As we enter the twentieth year since the founding of KAYAC, I would like to assess our program’s accomplishments. KAYAC has provided second generation Korean-Americans the opportunity to visit Korea so that they can gain a deeper understanding of their native country and thereby contribute to the education of the Korean diaspora in America. For the past twenty years, we have steadfastly committed ourselves to the mission of identifying and fostering future leaders who can play significant roles in mainstream American society.
The majority of Korean-American youth born in the United States only know of Korea through their parents. The history textbooks used in American schools seldom if ever include detailed coverage of Korea and its history. In such an environment, Korean-American youth find themselves grappling with superficial or misguided views on Korea and Korean affairs in the media. Without their own direct experience of Korea’s society and economy as well as cultural sites and museums, our youth are often unable to confidently express their positions or views on the events taking place in Korea. As the population of Korean-Americans grows, it becomes even more imperative for this community and our organization to provide a platform to educate our youth to increase their understanding, strengthen their identity and gain a sense of pride in their roots.
For two thousand years, the Jewish diaspora lived without a territory they could call their own. However, from the very founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Jewish communities throughout the world committed themselves to a rigorous teaching of their customs, traditions and language, and to enabling the return of overseas Jews to Israel to serve and strengthen their country. Likewise, KAYAC seeks to prepare our youth and alumni to play leadership roles in the United States as well as on behalf of Korea.
To date, we have sent over one thousand Korean-American youth on the Motherland excursions so they can experience the energy and essence of their motherland. Through visits to Korea’s museums, commercial centers, and historical sites, students gain an appreciation for Korea’s distinct culture and vibrancy as a 21st century technological leader. Furthermore, they can feel the pain and tension of the divided peninsula when they stand at the DMZ and experience the training of South Korean soldiers. Personally, I am fulfilled when I see the smiles and excitement of our youth after they return and share their experiences with the Forum event audience—revealing their new pride and enthusiasm for continued understanding of and identity in their Korean heritage.
Though we have sent sixty students annually to the Motherland excursion, we plan to expand the number of students in following years. We have successfully planned and executed each excursion trip for nineteen years, but today, our mission is to increase the trip participation so even more students can share in this experience, bond with one another and build a strong mutual-support network. In order to achieve this goal, we need for our alumni and parents to each play a role in future Motherland Excursion trips and by giving back through donations and volunteering in the range of philanthropical organizations within the Korean-America community. We also welcome active participation as we expand our programs and events so as to further enrich our community of alumni, parents, and future students.
The Korean-American Youth of today are its future leaders. I encourage every member of the Korean-American community to lend their energy and enthusiasm to the work of sowing the seeds for this next generation of community and global leaders.