Student who ‘struggled with the chopsticks’ in South Korea gains new sense of empathy



Wichita State students (left to right) Christina Cao, Theresa Doan, Lorryn McGuire, and Claudia Nguyen pose outside after after watching part of the Lotte Rent a Car Women’s GolfZon Tour virtual professional golf tournament in Daejeon, South Korea.

Looking down at Seoul from atop the 1800-foot-tall Lotte World Tower affords one a wider  perspective of the world.

Feeling the gentle sway of the super skyscraper and eyeing the tiny, capped athletes at Jamsil baseball stadium below can endow a traveler with newfound patience for and acceptance of fellow human beings.

So it was at the height of one Wichita State graduate student’s travels abroad this past year.


Part 1: A semester country hopping in Europe  

Sports management major and Benedictine college graduate Lorryn Mcguire had never traveled west of Colorado. In fact, no one in her family had ever expressed interest in leaving the lower 48.

“It’s kind of sad,” McGuire admitted of her prior naivety regarding international travel. “Where I am from, there is not a huge interest in traveling east to Korea, Japan, China or Asia at all.”

McGuire got her chance to travel abroad in the spring of 2018.

Coming into their final semester at Benedictine, she was presented with the opportunity to participate in an independent travel seminar based in Florence, Italy.

“That semester was incredible, “ McGuire remembers. “I really got to live the way they do in Italy and do the things they do.”

After a brief sojourn in Rome, McGuire found herself city and country hopping on a weekly basis.

Poland, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, England — they were all on the itinerary.

It was in Prague, Czech Republic that McGuire recounts feeling the most connected to continental European culture. While visiting, she took up residence with a cousin living in the city.

She said Prague began to shift her take on what matters in life.

“As a family, we would have a good, but small dinner, watch a movie, and afterwards, have a cup of tea and just one piece of chocolate, “ McGuire said. “Things like that have given me a greater appreciation for people.”

McGuire arrived back stateside at the end of the semester and made herself a promise.

“I promised myself that if I ever had a chance to travel anywhere else in the world again, I would take the opportunity, “ McGuire said.


Part II: Taking a chance on WSU and Korea

After graduating from Benedictine, McGuire moved back to her native Wisconsin and took a brief hiatus from school. In that time, she corresponded with a friend who recommended furthering her studies in sports management via the graduate program at WSU.

In the span of a few months, McGuire found herself moving to Wichita, enrolling in classes, and seated in the lecture hall of Wonyoung Kim’s Sports Analytics class.

It was here that McGuire stumbled upon the impetus to make good on her promise from the year before.

For the past two years, Kim has instructed students in a class called Study Abroad in Global Sport Industry.

The class gives students a chance to travel to South Korea and learn about the sporting culture of Korea and southeast Asia more broadly.

“I introduce my study abroad class during our orientation for graduate students,” Kim said. “This way, they might see another part of the world and be introduced to their culture.”

McGuire remembers being immediately intrigued by the prospect of studying in Korea. She also remembers being hesitant to travel to Asia for the first time.

“I knew nothing about Korea, “ McGuire admitted. “I think I was most nervous about being somewhere that I knew nothing. I couldn’t even speak any Korean.”

Despite her fears, McGuire decided to apply for placement in Dr. Kim’s elective travel seminar.

“I love sports and traveling,” she said. “So I knew then, I had to go.”  

Kim noted that McGuire was a shoo-in for the two-week seminar in South Korea.

“She’s very dedicated,” Kim said.

“Eventually, she will be able to better-apply the managerial skill set and become an individual sports owner in the future. She has a highly motivated mindset right now.”

And so it was.

At the end of the spring semester, McGuire packed two weeks worth of luggage, and emotionally prepared herself for her first trans-Pacific flight.

She recounted her initial fears on landing in Seoul, South Korea.

“I couldn’t read anything around me,” McGuire said, shaking her head. “Or say anything at all. It scared me.”

Nonetheless, McGuire made the rounds of the peninsula. The seminar made trips from Seoul to Daejeon, Mokpo, Jeju Island, and Gwangju.

Shortly after arriving at Jeju island, the volcanic and mountainous insular landscape in the middle of the Korea strait, Kim said he noticed something about McGuire. She had become a natural example to her fellow seminar members, all of whom were undergraduate students.

“She was exposed to challenging atmospheres,” Kim said. “Her trip was more comprehensive. A lot happened each day. But, she is a grad student and a real leader.”

Together, the seminar visited the 5.62-km Korea International Circuit in Yeongam, Olympic Park in downtown Seoul, Mokpo University, Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, and Golfzon virtual golf complex in Daejeon.

McGuire and her classmates dove headfirst into the eccentricities of Korean street food. Hotteok, the traditional Korean variety of sweet pancake was one dish she remembered fondly, noting that just thinking about them makes her hungry all over again.

Live squid too was on the menu in Korea. Although McGuire espoused this bit with a caution toward raw calamari, she noted the grilled squid she later enjoyed was exquisite.

“I struggled with the chopsticks a little bit too,“ McGuire said. “They’re top-heavy there and made of silver.”

As McGuire crossed the threshold of the language barrier and slowly but surely developed a taste for Korean food, she said she began to see herself as a world traveler instead of a tourist.

More importantly, she began to see Korean students in a way that made her question her previous world views.

“Korean culture made me appreciate more of what’s going on in the present instead of being so tunnel-visioned,” McGuire said.

During the trip McGuire and the rest of Dr. Kim’s seminar visited Mokpo University on the country’s southwest coast. There, the class was to provide South Korean students with an expository guest lecture.

McGuire recounts visiting the university after the school’s men’s volleyball team upset the No. 2 club in the country. She said the students exemplified a humility that is characteristic of Korean athletes.

“No more than ten minutes later, they were sitting in the classroom listening to our guest lectures,” McGuire remembers. “They were still sweaty and in their uniforms but they were there to listen to us.”

As is common in schools in Southeast Asia, the Mokpo volleyball team thoroughly cleaned the court after the game and guest lectures were finished.

“They went back to the court and cleaned everything so the other basketball teams could have their practice,” McGuire said. “Here, that would never happen, but at Mokpo, there’s a sense that there are other people to take care of, courts to clean, and they just aren’t as privileged as the athletes we have here.”

“I was taken a back and instantly become more appreciative.”

American individualism permeates the sporting community, and McGuire said that perhaps U.S. athletes could learn something from their student counterparts in the Pacific.

“Sports are the heartbeat of America,” McGuire said. “Everyone comes together to cheer on their favorite team and we treat our athletes like royalty in some aspects, but there they act just like every other student.”

McGuire’s 15 days in South Korea came and went with the expected swiftness of such an abbreviated excursion abroad.

Amid seminars with members of the upper echelons of the Korean sports industry, a trip to the top of the tallest man-made structure in Korea — the Lotte World Tower — and even an interview on national Korean television’s JTBC Golf, McGuire said she took away more from the trip than she had ever expected.

Above all, she said, the trip cemented in her a newfound sense of patience for individuals cut from different cloths. She compared her attitude now concerning non-Americans in general to her view before studying abroad for the first time.

Remembering her time spent in assistant athletics as an undergraduate, McGuire said she could have been more patient with foreign exchange students and non-English speaking players. But now, she says she’s of a different mindset.

“I’m just more patient now,” McGuire said. “Before, where I would have expected my athletes to do things more in the American way, I realize that you can do things multiple ways, and that’s okay.”


‘Looking forward. Never back’

Kim’s seminar, offered yearly, is open to all WSU students.

“I really want to have more diverse backgrounds from the student pool,” Kim said. “And not just in the sports management department.”

“They can learn how people live and use sports in their lives and there’s a lot of political use of sports in my country, so the students can learn this and have cultural experiences.”

In postscript, McGuire said she discovered that studying abroad alters one’s perspective on culture, language, and acceptance — even food.

“I would go back again in a heartbeat,” she said. “It sounds cliche, but you can’t live in fear of not knowing what’s going to happen. I was hard-headed before, and you can’t change the past, but you can always change how you react to it and what comes after.”

“It’s about looking forward. Never back.”