Gateway Korea Foundation

The Gateway Korea Foundation provides opportunities for the Heartland Community to learn about and experience Korean culture. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, the Gateway Korea Foundation will draw from communities across the American Midwest to nurture a greater understanding and appreciation for Korean culture.

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Kent's Korean Wanderings: Part IV

Part IV – K-pop to the Gateway Korea Foundation

Welcome to Part IV of my column.  For those of you who are new to this you can see the prior three parts below.

Last week we left off with the beginning of my deep dive into Korean culture via the gateway drug known as K-pop.  

This part of my column is a bit more personal as I discuss a bit where I was as a person back in 2012 when I first came across K-pop.

At the time I stumbled across K-pop I was going through a rather gloomy period in my life where I had been suffering from rather bad depression for over a decade.  I often feel that my discovery of K-pop (Along with a few other things that occurred over those next couple of years) helped my recovery more than doctors’ treatments did.  My stumbling across K-pop acted as a catalyst to several good things though.

From my reading and observations watching a lot of Korean television, I see that Korea has a very stressful academic environment for teens and young adults, and that the work environment is very stressful as well with its work week that is the longest among OECD nations and a lot of economic uncertainty for many workers even with good educations and ostensibly good positions.  I have watched many shows on Korean college campuses where even students at a prestigious university like Seoul National are clearly feeling considerable anxiety and sadness over their prospects for the future.  I feel that a lot of Korean entertainment is really geared at trying to relieve people’s stress and in a sense to bring “friends” into their home to laugh and eat with and help them forget about their worries for a few hours.  In comparison I feel a lot of American TV does the opposite and just makes people more fearful and stressed about the society around them.  Of course, this could be a false impression created by my somewhat limited exposure to Korea.

There is a story I remember hearing one time from a singer who was a regular on a TV variety show that was hosted by Kang Ho Dong and was notorious for very long 12+ hour filming days as it was pre-recorded and basically kept going until the producer thought they had two really solid and entertaining hours to show after editing.  The singer related that a common saying of Kang Ho Dong’s while filming the show to try to pick up morale of the guests and regulars was “It may be 2AM for us, but it’s 8PM for our audience.”  I always thought that was an enlightened comment by an entertainer who understood that their hard, but often financially and professionally rewarding lifestyle is made possible by the goodwill of their audience, and if they start to lose that perspective and fail to provide that positive, happy energy the audience will move on.

Late last Fall, I decided that after years of watching Korean TV shows and music videos and listening to countless hours of Korean music that maybe it was about time that I tried to learn Korean.  I reached out to the Korean Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood as I live near there and had seen signs about language classes for children and thought that maybe they also had adult classes.

Not long after I started taking Korean classes it dawned on me that it might be fun to combine my passion for Korean culture with volunteering if there was a Korean cultural organization around St. Louis.  The prior summer, I had visited a Korean festival in Chicago with a friend that lived there and that had planted a seed in my head that maybe there was an organization in St. Louis that put on a similar festival.  A little searching resulted in finding Gateway Korea’s website.

I reached out to the GKF, joined up as a volunteer, and have enjoyed it thoroughly.  It has been nice to meet people that share something I am so passionate about.

So now that I have given you an introduction to how I came to be so interested in Korean culture, I will now discuss my plans for this column.

I plan to write about music, movies, shows, and other topics relating to Korean entertainment and culture.  Perhaps that will take the form of a travel log of an upcoming trip to Seoul this fall and a planned trip through the provinces in 2020.  It might be a discussion of a Korean TV show I have come across.  It may be about the music of a group or soloist I really enjoy.  It could be something in Korean and American joint history that interests me.  It might be something about the many kinds of Youtube and Vlive content out there that helps a fan who doesn’t live in Korea appreciate the music or shows. 

I will be looking forward to feedback and discussion with anyone who reads my columns including this one.  So feel free to leave a comment below.

Until next time.

Kent's Korean Wanderings: The Blog Begins & Part I

How a Middle-Aged Midwesterner Found His Passion

Welcome to what I plan will be a minimum quarterly if not monthly column to appear on the Gateway Korea website that I hope you will enjoy.

So, what will I write about?  I will talk about that later as I think I should first introduce myself and then the focus of my column will make more sense.  For now, I will just say that this will not be a serious news analysis or Korean culture commentary.  While I may occasionally touch on a serious topic, that will not be the focus.

As I wrote this first column, I realized it was too long, and telling a story seven years in the making wasn’t something I could easily condense into a single page.  So, this first column where I introduce myself and explain how I came to be so interested in Korea will come out in several parts with an update each week until it is finished.

Part I – Who is Kent Vesser?

Some who are reading this will have met or seen me at DanO 2019.  For those who didn’t attend DanO this year and even some that did, but perhaps didn’t have a chance to speak with me, I should probably introduce myself.

My name is Kent Vesser.  Except for seven years spent living in Montana while away in college and working some, I am a lifelong resident of St. Louis.  I joined the Gateway Korea Foundation in Spring of 2019 just a few months before DanO.  I serve on the PR Committee and help elsewhere as needed with events.  I work as a lead data center engineer for Enterprise Holdings where I have been employed for almost twenty-six years.

As you may have surmised from my headshot over on the Gateway Korea Foundation’s Facebook page, I am not of Korean descent.  Nor do I have a partner or close friend, prior to joining Gateway Korea, who is of Korean descent.  Perhaps surprisingly, I have never visited Korea, but that will be changing in about a month when I take my first trip there. 

So, you may be wondering how I ended up joining Gateway Korea and wanting to write this column?

Well settle in with your favorite drink and maybe a snack and I will tell you a story about my Korean journey, why I became so passionate about Korean culture, and my plans for this column.

So where to start?

I have always been interested in East Asia, even when I was quite little.  It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what spurred my interest.  I suspect it is a combination of many things I was exposed to as a child ranging from some Korean friends of the family, to a Taiwanese classmate in elementary school, to anime and kaiju films at an early age, and to simply always being interested in history and geography.  As a result, I simply found that I always enjoyed learning more about East Asian cultures and history.

I would say my journey to volunteering at Gateway Korea began in earnest about seven years ago. 

As I mentioned I have been a lifelong anime fan ever since I saw Speed Racer on TV as a small child back in the early 70’s.  Back in the late 2000’s I stumbled across several professional cosplayers on the Internet that did really elaborate theatrical quality costumes of their favorite anime, video game, or comic book characters.

In 2011, I had by dumb luck befriended a couple that lived in Atlanta over the Internet and become good friends with them.  He was from Alabama and his wife was from Taiwan.  They had met as post-graduate students in college and now lived in Atlanta.  After about a year of knowing them, I thought it would be nice to meet them in person, so I started looking for an excuse to go visit Atlanta where they wouldn’t feel pressured that the only reason I came down was to meet them.

That excuse came in 2012, when I discovered that one of the major anime/comic/gaming festivals called Dragon Con is held annually in Atlanta.  Not only were a bunch of those cosplayers, whose work I admired, going to be there debuting new costumes, but it would also give me a chance to meet my friends.

So I booked a hotel room near the convention, invited my friends to join me for dinner one night, and prepared to make my trip.

To be continued next week…Part II