Tag Archives: Cultural Awareness Fellowship

Korean Culture Night for Rotarians & Guests

submitted by Sharyn Alden; photos by Donna Beestman

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On March 22nd, Rotarians convened at the beautifully appointed Gathering Room at Nolen Shore Condos for “Korean Night,” a Cultural Awareness Fellowship event. Cocktails were served, complements of our hosts, Soyeon Shim, Dean of UW School of Human Ecology, and Christopher Choi, UW Professor, Biological Systems Engineering.

We were treated to a bountiful buffet of Korean dishes catered by Sol’s on the Square. The challenge was not to overload each plate as the choices were intriguing and many. When Soyeon gave us a preview of the menu, she noted table-top cooking is common in Korea. I heard diners rave about the sweet potato noodles, a seafood, pancake-like presentation with soy sauce, bean sprouts and spinach steamed with sesame oil, and a wonderful surprise –potato salad with cucumbers.

Not surprising, but equally inviting, was the dish that most of us knew at least by name –kimchi a traditional, somewhat spicy Korean dish of fermented vegetables, often including cabbage and daikon radish.

At the end of the meal, another surprise:  a plate full of delicious cream puffs, made by our event organizer, Majid Sarmadi, was the perfect touch!

The after dinner program was a thoughtful, insightful “storyboard” culled from about 80 slides highlighting Korean culture. It was presented by our hosts who met in the U.S., but each was born and raised in Korea.

We learned that South Korea, about 30 minutes by air from Japan, is surrounded by “big power.” Soyeon’s mother lives within about 20 miles from North Korea, but the hosts said people in South Korea, for the most part, go about their daily lives without constantly looking over their shoulder.

The country which is about the size of Indiana has the 11th largest economy in the world. “We don’t have any natural resources,” Soyeon said. “Our resources are human resources.”

She illustrated that by noting that 80 percent of high school grads go on to college. “The country is obsessed with education,” she said. But that level of stress comes with a price. Of the 35 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Korea is No. 1 in suicides.

For those thinking of visiting South Korea, photos of the country’s beautiful landscape were stunning, magical and alluring.  First-time visitors might also see people bowing to each other. “This is one way we show respect for each other; in business and in personal relationships,” said Soyeon.

So much to learn in an evening, but it was a great start to discovering the intricacies of Korean culture.

Israel Night: Learning About the Country’s Culture, Food, Religion, & More

–submitted by Jocelyn Riley; photos by Jason Beren

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Two dozen Rotarians attended our Rotary Club’s Cultural Awareness Fellowship Event Israel Night on Thursday, January 26, at UW Hillel / The Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life on Langdon Street in Madison.  We were treated to a delicious kosher buffet meal of falafel, chicken shawarma, hummus, Israeli salad, pita bread, tahini, and desserts including mandelbread, chocolate and cinnamon rugelach, and “Prussian ears.”  The meal was prepared by Adamah Neighborhood Table, which also runs a restaurant in the Hillel building.

After dinner, Rotarian Lester Pines gave a presentation on the history and culture of Israel.  Lester opened by telling us some details about his own relationship to Israel (which is, he pointed out, about the size of New Jersey).  At the age of 16, Lester spent 9 weeks in Israel in the summer of 1966 (the year before the momentous war of 1967).  When he returned many years later to the place where he had stayed in 1966, at first Lester could not recognize the spot.  Where there had once been small saplings surrounding the building, there was now a forest of large trees, part of Israel’s extensive “reforestation” effort.

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Lester then led us through some highlights of Israeli culture and customs.  Lester pointed out that Israel is home to many people from a wide variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, including people from Western Europe, Central Europe and Asia, and Africa.  Migration to Israel from so many parts of the world has influenced how life there has evolved.  Lester pointed to the mass migration of about a million people from Russia to Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a transformative event in Israeli life.  Many of the Russian Jews who left to avoid persecution were highly educated scientists.  Once in Israel, they initiated scientific work that transformed Israel into “Silicon Wadi,” parallel to America’s Silicon Valley.  Even though the bulk of Israel is located in a desert (the Negev) on a salty sea, its economy had for many years been based on agriculture.  The newly arrived scientists began working on projects that led to Israel becoming the world leader in desalination of saltwater and to developing a strain of potatoes that can be irrigated with saltwater.

Lester closed with a description of an Israeli festival called Purim, based on the biblical book of Esther.  When he showed pictures of people in costumes at a Purim festival, people in the audience spontaneously called out, “It looks like carnival,” and “It looks like Halloween.”  Lester agreed that even though Purim in based in ancient texts, it’s a contemporary festival just for fun.