Two Korean men and two American teenagers sat cross-legged on a living room floor.
Taking turns, they snapped small, stiff cards against cards lying in front of them, looking for a match. There was much laughter as the men taught the Ozarks teens a Korean card game.
Meanwhile, miles away four Utah kids impressed their South Korean visitors with chopstick technique.
In Cleveland, the Plain Dealer’s highly automated press and production center impressed two visitors from a country with plenty of its own cutting-edge technology.
And in Indianapolis, a conversation among two copy-editors working in different languages found they seek the same thing in a headline: turns of phrase that are “soft on the outside but have a razor inside,” as Kim Yong Kil put it.
These scenes come from the next step in the growing relationship between the Society of Professional Journalists and the Journalists Association of Korea. For the past three years, JAK delegations have attended the SPJ convention. In 2003, 10 SPJ members traveled to South Korea. This year, SPJ invited JAK to visit five cities as guests of SPJ chapters and stay in the homes of members.
So, after the New York convention ended, the 10 South Korean journalists boarded planes for Indianapolis; Springfield, Mo.; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; and Cleveland — a last-minute substitution after Hurricane Frances made the scheduled stay in Gainesville, Fla., impossible.
In each city, there was a combination of shoptalk and tourism.
The Korean journalists visited with chapter members, talked to college classes and newspaper staffs and saw the local sights.
Their visits came just as a large explosion occurred in North Korea, opening many conversations about U.S. relations with the divided peninsula. The South Korean journalists shared their view that the threat from the North is overstated. They see the threat as minimal because North Korea’s weak economy is causing it to crumble from within.
And there were surprises along the way.
In Salt Lake City, host Joel Campbell told them about the friction between the church-owned Deseret News and independent Salt Lake Tribune and the papers’ joint operating agreement, something novel to Koreans.
In Indianapolis, chapter president Gerry Lanosga found that American and Korean journalists share the same concerns about ethics, fairness and independence — but time off is a different story. Korean journalists work six days a week and get only two weeks of vacation each year.
Small things often were remarkable.
When JAK President Lee Sang-ki and Kang Seok-jae arrived at their host home in Springfield, they wanted to know where to put their shoes — a custom quickly embraced by the family matriarch.
At a grocery-store ATM, they were fascinated by the drive-through pharmacy. They were surprised when the family patriarch prepared a dinner for them, his editor and publisher.
“In Korea, a man would never be in the kitchen,” Kang said.
SPJ members said they got a lot out of these exchanges. It gave them a new view of a country they had only read about. It helped them to see the similarities and differences in how journalism is done in two countries. Most important, the exchanges created new personal connections.
“With America’s public diplomacy being so problematic everywhere, including Korea, a private-sector interaction like this will be increasingly important and meaningful, it seems,” says Jae-won Lee, the SPJ host in Cleveland.
Robert Leger, a past president of SPJ, is editorial page editor of the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. He will join a second SPJ delegation to Korea in November. The home-stay exchange with the Journalists Association of Korea will be repeated in September 2005. Any chapters interested in hosting two Korean journalists for two or three days should contact SPJ Executive Director Terry Harper or Robert Leger.