On Saturday, February 28, Global Sporting Integration’s Principal and CEO Han Gil Lee was interviewed by 93.7 The Fan Pittsburgh Sports Radio’s Dan Zangrilli about the Pirates’ newly signed South Korean SS, Jung-Ho Kang and his cultural transition to the United States.
Calling the topic of Kang’s transition “fascinating,” Zangrilli turned to Lee to learn about the hurdles Kang and other players coming over from Asian countries may face in America. Lee broke down the areas where Kang will likely face adversity into two groups, off-field challenges and on-field challenges.
The “off-field transitions include language education, cultural emersion, and nutritional education, to name a few,” according to Lee. The on-field challenges include differences between the Korean Baseball League (KBO) and Major League Baseball (MLB) such as, MLB travel schedules, number of games, the difference between a grass field and a turf field, as well as the overall baseball culture.
The Pirates are no strangers to acquiring Spanish-speaking players such as, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Zangrilli asked Lee about some of the differences between the transition for players coming over from Latin American countries and Asian counties. Lee pointed out a few major differences. The first major difference according to Lee is the language adaptation. The Spanish alphabet has similar scripts as the English language and many words tend to sound similar to English letters and words. However, as Lee pointed out, the Korean language has its own unique scripts that are completely different than the English language.
A second major difference according to Lee is the amount of resources around the Spanish-speaking players compared to players coming from Asia. Many times in an organization, there will be multiple teammates, coaches, and even front office members that can speak Spanish. Lee stressed that if Korean players had access to similar resources, in the case of Kang, it would help the player thrive, ultimately helping the team maximize its investment.
Zangrilli brought up the question as to what is the major difference between the players that succeed and the players that fail when coming over from Asia to America. Lee emphasized again the lack of smooth transition off of the field in the areas of language, nutrition, and overall cultural adjustment.
Many times these Asian players do not have friends that they can talk to about things such as their daily stress. Lee went on to talk about issues with teams providing just a translator and he focused on the fact that it does not mean the player and translator will automatically get along. With the team providing only a translator and not a true language education program, the player needs the translator for everything from ordering off of a menu to talking to the media, which takes away privacy from the player.
Finally when asked for one piece of advice that Lee would offer to Kang, Lee said to focus on language, and that his overall ability to speak the language does not have to be perfect. It is critical to make the effort and to show his teammates and coaches that he is willing to accept these challenges and strive through them. It can be a humbling and a humiliating process that Lee had to experience himself he added, who came to the United States as a foreign exchange student at the age of 15.
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