An introduction to a new culture, through the global language of sportsWhen the much-traveled global citizen is considering a new assignment, the usual set of questions affecting his or her life - and those of any dependents - focus on some very important issues. What about accommodations? What about schooling? How about transportation? Medical care? Is the shopping good?
Further up Maslow’s pyramid may be questions that relate to social life and the local culture. Although economic necessity is a good reason to take a job overseas, so too is the opportunity for new experiences. Additionally, such experiences can also make for a more pleasant transition if new arrivals can recreate important parts of their life in a new home.
Such was part of our decision when coming to Seoul last summer. Of the five members of our family, it was my 11-year-old son who probably had the most trepidation. My son lived overseas once before, but the three years spent in Canada had been enjoyable because of the opportunity to be a fan and participant in local team sports.
Professional sports is big business around the world. For a young boy, team sports are the source not only of dreams and aspirations, but also an outlet for energy. I didn’t take the situation lightly.
Having served in Korea in the 1990s, I could assure him of one thing. Koreans love their sports - point blank. He was vaguely aware of Korea’s 2002 World Cup exploits, and had been one of many in North America amazed by the high quality of baseball played by Korea and Japan in the championship game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic. As I filled in the dots, he began to look forward to his time here.
North American sports is dominated by the “big four” - baseball, basketball, football and ice hockey. An assignment in most cities in North America will bring ample opportunity to enjoy these sports, as a spectator or as a participant. Outside of North America such opportunities quickly decrease.
Soccer, of course, is a worldwide game and good leagues exist in most overseas postings. Basketball attracts nearly the same support. Football, unfortunately, is limited outside of North America with a few pockets in Europe, Japan and Mexico. Baseball is a little better, with professional leagues throughout Latin America and Asia. Hockey is really only well-established in North America and Europe.
What could I tell him about Seoul? As can be expected, Korea has a lot to offer. It has a quality professional baseball league, with three teams based in Seoul. The K-League is rated as one of the better outfits in the world, and is blessed with some great facilities due to the 2002 World Cup hosted by South Korea. Korea’s basketball league is entertaining and continuously improving. Finally, Korea boasts two teams in Asia’s new but improving hockey league.
The Korean hockey league was of the most interest to my Canadian son. Seoul doesn’t actually have a team - probably because the facilities for winter sports in the capital leave much to be desired, something that I feel will need to be rectified if Korea is to be successful in bidding for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Seoul doesn’t have a hockey team, but the cities of Anyang and Goyang do have hockey teams.
In other words, there are only a few cities in the world, outside North America, where a spectator has such open access to so many team sports. While there is baseball in Tokyo and Mexico, there is no hockey. While there is hockey in Moscow and Geneva, there is no baseball. (Basketball and soccer, as mentioned, are pretty much everywhere).
This helped with my son’s transition, and we have spent many enjoyable afternoons and evenings watching Korean and foreign athletes compete on the pitch, diamond, court and ice rink. Unlike the cost of a game in North America (I remember paying $100 per ticket to see the Giants play in San Francisco), going to a game in Korea is a very affordable affair. The experience is different from North America but in a positive way - much more in the form of fan interaction and the presence of a festive environment.
It has helped my son, and that has in turn helped me. I am glad that he has also been able to continue his interest in basketball and soccer. Over the coming months we will try to get him involved in one of the many ice hockey leagues in Seoul.
Yes, Koreans love their sports, and this has helped Seoul to be a better place to live, at least for one Canadian family.
Michael Danagher is from Canada and is a foreign professional working in Seoul.
Both writers are the members of the Seoul Global Center Business Advisory Committee. The advisory committee, which is comprised of 14 foreign professionals, including businessmen, embassy staff and university professors, was launched in March this year to advise on ways to enhance the Seoul Global Center’s business service and the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s initiatives for foreign investment.