A cultural journey

12 Korean students getting chance to experience life in Craig

Twelve Korean Tae Kwon Do students arrived in Craig on Thursday, and the only noticeable culture shock Craig resident and host Rin Choi has noticed is food related.

"After they have pancakes for breakfast and pizza for lunch, they're begging for spicy food," Choi said. The kids are between 8 and 16, and even the youngest is asking for familiar spices, he said.

Choi is the owner of the Traveler Inn in Craig. The students study the traditional Korean martial art with Choi's father, Jung H. Choi, at Tae Yang Tae Kwon Do Academy in Seoul. The elder Choi has an eighth-degree black belt and is an international referee.

Jung Choi is a seasoned traveler -- he has taken his students to Europe six times and twice to the United States. He also refereed the first Olympic Tae Kwon Do matches in Sydney, Australia, in the summer of 2000, he said. Kyong S. Kim, who has a sixth-degree black belt, also is here with the students.

Jung Choi's main goal for this three-week trip is for the children to learn more about American culture and lifestyles, he said through his son. The students will attend language classes in the morning Monday through Thursday for the first two weeks.

Then the group will travel to Las Vegas and Denver during the last week, Rin Choi said. The students are staying at the Traveler Inn, but many soon will join host families in the community, Rin Choi said.

Monday morning the youths, decked out in their lime green Tae Kwon Do demonstration team shirts, amused themselves on the playground. Deb Bergmann and Shannon Samuelson, the two teachers leading the language lessons, called them in to their first day of classes just as the weather turned. Samuelson made use of the moment by teaching the first vocabulary word of the day: "rain."

Bergmann said they did not know how advanced the children's English skills were, but by noon, they realized all the children knew the alphabet and most could read well. Tomorrow, they'll be able to challenge the students with more advanced activities, she said.

"Helen" Kim (she preferred to use her English name) is the oldest of the students and said she studies Japanese, English and written Chinese as well as her native Korean in school. She hopes to use her English skills as a translator when she gets older, she said.

The group will spend the morning at the Boys and Girls club Aug. 3 and then perform a demonstration of Tae Kwon Do at noon that day.

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