Most of us know little more about South Korea than what we have seen on the television show, M*A*S*H, or from the K-pop star, Psy (of “Gangnam Style” fame). One Putnam County native, however, has taken it upon herself to immerse herself in the country, its people, and its customs.
Tracy Ginther, a 2002 Pandora-Gilboa graduate, became interested in the country in 2010.
“It all started with a YouTube search for boy bands,” explained Ginther, who is a graphic artist in Fort Wayne, IN. “At that time, there weren’t any (bands) like we have now, or back when I was younger. I wanted to know if there were any boy bands out there in the world.” Her search revealed numerous bands in South Korea.
“My curiosity piqued,” Ginther described. “I thought I wouldn’t understand what they were saying, but I gave one a try. To my amazement, they actually sang a few lines in English at the beginning, and the beat was good. When they stopped singing in English and spoke in Korean, that didn't bother me. What also wowed me was the video- they actually danced! It was actually a full-scale choreographed dance.”
She began to research South Korea; she watched, read, and listened about the history and culture. In addition, she began taking Korean language lessons at a local university.
Ginther has visited Korea twice, each time for 10 days; she recently returned from her second trip. The first time, she was able to stay with college friend who is stationed in the U.S. Army. The two stayed together in a hotel and split the cost. This latest trip, Ginther stayed with a new friend, a local, she met last year. “It was interesting staying at her place- it’s not what I was used to, but I enjoyed it,” she related.
Both times, Ginther has stayed in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. “I like to explore,” she commented. “There are tons of places to take a gander at or to experience!”
Some of the more memorable sites she experienced were Jogye-sa Temple and Deoksugung Palace. She visited the Buddhist temple during the Lotus Lantern Festival, which is held in honor of Buddha's birthday. “I am by no means a Buddhist, but I had to go!” she declared.
At Deoksugung Palace, she observed the changing of the guard ceremony, which offered a rare opportunity to experience Korean royal culture. Afterwards, she was able to have her photo snapped with three of the guards, which she guessed to be generals or high- ranking officials.
Sometimes, Ginther merely happened upon a unique circumstance. A Nike event was being held across from Deoksugung Palace, so she wandered in. “They let people try on Nike shoes and run for as long as they could. Every mile the ladies (and only ladies were allowed to run- I don't know why), Nike donated a pair of shoes to a poor child in Korea,” she depicted. “They also a free limbo contest, and I did that. If I'm ever posted on a Nike sign in Korea, I want some profit from it!” she joked.
Ginther has developed a taste for Korean food, although at times, it is too spicy for her liking. Her favorites are samgyupsal (pork belly) and Bulgogi (marinated beef grilled on an open fire pit with lettuces leaves and side dishes). There are also many western fast-food restaurants in Seoul, such as McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King.
Her most cherished activity, though, was sitting down and having conversations with locals. “There is nothing like it,” Ginther recounted. “I am able to communicate very well with people, not because my Korean is so good, but because they want to talk in English. Whenever I try to speak in Korean, they answer in English! They were willing to help and wanted me to have a good time in their country.”
She noted people’s respect toward each other in Korea is amazing. “They have three levels of speech. The highest level is used only for someone who is older than you or your boss and higher-level colleagues. Middle level is used only for when you aren't sure if you’re older or younger than the person and can be used for being polite. Lowest level is ONLY used with your friends,” Ginther acknowledged.
On more than one occasion, older Koreans approached Ginther and asked if she was an American. When she confirmed her nationality, they gave her a little bow and said, “Thank you for helping us during the Korean War.” They shook her hand and kept saying, ”Thank you.”
“I wanted to tear up,” Ginther chronicled. “They sure know how to respect others, along with each other. For all those (Americans) who fought during the Korean War, you are their heroes and are very much appreciated.”
Ginther is the daughter of Joe and Joyce Ginther, of rural Ottawa.
She concluded with a smile, “I would like to live in Korea. Although my parents wouldn't like it, I would.”