Korean sports culture is an entirely different beast from what we experience in America and it all starts with the cheering. Cheering is truly a part of Korean culture, you see it at every age from childhood to adulthood. When watching a little league baseball game near my apartment you could see and hear all the young kids on the bench participating in coordinated cheers as they play, screaming at the top of their lungs and encouraging their teammates. When we went to KBO baseball game, the Korean equivalent of the MLB, adults are cheering as the teams professional cheer squad is coordinating the cheers from the top of a stage purpose-built in the middle of the stands. The most extreme form of this cheer squad can be found of course in university students, and this can be seen at the KOYON games.
Annually Korea University plays their rivals Yonsei in a series of sports games so big they fill professional sports arenas, and these games get rowdy. Students have a special orientation weeks before the games to learn every cheer, of which upwards of 20 unique cheers exist, all to different music and all of them very intricate. These consist of throwing your entire body around, knocking into the people next to you, doing dances, head bobbing so hard you swear you might break your neck/back, and singing along.
The Games consist of 5 sports: baseball, basketball, soccer, rugby, and ice hockey. Korea has consistently won the weekend for the past 5 years and you would expect them to follow suit this year as well, unfortunately that was not the case. We lost every single match. I personally had planned on trying out for the baseball team but the team had no left-handed gloves, I like to think I could have changed the outcome of the game! The soccer game was another heart-breaker, we were down a majority of the game, then we tied it in the 87th minute, but Yonsei scored again in extra time and we lost.
All was not lost though, despite KU going 0-5 over the course of the weekend, everyone was in high spirits. Return to Anam, the neighborhood campus is located in, people lined the streets, music was blaring, alcohol was flowing and being offered for free as everyone celebrated a fun weekend. Cheering continued in the streets well into the night, everyone was arm in arm singing and dancing; it easily ranks as one of my favorite weekends in recent memory.
I can honestly say I think sports in Korea are generally more fun than in America, the level of competition may be higher at home but the people here are much more into what they are watching than back at home. I made some more great friends this week and I’ve been enjoying meeting so many new people here as my exchange continues.