More than morels: Korean-American kids find community at camp

On Camp Naru’s sprawling 640-acre campus, every day begins with a conversation about the Korean-American experience. Campers then participated in activities such as Taekwondo and cooking authentic Korean cuisine. Korean-American snowboarder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim even came one day.

“Our upbringing may be unique; however, there are a lot of cultural things that bind us together. I think when we can cultivate a community that really understands that, it really makes us feel more comfortable and safe,” said camp director Benjamin Orser. A Korean adoptee who grew up outside Princeton, New Jersey, he himself attended an immersion camp in the mid-1990s and estimates that Naru is now one of about 15 such camps in the United States.

This year, the camp will be held in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, on the east side of the Poconos. Bringing campers together in these unique natural spaces, away from their everyday abodes, “builds a sense of security and, in a way, it’s like building a bubble,” he explains. Within that safe haven, campers are free to explore.

Three girls sit on the floor of a wood-panelled room, before rows of red velvet seats. The girl on the left is wearing a white t-shirt, a green sweatshirt, glasses and holds a pen and a piece of paper. The girl on the right is wearing a white and blue T-shirt and pink shorts and is gesturing towards the paper.

“I don’t really know much Korean. And I’ve only been to the country once. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life in America—I don’t think I’m Korean, Korean, I guess,” ryanon the right, say.

Five young men sit on the carpeted floor against a wood-panelled wall, below a projector screen on which English and Korean lessons are projected. Three of the children were wearing red T-shirts with Camp Naru on them. The fourth is older and wears a red Camp Naru polo shirt. The fifth, at the end, is wearing a white T-shirt with pink, green and yellow flowers on it.

Camp Naru and the community she found there helped her focus on this discomfort and begin to work through it. “It made me realize that I am who I am, and I don’t think I have to make a choice,” she said.

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