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It’s all in the gameLocal soccer helps to breaks down cultural barriers
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승인 2009.09.18  16:19:15
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▲ Dopyeong FC pose for a team photo with players from Nodo FC. Back row, third left: Bryan Kim. Back row, fourth left: Jonathan Starr. Photo by Cat Lever

While most of us are still slumbering under our duvets or wandering home from the noraebang; at 6am every Sunday morning, English teacher Jonathan Starr revs up his scooter and sets off from his home in Gu Jeju towards Iho village.

The sun has barely risen as he arrives at the soccer pitch and changes into his uniform. Gradually other players arrive, greeting him in Korean, some slap him on the back or offer him a drink; others just smile and wave as he joins them on the pitch to stretch and limber up in preparation for the morning’s two hours of soccer.

Starr’s been playing soccer with Jeju team, Dopyeong FC, for six months and despite the early starts, says it’s one of the best experiences of his life so far: “For me it’s not just about the football,” he explains, “it’s as much about the culture as it is the sport. I get introduced to cultural aspects that I wouldn’t normally and I’m constantly learning about Korean etiquette.”

Only one member of Dopyeong FC speaks English; school director and team coach, Bryan Kim. Kim moved to Jeju from Seoul two years ago to set up his own English academy. It wasn’t long before he joined a soccer team and soon after became coach. He still remembers what it was like being an outsider on the island and empathises with foreigners living here, saying: “It was difficult, even for me.”

▲ Jonathan Starr tackles an opposition player during an early morning match at Oedo soccer pitch. Photo by Cat Lever

Starr found out about Dopyeong FC when Kim posted a notice on a popular networking site for foreigners on the island; feeling that it would be an interesting experience for the team to have a foreign player, and a good experience for the player himself, “Jonathan came down and he’s been great. The other members love him.”

“Korean football is quite different from the game I was playing in England,” Starr observes, adding “players are much more careful not to hurt each other here.”

When asked if he finds it difficult trying to integrate into such a different culture, Starr smiles and shakes his head, “They’re all great,” he says. “They’ve welcomed me and made me feel at home immediately. I’ve been accepted really quickly; it was never an issue of whether I would be allowed into their social circle.”

Communication among Starr and his team-mates takes the form of smiles, body language, hand signals and some Korean he has picked up during his time on Jeju. “I know enough Korean to express what I want to, and ‘shoot!’ is universal.” He smiles.

Dopyeong FC play every Sunday and Thursday at several locations across Jeju city, including pitches in Iho, Oedo and Sarabong. They currently play teams from nearby villages but occasionally take part in day-long, mini-league tournaments with teams from across the island.

As the number of foreigners on the island continues to increase, Kim feels that including foreign residents in everyday community activities is vitally important, saying “this kind of thing is the easiest and best way to get foreign people involved in our social community.”

It’s a view that Starr agrees with as it has offered him something that not many get to experience: “Playing football with these guys is one of most rewarding experiences of my life. Other people should try to get involved with the community; it opens your eyes and makes the place really feel like home.”

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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