Everyone seems to be well aware of the battle between Yonsei and Korea University as old as the schools themselves. Although for most foreign students it is a kind of a mystery. Both being prestigious institutions with great students on their side (Yonsei is still better, obviously), the battle is intense and never-ending, culminating each year with the September YonKo games. As an international freshman, I could never truly appreciate the clash between the two universities, described to me often as the Oxbridge fight, nor did I have the chance to watch the YonKo Games myself. I was quite interested in witnessing the competition for the first time and was happy to get a chance to meet the actual Korea University students to see how great or not they are. I was also a bit scared.
I would like to firstly give a round of applause to every student who attended the Games. Arriving at the big Jamsil stadium for the Friday Baseball game, I was taken aback by the sea of blue t-shirts, caps, temporary tattoos and even hair. How could I have thought I would be the only one sacrificing my hair color for my school? On both sides, I saw excited students from all over the world representing their university color. I would be lying if I said I was not happy seeing so many international students singing the Yonsei anthem and noticing less foreigners on the Korea side. Particularly entertaining to me was the lack of attention paid to the actual players (sorry guys) as everyone was too emerged in singing with the incredible Akaraka group. I would have never imagined anyone to have such stamina in the heat.
I should now probably explain why I was a bit scared. After finishing the sports part of the YonKo Games, students of both universities united and went celebrating together like they do every year. However, it was the first time I attended and I lack both in Korean and in social skills. I knew my fellow UIC students were more than comfortable with English, but how would the Korea University students react to my bad “anyonghaseo”? And how would their attitude be since Yonsei managed to demolish their team?
I needn’t have worried.
The evening commenced with the “Train Event” and after the subsequent barbeque we sat down with our sister department from Korea University. Despite my friends and I being obvious foreigners and not very proficient in the Korean language none of the students refrained from our table and went to their limits to try and engage us in the conversation. Speaking literally with our hands and legs, we shared our experience and laughed together at the Korea University tragedy. Throughout the entire night, I met many of our rivals and almost none had trouble speaking to us in a way we could understand. We all tried our best, had a lot of fun together, and I still consider it the best Korean learning experience so far. I would be lying if I said I did not come across few individuals, who were more reserved and left us fairly early, but the majority of the Korea University students didn’t mind our language barrier and they for sure didn’t mind us being from Yonsei.
So where was the rivalry?
It was in the occasional funny remarks, sarcastic comments aimed at no one in particular and at the continuous friendly competition in the little games. I have noticed during the train event when the slightly upsetting songs mocking Korea University students were singing no one seemed to be too distressed by it and some even joined to admit this year’s defeat. It is not like we were not called “chickens” couple times (not that it makes it in any way a good practice).
Overall, despite the occasional offensive comments, I have never experienced a more open and generous bonding event between what are supposed to be deadly rivals. Even though there were older students, the sports players themselves and even freshman who – like me – were unable to fully join the conversations in the event, I can say I will remember this night as one big and funny celebration, where no one had to feel left out. Not only have we won, but also ate a lot, got drunk and met new friends – all of that with little to no conflicts or stress and even the language or background diversity couldn’t prevent that. Indeed, we are all becoming more and more global, and this could be seen even in the “traditional” battle of Yonsei vs. Korea.
P.S. you can never imagine how good your language skills are until you start drinking.