Once again I spent an August week at Camp Sejong, a Korean culture camp in New Jersey, my fifth time as the Creative Writing teacher. It was such a pleasure to be back in this remarkable, multi-age Korean American community of staff, teachers (including a 13-member delegation from Ewha University in Seoul), teen and young adult counselors (including many former campers), and campers from age 7 to 15.
This year the theme was Life Cycles, with a particular focus on the first and 60th birthdays. In writing sessions, we brainstormed about birthdays, birthdays and adoption (about half the campers are adopted; the other half from 2nd-generation Korean American families), and Korean birthdays.
I shared a book I illustrated, What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Kate Aver Avraham, about the tol, the first birthday celebration.
Then we constructed tol go-im - first birthday towers or pillars...
but instead of rice cakes, candy, jujubes or beans, we built the towers with strips of paper in the traditional colors seen in sek dong, the rainbow stripes typically used for children's clothing.
Campers chose whatever they wanted to include - significant events, people, trips, things they learned, school, connections to Korea, and other aspects of their lives. Each stripe represented a year and each completed pillar the story of a life.
Some used pictures and symbols as well, and one girl even drew her complete fashion history - including hairstyles - from infancy!