‘Konnecting’ Korean Students

It’s a well-known opinion held by many that live in “Little Asia,” also known as UC Irvine, that there exists a healthy mix of involvement opportunities here on campus, especially if you are culturally inclined. In particular, the Koreans in Irvine have a downright absurd amount of options available in terms of club membership. There’s the Korean Health Association, Korean Student Organization, Korean-American Student Association, Korean Scientists and Engineers Association and several ethnic Christian ministries.

The newest addition is Konnect, a cultural awareness group. So what’s a new kid on the block like Konnect to do? Apparently a lot.

Last year was Konnect’s first revival of the long since dormant Korean Culture Night, a dramatic celebration of Korean culture and a unification of the cultural community here on campus. In fact, the sole reason for the birth of the club was to get the culture night running, but it has become something much more than the yearly engine for the performance.

Every Wednesday, Elaine Won, president of the fledgling organization, presents the club’s agenda in a cheery demeanor.

“We started this club to really get the Korean and Asian community united, KCN is our way of doing that, but I also think there’s a real demand from non-Koreans and Koreans alike to find a place to just have fun and learn about our rapidly rising culture,” she said.

When you hear Korean you probably think of that plate of sweet marinated beef and kimchi or SNSD and their ridiculously gooey pop songs. Won, obviously, thinks very differently.

“It’s funny cause people always tell me how much they love Korean barbecue when they find out I’m Korean,” she said. “A lot of people know the very superficial things about Korean culture, like our food and music, but culture isn’t about products or entertainment. It’s about a distinct way certain people live, their traditions and their livelihoods. That’s what’s important to me and to Konnect.”

Is another Korean club really necessary or needed to service the community on campus? For Won, someone on the outside looking in at the Korean community might find it a little hard to realize that each club fits a smaller niche within the population.

“Konnect puts a heavy emphasis on culture and inclusiveness, where other clubs might focus more on careers or being a support network,” she said.

While having such a sprawling set of options can be a boon for prospective members, it’s also been a cause for tensions for interclub relations. While KCN as a collaborative effort has been helping to ease the strain between the clubs, it has also been a crucial part in getting those interested in Korean culture involved and in the mix of things.

The first order of business on Konnect’s first general meeting was to have their own K-Pop dance team twirl and pop in front of their members. Videos introducing their board and announcements about their plans for the school year followed. KCN-affiliated Urban Motus dance group, Korean Heritage Week and KCN were introduced as additional ways for members to get involved in a community that continues to grow and learn about themselves and one another through awareness of Korean culture.

“We had a really big amount of non-Korean people working on KCN, which really gets us pumped that other people are excited about what we’re doing,” Won said. “It’s been a great way to bolster the community and get it out to more people.”