Team Refugee: a Group of Defiance or Hope?

Shimmering lights and exuberant fanfares from the crowd cheer for the countries at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics. From the entrance of Greece to Zimbabwe, each country smiles with pride, feeling a sense of identification. Yet a group of ten athletes holds a miscellaneous, peculiar flag with the Olympic symbol: Team Refugee.


At first glance, one may think that the country is defying the logistics of the game; in the Olympics, each person represents his or her country, and here a team representing over 60 million people that are from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and more, is present. However, it was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that formed the new Team Refugee as an effort to “send a message of hope for all refugees around the world.” The committee has provided financial aid for the athletes whilst competing in the Olympics and even after the games. Their decisions fueled a tremendous support from the public, as people from all over the world cheered loudly for the refugees.


The team consisted of 10 refugees who were selected from a pool of 40 candidates. Even though Team Refugee has gained no medals, many of these athletes have reached their personal best in the races: Ramis Anis, for example, has achieved his personal best in swimming freestyle. They also had the chance to fulfill their hopes of competing in the Olympics : Anis, who fled war-torn Syria in 2015, expressed his feelings of how “wonderful…[it was] to compete in the Olympics” and how he “didn’t want to wake up from this dream.” The games were not just an opportunity for them, but a pivotal moment for them, as Yusra Mardini who is also a swimmer that rescued 20 people who were fleeing Damascus states that she wants the world to think that “refugees are normal people who had lost their homelands and lost them, not because they wanted to run away and be refugees.” Anis and Mardini are only two of the ten athletes who have gained hope from the games; each of the ten athletes possess intricate and heart-shaking stories yet to be told.

“We complete like human beings, like the others” – Kindie


Amidst the high praises of Team Refugee, there have been some concerns rising in the media. Roger Cohen, a columnist and journalist for the New York Times, raised some issues with how the society reacted to the 10 athletes in his NYT article “ The World Loves Refugees, When They’re Olympians.” He argued that the public shows concern and support to the refugees only when they are on the Olympics, not when they are suffering at refugee camps and dying without a voice. Furthermore, he poses a startling question: “ After the fanfare, will anyone remember [the refugees]?” It is true that in a world where we concentrate on competition and global events like the Olympics, serious world issues like the refugee crisis dim away from our focus. Even in the media this month, most articles and reporters reported about the games, certain athletes, and their achievements rather than the influx of refugees and their death tolls. However, it is vital for the world to not lose focus on those who are undergoing serious physical and emotional pain, as refugees too once had a loving family and purpose to live for.


“Even if I don’t get gold or silver, I will show the world that, as a refugee, you can do anything” – Yiech Pur Biel, runner

This is not to say that including Team Refugee as part of the Olympics should stop. In a world where the word “refugee” does not spark any feelings to some, it is necessary to highlight who refugees are and listen to their stories. We must be aware that there are more than just the ten refugees who showed up on the media; there are more than 60 million people who are in pain today. While the Olympics came to an end last week, we must never forget the great courage and hope the ten Olympians showed—and the millions who are suffering.

—Sarah Oh (’19)

Varsity Swim Team’s Strong Performance at AISA

Alas, the 2015-2016 spring sports season is coming to a close. With this in mind, KIS Varsity Swim team has taken a step further to finishing the term with a solid performance at this year’s AISA (Association of International Schools in Asia) meet at Seoul International School, from April 15th to 16th. The team was consisted of 16 swimmers as point scorers with 8 girls and 8 boys selected from total 26 members. Along with SIS and SOIS (Senri Osaka International School), KIS pulled off a phenomenal competition, bringing home excellent results.


The 3 AISA teams of KIS, SIS, and SOIS


The 16 AISA swimmers were composed of Sarah Hong (10), Selena Kim (10), Hajung Lee (12), Hannah Lee (11), Seiyeon Park (11), Graisy Ra (9), Yonje Rhee (9), and Celine Yoon (9) from the girls team, and Sean Choi (10), Geo Han (11), Patrick Jung (10), Joonjae Kim (9), Keetae Kim (12), Junwon Lee (10), Ki Hwan Nam (12), and Jaehyeon Park (9) from the boys team.


The KIS Varsity Swim Team placed 2nd at the tournament with SIS placing 1st and SOIS in 3rd. However, surprisingly, the team was able to bring home the Team Sportsmanship Award this year, as SOIS had always claimed the title in the previous years. To add on to the wow factor, KIS swimmers broke 7 AISA records in total. First off, Celine Yoon, Selena Kim, Yonje Rhee and Sarah Hong set the new 200M medley relay record. Also, Sean Choi set the record in the 50M butterfly event. Last but not least, Yonje Rhee shocked everyone by setting records in the 200M Individual Medley, 50M and 100M butterfly, and 50M and 100M backstroke events – meaning new records for all the events she swam in. With this accomplishment, she was able to effortlessly claim the Top Female Swimmer Award as well.


Yonje’s outstanding achievement


When the record setters of the team were interviewed with a few questions, they all answered with similarly enthusiastic reactions and responses.


  1. How did you feel about the AISA meet in general?


“I am very honored and grateful that I broke so many AISA records last weekend. I owe a lot of my accomplishments to the KIS swim team with the other swim members pushing me to work harder at every practice. The upcoming meet, KAIAC, will be the final competition this season and I am looking forward to the results that we as a team bring back. I was really proud to have represented our school during this swimming season and as a freshman, I am excited for the next swimming seasons,” Yonje responded with vigor.


“The AISA meet was a terrific experience in my high school swimming career as I have never swum that many events in the span of two days. Regarding my preparations for that meet, I did not particularly train extra specially or anything,” Sean remarked.


“AISA was really exciting and a lot of team bonding was made. Despite the limited pool size, the environment made us feel more like a tight team which was great. It was also a great opportunity to meet swimmers from other schools,” Selena said.


  1. How did you feel about setting new records for AISA?


“I am very proud of our team for breaking the AISA girls medley relay record. I believe we deserved 1st place because we all trained hard enough to be rewarded with the title. Half of our medley team swimmers went to the sophomore Experiential Education trip and could not train for several days, which worried us that we would not be able to swim our best. However, we all did great with no major problems, and I am very happy for that,” replied Sarah.


“I was honestly really surprised when the girls medley relay broke the AISA record because we’ve never beaten the SIS medley relay team before. But when I found out we broke an AISA record I felt very proud of not only our medley team but of the coaches and the entire team because they always supported us,” Selena remarked.


“Breaking the AISA record came to me as a surprise as I was not expecting it for several reasons. The meet in general was an exhausting experience as I have never swam 7 different events in a single day. Also, I had to swim the 100M IM merely ten minutes prior to the next event. Basically, I was dying. Breaking the record was NOT one of my goals. But the 50M butterfly is one of the only events I feel confident in winning because the time gap I have in between second place has always been a significant amount,” Sean added.


  1. How are you preparing for this upcoming KAIAC (Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference)?


“One of my main goals for the KAIAC meet is to break the KAIAC record for the 50m butterfly (which I have a long way to go). I have definitely been preparing extra hard for this meet: strict workouts, hellish training, and lots and lots of eating and sleeping”, Sean claimed.


“We’re swimming very intensely these days, around 2 kilometers every practice. Our coach is also pushing us to sleep and eat a lot. As of right now, the hard practices make me hate swimming but I know that when we get our best times in KAIAC, we’ll love swimming (and the coaches) again,” replied Selena.


“This year was my first year participating in AISA as a freshman and I learned so many things there. It felt really good for me to swim as hard as I could in AISA since I had practiced hard every day, and AISA was finally the time to show off what the team had been practicing for. Setting a new record for the girls medley relay was surreal, and it made me so thankful that our hard work at practices had payed off. The past few weeks were all about preparing for KAIAC and even though the drills that we do can be extremely tiring at times, I know that it’ll be worth it once I get to swim in KAIAC. KAIAC is the last competition of the season, and although I’m pretty nervous, I push myself to be the best swimmer that I can be everyday so that I won’t regret anything in the team’s last competition of the season!” Celine answered with glee.


Team photo after meet, with the Team Sportsmanship Award


On the whole, the team’s sense of pride and spirit among each other heightened, and Mr. McClure, the Varsity Swim Team coach, was no exception.


“AISA in general was a really awesome meet with a fun format. Timewise, our team showed 2% improvement overall, and a lot of the swimmers decreased their previous records by at least 3 seconds. I also loved having Japan over, and just the whole idea of having three schools come along and swim together in such an exciting competition. What was most impressive was the Team Sportsmanship Award, which I personally think served as the whole school’s achievement. It proved that we have succeeded in accomplishing one of our school’s goals and raising our school’s reputation as a whole,” he responded passionately.


With a tightly packed training schedule and a determined mind to score, the Varsity Swim Team is ready to take on KAIAC and bring out the best results hopefully for a secure placing in the top 3’s. Afterall, swimming is a team sport, despite the many individualistic aspects.


– Ashley Kim (‘18)