korea saw her cheer out loud for an American team.
With much of the focus on North and South Korea competing as one team, Park said South Korean people are divided on the issue.
“Some people really loved it,” she said. “They say sometime soon the countries should unite. But on the other end, people say why should we do this when North Korea is threatening us?”
In her experience, it has seemed like the older generations who may know people who are still in North Korea seem to be the ones who favor uniting the countries, while younger people, who might only have distant relatives in North Korea, seem like they are less supportive of unification.
When she was visiting South Korea, she asked her boyfriend’s aunt what it was like living so close to North Korea while there are so many threats.
The aunt told her that the perception around the world is that the South Korean people are really calm, despite the threats, but really, people are very worried about it.
Park said she worries about her relatives, but the Korean peninsula is so small, an attack from North Korea on South Korea would hit and harm North Korea, too.
Park runs the Korean Club at Basis, where they learn about different aspects of Korean culture, like the popular K-pop music and watch Korean TV shows and movies. Members of the club learn Korean writing characters and some basics of the language.