|A Small Unification Through Sports|
A Small Unification Through Sports
By Miri Cha, Education Team Program Officer
On Saturday October 31, NKHR’s L4 (Learn to Love, Love to Learn) soccer team gathered at the NKHR office to prepare for the Food Smiles Wooyang Unification Soccer Tournament (푸드스마일즈 우양배 통일축구대회). Founded in 2008, the L4 soccer team is composed mainly of South Korean students and North Korean students who have resettled in South Korea. The main purpose of creating the team was to achieve a “small unification” (작은 통일) through having South and North Korean students compete together as a team. The participating youth come from all kinds of backgrounds, including those who recently completed a resettlement program for newly arrived North Koreans at the government-operated center Hanawon. For the past 7 years, the L4 team has met every month to participate in various games.
The Wooyang Unification Tournament was an especially important game. A total of 10 different teams participated in the tournament, 5 teams composed only of South Korean students, and 5 teams composed of both South and North Korean students. When all the teams finally arrived, a tense atmosphere began to surround the stadium. The tournament lasted until 2pm as all the teams eagerly competed to win the competition.
The L4 members fought valiantly in every game in their attempt to ensure victory, but unfortunately they were eliminated after one win, one tie, and two losses in the preliminary rounds. Although at first they were a bit disappointed at being unable to get through the preliminary rounds, the L4 team members soon began to feel better as they had a warm cup of coffee together and some instant noodles served with tofu and rice (두부밥). Feeling determined to win at next year’s tournament, the L4 team members returned to Seoul and had dinner together.
As I was watched the players compete, I began to realize again the importance of the L4 soccer team program. Listening to the personal stories from the North Korean college students who have competed on the team for more than three years, I realized that the program has made a huge impact. The main purpose of the team is to have fun and build friendships among the teammates. One of the students explained that he was able to quickly overcome adjustment problems that many North Korean defectors face when they first come to South Korea. Through interacting with his teammates, he more easily became accustomed to South Korean culture and improved his confidence as well.
Other students explained that the advice they received and the personal experiences they heard from South Korean college students while on the team helped them after they entered college. Most important of all, however, was that as the North Korean youth made a lot of new South Korean friends, the students’ personalities began to develop and change in positive ways. Now, with more outgoing characters and better soccer skills, many students actively participate in various soccer matches within their schools as well.
According to one South Korean student who has participated in the program for over 5 years, the best part of playing for L4 has been that he naturally began to perceive North Korean defectors as fellow Koreans rather than “foreigners.” He came to realize that North Koreans are not much different from South Koreans. In addition, he believes that competing in a team sport teaches the value of working together by emphasizing the importance of teamwork.
Even though L4 did not win the Wooyang Unification Soccer Tournament this year, it was good to see the students take care of one another as they worked together for a common goal. The program provided a meaningful opportunity for both South and North Korean students to establish a deeper understanding of one another.
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