K-pop, hanbok and the Consul General of Korea

First-ever Feel of Korea cultural festival delights nearly 1,000 in UND’s Memorial Union

Pungmul, the Korean folk-music tradition that includes drumming, dancing and singing, was among the attractions at UND’s Feel of Korea festival on Nov. 5, 2021. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

It was a surprise for Mina Quanbeck, an 11-year-old Bismarck girl who was born in Korea. She had traveled last week with her mother, Heidi Quanbeck, all the way from Bismarck to Grand Forks.

Mina had older siblings, Heidi explained, and the trip was to be just another college visit to the University of North Dakota. That’s what Mina believed, anyway.

That all changed, however, when they turned a corner inside the Memorial Union on Friday.

“I saw all the Korean flags, and I got really excited,” said Mina, a big smile across her face.

She was talking about the hundreds of miniature flags that bedecked the tables throughout the large ballroom. Then, there were the free T-shirts, the sweet Honey Butter Chips – a Korean favorite – and the cans of Chilsing Cider. There was the fun photo booth with a full rack of traditional hanbok clothing, along with fans, hats and headpieces. There were the professional drummers and dancers from Chicago, as well as multiple interactive booths, games, trivia and swag bags filled with prizes. This was going to be better than just any college visit.

Performers from the Korean Performing Arts Institute of Chicago entertained at UND’s Feel of Korea festival on Nov. 5. Photo by Hannah Casey/UND Today.

UND’s first daylong Korean festival

The Quanbecks were among nearly 1,000 people who came from near and far to take in the sights, tastes and sounds at UND’s inaugural Feel of Korea event. The daylong cultural celebration was co-hosted by UND’s Korean Culture Exchange Club and the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Chicago — along with UND’s College of Arts & Sciences and International Center.

For Mina, it was eight hours of bliss.

“I was born in Korea, and I love Korean culture,” she said.

That might be an understatement, her mother said. Mina’s room is plastered with posters of her favorite K-pop stars, and the family has taken her to Korean culture camp every summer since kindergarten.

The Martinez family from Fargo, N.D., dresses in traditional hanbok clothing for a keepsake photo. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

“When we saw this, we thought, ‘This is fantastic,’ ” Heidi said. “They have everything … the samulnori drummers, the dancers and the beautiful singers. And then all the delicious Korean food. It was just amazing. They did a really good job.”

Planning began in September

Joonghwa Lee

Those words might just be music to Joonghwa Lee’s ears. The associate professor with the UND Department of Communication and faculty advisor to the culture club had reached out to the consulate in late September about bringing a little Korean culture to North Dakota. And in just a few short weeks, the grand event went on without a hitch.

“It’s always been my dream to make this kind of event happen here and to bring these types of performances to North Dakota,” Lee said. “And now that it happened and I saw it, I’m so touched.

“Some people may say North Dakota is not diverse, and physically, maybe it’s not so diverse. But people here have a desire to expand diversity. They have inclusion on their minds. They have a desire to learn and experience new cultures. I saw it today.”

Here are just a few other things people had to say about Feel of Korea:

  • UND President Andrew Armacost: “Anytime we can bring the campus together to celebrate cultures and to celebrate other nations, it’s a remarkable thing. Today we saw a great sampling of the food, the music and the culture of our friends from the Republic of Korea. I think anyone who was here felt that strong spirit of what it means to connect in this way.”
  • North Dakota Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford: “Today I’m reminded that as much as university attendance is meant to teach us facts, figures, skills and abilities, it’s also meant to open our minds and provide us with new experiences. Events like this are a wonderful opportunity to experience art and culture from around the world and build relationships that span continents.”

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski addresses the crowd at UND’s inaugural Feel of Korea event on Nov. 5, 2021. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

  • Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski: “Thank you so much, (Consul General Young Sok) Dr. Kim, for coming over and talking today. We talked about all kinds of different relationships — business relationships, personal relationships and academic relationships. This is your first chance to visit not only Grand Forks, but also North Dakota. So, first of all, welcome. We’d love to be able to get you back here many more times.”
  • Consul General Young Sok Kim: “I want to take this opportunity to express our country’s appreciation for the noble sacrifices made by many American veterans and their families who helped South Korea during the Korean War. … I would like to thank Professor Lee and the University of North Dakota Culture Exchange Club for making this event possible despite the short preparation period. And I would like to thank everyone who’s participating in this event. I hope you enjoy Korean culture to the fullest.”

Consul General Young Sok Kim of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Chicago traveled to Grand Forks to attend UND’s Feel of Korea event. In this photo, the consul general addresses the Feel of Korea crowd. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

  • Eric Link, UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, had the audience roaring when he told stories like this one, about a car ride he took while working in China a few years back. He was sharing a ride with a family with a young girl when the popular hit “Gangnam Style” came on the radio. “Everyone was silent, and I just started belting it out,” he said. “The 5-year-old girl sitting in the back seat hit the floor. She could not believe that I knew a song that she knew. Here she was, a young Chinese girl, and me, an American man, and there we were in a car in China singing a song by PSY and bonding over this small little moment in musical history. Well, events like today give us an opportunity to celebrate and build those kinds of international relationships.”
  • Sue Bakke, East Grand Forks, lived with her family in Korea as a teenager: “I feel such nostalgia. I think anybody who has fond memories of their teen years would know how I’m feeling right now. I see certain things, and it brings back so many fond memories of when I lived there. It seems like it was a lifetime ago, but I love the drums, the dancing, the culture. I think all of that is just so fascinating.”

UND President Andrew Armacost (right) presents a small memento to Consul General Young Sok Kim (center) of the Chicago Consulate General of the Republic of Korea, while North Dakota Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford looks on at UND’s Feel of Korea cultural event on Nov. 5, 2021. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

  • Andy and Tiffany Martinez, Fargo, brought their daughter and K-pop fan, Arianna, 13. Andy, who was stationed with the U.S. Marines in Korea said: “It was like flashbacks for me. … And it’s a great educational experience for Arianna. It definitely was worth it.”
  • Mara Reyna, a UND student and native of the Philippines: “I think it’s kind of surprising that so many people came. I wasn’t really sure that it was going to be this big. I think it’s a good thing for UND that there’s more culture and diversity.”
  • Siyeon Yoo, UND graduate, and native of Korea: “This is pretty interesting. I never thought this many people were interested in Korea and Korean culture. This is a really good start to getting people to know more about other cultures.”