By Beth Ceryak. Beth is an intern in the American Red Cross International Policy and Relations Unit. She completed her Master’s in International Economics and Political Studies last year from Charles University in Prague, where she lived from 2007 till 2012.
Returning home after being abroad for almost 6 years wasn’t completely strange. I still recognized my family, and could remember how to drive to the grocery store. I still met my friends at the same restaurants and could watch reruns of my favorite TV show, even though there were no more new episodes to come. Some things, however, had changed completely since 2007. So when a solemn little boy sternly inquired if he could ask a serious question, the answer took a moment of thought.
“Is Justin Bieber famous?”
“Yes. Oh yes.”
Recently, a group of 52 Korean Red Cross Youth members and volunteers visited the American Red Cross Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Despite the stifling heat, it was still a fantastic event for all that were involved, both for the Korean youth and American Red Cross. The youth were in the U.S. for several days, and aside from the nation’s capital, they also visited New York City and Princeton, New Jersey. They had a great time visiting: asking about pop culture in the US, questioning our knowledge of ‘Gangnam Style’ intrigued by long, curly hair, and requesting and taking many pictures (peace signs a must!). Most of all, they wanted to know if it was normal for it to be so hot! Apparently Korean temperatures don’t get that high, and if they do, there is certainly not the accompanying humidity. We, in turn, shared tips for surviving a heat wave and received Korean Red Cross 60th anniversary pins adorned with one of their national mascots, Bernard.
The event started with a disaster preparedness and response activity. Youth talked how they prepared for and responded to disasters back home. Each group was then presented with their own disaster scenario (blizzards, heat waves, or tsunamis) and had to think of ways to prepare for and respond to each one. Many great ideas came out of the activity, such as planting trees to mitigate the effects of a tsunami, or to stock up on water and batteries before a blizzard. They took a tour of the Disaster Operations Center to see how the American Red Cross follows up–to-the-minute details of disaster through the news and social media. Some even had time to make cards for youth victims of disasters in the U.S., signing the cards with inspirational messages such as “With love from Korea,” “Thinking of you,” and “We are family.”
At the end of the day, participants were overcome with gratitude for the opportunity we gave them. Promising to be back, exchanging emails and Facebook profiles, they hurried off to their air conditioned chariot. In these final moments, I had a striking thought hit. It was a thought of the need for cultural exchange, the importance of interacting with other cultures, and the realization that when a serious 11 year old comes at you sternly, you never laugh at the question.