Crossing the divide from books to sports

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Crossing the divide from books to sports

I always hated sports. My passions were school and music. But my first trip to the United States made me rethink my likes and dislikes.

I was 19 years old and attending a Bible conference and summer camp at a church in Los Angeles that has ties with my church in Korea. It was a good chance for me to meet "real Americans," though in this case they were mostly Korean-Americans.

Culture shock hit me from the start. I was introduced to kids my age on my first night, but I was too shy to make friends. And I was uncomfortable with Western culture: The boys were a little too touchy-feely and the breakfasts -- cereal and peanut butter sandwiches -- seemed really weird.

I felt out of place and wanted to go home. I barely talked to anybody.

Then I was asked to play the piano for the hymns we sang before our nightly meetings. Suddenly I was the girl who could flawlessly play the songs. Some kids asked me to play other music for them, songs like "Over the Rainbow" and "Yesterday." I was able to overcome my shyness and felt much relieved.

But one big challenge remained: sports. We had to play volleyball. I didn't even know how. In the first match, I was hopeless. I couldn't even hit the ball. My team lost. I felt miserable and embarrassed. "What's going on here?" I thought. "I'm a nice girl who studies hard, but suddenly I'm a loser."

I hardly touched my dinner that night, I was so disappointed with myself. But afterward, James, our group leader, took me out to the volleyball court and taught me the basics of the game. I was a slow learner, but he didn't give up. After a week of lessons, we had another match. Thanks to the practice, I didn't make any goofy mistakes. And our team won.

After that experience, I felt confident. I realized that I was bad at sports only because I was a normal Korean high-school student who studied all day.

I wonder what it would be like to grow up in a sports-crazy country like America. It would certainly make me more confident and outgoing. I would play volleyball, and maybe soccer. I would take up ice skating.

Still, I have no regrets about studying so much throughout my teens; it made me a better person.

by Jeon Yu-mi

The writer is a graduate student at Ewha Womans University and an intern at the JoongAng Daily.
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