Korean American Students Association makes families near and far

About 34 KASA members pose on the road around the Northwestern Lakefill, with snow on the grass in front of them and behind.

Photo courtesy of Jefferson Xu

KASA members pose outside in the Northwestern winter.

Sterling Kossuth Ortiz, Senior Staffer

At Northwestern, the Korean American Student Association has been a crucial part of some members’ identities even since high school.

Weinberg senior Hahrim Choi visited Evanston from her home in Glenview during her senior year of high school to watch her brother perform in the club’s annual show. Choi said she fell in love with the group’s welcoming atmosphere and the performances, including the taekwondo showcase.

Now, Choi is KASA’s internal president, rounding her journey out from a pre-general member to the head of the executive board. Her responsibilities include shaping the KASA culture, she said.

“I have to make sure all of our club members feel welcomed, feel safe, feel like they are included within our community,” Choi said. “I just want to make sure that all of our members have fun at all of our events and provide a safe space for them.”

Choi’s counterpart is Weinberg senior Jefferson Xu, the external president of KASA. When he transferred to NU from Rutgers University, he said he immediately found KASA a “welcoming” club that fulfilled his social needs.

Even during the 2020-21 academic year, when KASA could only host virtual events on Zoom or socially distanced events, Xu said he felt affection from the club. He particularly enjoys the “chingu” (Korean for “friend”) dates, in which older students book time at Coffee Lab & Roasters or other Evanston establishments so KASA members can meet one another.

Xu joined KASA’s executive board as the fundraising chair last year. He fundraised primarily by running concession stands with fellow KASA members during NU sports matches.

“That’s how most clubs that my friends and I know fundraise, because it’s the best way to make money,” Xu said. “They pay you $70 to $80 per person at the games to help out, so with 20 members (running concessions), that’s like $1,600 all right there.”

While concessions work can be a grind, Xu said he enjoys doing them because the money earned goes to future events, including the KASA Show. 

Entering this academic year, Xu said he wanted to become the external president to continue the legacy of the club’s generosity.

“KASA was how I adjusted as a transfer and how I got acclimated to Northwestern. I met my closest friends and my roommates (in KASA),” Xu said. “I had a lot of people supporting me, even though I am not Korean American, which is the funny part.”

To him, a critical facet of KASA is its multicultural membership, extending beyond Korean American students. Although Xu identifies as Chinese, he is one of the two leaders of the club. He said the club welcomes everyone regardless of identity. 

Another person who appreciates KASA’s multicultural environment is Weinberg sophomore Esther Tang. Also a Chinese student, she believes despite her identity, her experience in the club has been similar to that of her Korean peers.

“A lot of the community bonding events are planned for anyone interested, and if there are Korean aspects to them, the organizers explain it to everyone so those who don’t know much about the culture learn more about it.” Tang said.

One of Tang’s favorite facets of KASA is its family structure. There are three families — Silla, GGR and Baekje — named after the Three Kingdoms of Korea in the Korean Peninsula. Each family consists of more than 100 people and has two head members. 

Tang, who belongs to the club’s Baekje family, said she views the family structure as a great opportunity to form connections with other KASA members, as well as a way to talk to people whom she wouldn’t have approached otherwise. The club, she said, often centers events around interfamily challenges.

“It’s fun to go to an event and see your ‘mom’ and ‘siblings’ and get closer with them with the family connection as a starting point,” Tang said. “Our upcoming event before Winter Break will be a gingerbread house building competition between the three families — events like these have been very fun for me, and I’ve also been able to get closer with my family that way.”

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