South Koreans in Georgia Cheer Despite World Cup Loss

South Koreans in Georgia Cheer Despite World Cup Loss

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DORAVILLE, Ga. — Juho Ahn and his family left their home around 5:00 a.m. The roads were still dark when they drove to a community center to support the South Korean team, which played against Argentina at the World Cup on Thursday.

Less than an hour later, with only a sliver of light peeking through the southern sky, hundreds of Korean immigrants joined the Ahn family, turning the hall into a virtual soccer stadium through a giant television screen on the front wall.

Many of them were wearing red shirts printed with “Korea Dream Again,” referring to the year when South Korea, along with Japan, first hosted the World Cup in 2002.

North Korea may have qualified for its first World Cup since 1966, but here in Doraville, Georgia all the talk is about South Korea. As the game against Argentina started, they chanted and waved large South Korean flags to the beat of their traditional drums and gongs.

“We came here because we are one people. We want to watch the game together. When the South Korean team plays, we don’t think of our jobs,” said Ahn, 63, who came to the United States with his family six years ago. He spoke in Korean through a translator.

In this small suburban town just about five miles outside of downtown Atlanta, where the Korean immigrant population has increased tremendously in recent years, watching the World Cup together reflects their unity as a community. For a few hours, whether in early morning or late at night, they gather, get to know each other, and express in many ways their loyalty to their homeland.

According to the 2000 Census, there are 48,000 Koreans in the state of Georgia. But the South Korean consulate in Atlanta believes that the number has more than doubled in the last decade.

“Everyone helps each other. Some prepare the food, while others clean up the hall,” said Kevin Kang, a member of the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta, who woke up at 4:00 a.m. to set up hundreds of folding chairs with youth volunteers. “When we work together, it does not feel like a big preparation anymore.”

As the game went on, the South Korean team had a rough time competing against the reigning champions, with an 0-2 score flashed on top of the screen.

But still, nothing could dampen the excitement in the hall. A man took a microphone and announced the winner of a raffle. The winner received a soccer ball with real signatures of South Korean soccer players.

“I feel like I got the whole world in my hands,” said the raffle winner Kyung Lee, 50, while holding the signed soccer ball caged in a glass. “I will definitely put this in my living room and show it off to people who visit my place.”

Lee came to the United States more than 10 years ago, and is proud to have a son currently serving the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

In the middle of the game, the South Korean team scored, and the crowd in the hall roared. Many of them got up from their seats and chanted in Korean, "Go, Korea, go!” Donuts, bagels and hot tea were passed around as they clapped and cheered.

Jongwon Lee, a senior editor and reporter at the Korea Daily Atlanta, who was at the Korean community center taking photographs that morning, estimated the crowd at 500. Some of them drove an hour to get there.

“It’s one big family,” he said.

With South Korea losing by a final score of 4-1, many in the crowd left disappointed but undeterred. For them, their homeland team played well and the games are not far from over.

“My heart is a little bit broken now, but I am always happy to be here,” Lee said. “It feels like I never left home.”

If South Korea wins in the next match against Nigeria on Saturday afternoon, the team will move to the semi-final rounds. Historically, since the World Cup games started in 1930, no Asian country has yet won the title.

“Next time, for sure, the South Korean team will make it better. They will continue fighting, and we will surely be back in the community center,” said Ahn, throwing his tight fists in the air.