South Korea will host the Winter Olympics for the first time, beginning on Feb. 9 in PyeongChang.
The games will provide widespread exposure for the country of South Korea, as well as for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a “Helping Hands” center to introduce visitors to the church’s resources and beliefs.
Josh Lee, a computer science major at BYU, was born in Utah but grew up in the South Korean capital of Seoul, 78 miles northwest of PyeongChang.
“There’s always something to do in Seoul,” Lee said. “The majority of people in Korea live in the cities, so the countryside is not as developed.”
South Korea is geographically smaller than the state of Utah but has a far larger population.
Nearly half of the 51 million people in South Korea live within the Seoul metropolitan area.
Lee said PyeongChang houses one of the largest snow resorts in Korea.
“It gets really cold (in Korea), but it doesn’t snow that much,” Lee said. “So it’s always artificial snow when you go snowboarding.”
Lee suggested one of the reasons for putting the Olympics in PyeongChang was to develop the city. After Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988 and the World Cup in 2002, the government turned the athlete villages into residential apartment complexes, something Lee imagines they will do in PyeongChang as well.
Lee said the biggest culture shock when he came back to the U.S. for college was the way people interact with each other.
“You don’t get into anyone’s business (in Korea) unless you absolutely have to,” Lee explained. “Whereas here (in the U.S.) you know people by name, you say ‘hi’ on the street.”
One of the similarities between the U.S. and South Korea, however, is the drive for innovation. Lee named them as two of the most technologically advanced countries, with Apple leading the way in the U.S. and Samsung in Korea.
Lee said the Olympics will be a good opportunity for South Korea to put itself on the map, as well as to build bridges with North Korea.
The North and South Koreans will march with their respective flags together in the opening ceremonies, but will not participate on the same teams.
While they are growing closer in sports, Lee said “unifying the two countries is a near-impossible task” at this point.
A unique part of South Korean society are the protests that occur on a weekly basis. However, they are completely peaceful, with people simply holding candles and signs.
“Anyone who goes to the Olympics will notice a lot of rioting and cheering,” Lee explained. “But it will all be orderly and peaceful.”
BYU accounting student Katie Fitt is half Korean. She shared the same insight into the importance of respect in Korean culture.
“They do a very good job at not only respecting their elders, but they do a good job at
honoring and serving them,” Fitt said. “They even have a different way of speaking to them, which shows respect.”
Fitt’s maternal grandfather, Kim Cha Bong, was the first native Korean LDS bishop in South Korea.
The LDS church is taking advantage of the expected influx of people by creating a Helping Hands Center just outside of PyeongChang. The center will provide visitors a place to rest from their travels, and introduce them to several church resources such as Family Search.
The center, which is staffed by missionaries and volunteers, opened Saturday, Jan. 27 and will run through Sunday, Mar. 25.
“They have already welcomed over 100 visitors to the center, and look forward to continuing to do so throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” according to Daniel Woodruff at LDS Public Affairs.
The Winter Olympics run from Feb. 9 to Feb. 25. The opening ceremonies will be broadcast Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. MST on NBC.
The Paralympics will take place March 9 to March 18.