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Focus International Voices

The Korean Coffee Hour: A Turning Point In My U.S. Life

Jae In Kim December 23, 2019

If you are a Temple student, you might have heard of the International Coffee Hour put on each month; it is a social event that brings together international and domestic students to share free coffee and learn about different cultures from around the world. In this way, the process of serving and enjoying coffee becomes a bridge between the international and domestic communities. Coffee is more than just a drink, it is a new opportunity for integrating groups, and learning from each other.

As soon as the fall semester of 2019 began, I received an email from  International Student Affairs, who were planning a Korean Coffee Hour event in November. I immediately decided to apply to the event committee to be part of organizing the various booths and props. I wanted to become the so-called “Coffee Hour barista” to promote Korean culture; however, I found one interesting fact after having a weekly meeting, and making props for language activities: beyond the concept of the event committee, I was able to learn a new way of thinking about Korean culture.

My favorite type of coffee is Café Latte, which can be divided into two parts: espresso and milk. 

Like espresso, which is the core of Café Latte, the first thing that completely changed my mindset is the Korean community. It might sound obvious to mention “people who worked with me” as a memorable part. However, before the event, I had not belonged to any Korean communities. The very first promise that I made to myself before I came to Temple was, “Don’t make Korean friends.” I knew the Korean community would make me relaxed and less lonely; however, comfort was not what I was looking for in the United States. I wanted myself to be uncomfortable and frustrated so that I could challenge myself more to make friends. Instead of staying in my comfort zone, I tried to challenge myself by applying to Freely Magazine and volunteering at the local film festivals. I found as many chances as possible to meet non-Korean people to talk about new things.

When I first joined the event committee, I was worried that I would feel too comfortable and slip into the same Korean language and culture. However, preparing for the event with other Korean committee members, I realized that I was frightened by something I wasn’t sure would actually happen. The coffee hour meeting was one of the few moments that brought joy to me during the week. I felt a sense of belonging that I had never felt before at Temple for nearly a year. I realized again that having the same culture plays a heavy role in creating a sense of belonging, and it is a core root of your identity. Being in a group doesn’t necessarily make us lazy; sometimes, it gives us the feeling of being home. I still feel awkward when I have to communicate with students from other countries for team projects, but when I met Korean committee members at the Student Center or Charles Library, I never felt awkward even when there was a long silence. Culture and atmosphere were implicitly shared between us. I hadn’t understood how much I needed to feel a part of the Korean community again.

With the Korean community as the espresso base, Korean culture became the soft and frothy milk of the Café Latte. I love Korean culture, but I never knew why. I just thought that I should like it because I am Korean. However, while studying Hangul, the Korean alphabet, and Taekwondo, a Korean martial art, I realized how traditional and scientific Korean culture is. For example, I prepared for the Korean language activities to explain the basic rules and history. By studying and making language programs to explain to non-Korean speakers, I could see the beauty of my first language. The combination of consonants and vowels are so unique that it is actually one of the easiest alphabets to learn in the world.

Feeling proud of where I came from was a significant turning point in my Temple life. I think I have been hiding a part of my identity since I came here. I never hated being Korean. I love my country and culture, but I felt like there was not enough room for Korea in the United States; there was only Asia. In the process of becoming a minority, it was hard to promote my voice and culture. Perhaps my pride in Korea has faded away because of people who think I’m Chinese and that all Asian cultures are the same. Korea has so much to offer in terms of our history and achievements, yet I feel I have to explain my country only through K-Pop and beauty products.

Through the Korean Coffee Hour, I learned  many artistic and scientific achievements have been made in Korea. Studying the language, dresses, and martial arts, and representing Korean culture at  Temple was one of the most rewarding moments of my life. Planning the event made me fall in love with Korean culture even more, and made me proud of our culture and history. 

Although the ultimate goal of the Coffee Hour event is to combine international and domestic communities, for me, it helped me to reconnect with  Koreans and Korean culture. I was so busy adapting to the U.S. and Temple University that I didn’t have enough time to look at my culture deeply. However, though the event, I found out my identity again. I think it is a fundamental for building bridges between international and domestic communities. We should acknowledge our identity and be eager to share them with other groups.