Behind the Scenes at KCI’s 3rd Annual Chuseok Festival

Behind the Scenes at KCI’s 3rd Annual Chuseok Festival - The Daebak Company

From October 20th to October 27th, the Korean Center Inc. hosted its 3rd Annual Chuseok Festival. The virtual festival boasted appearances from many guests to showcase and celebrate Korean culture, traditions, and community, as well as an online silent auction with exciting items and an inspiring youth art festival. This amazing event was only made possible by the hard work of the incredible team behind the scenes. Here to talk about the process is KCI’s Chuseok Festival Manager, Jenny Lee Kirk. 


The Korean Center Inc. was established in 1974 to help many Korean immigrants adapt and settle into life within the San Francisco Bay Area community. As the community grew, the organization expanded to better serve the community, reflecting the community’s history. 

What issues within the community does KCI aim to address?

“KCI aims to promote Korean culture throughout the community and serve as resources for the Korean community and the overall community there. They have a wide variety of senior programs. One of the most important ones is the senior meal program. "They also provided valuable resources throughout the pandemic to the community, including translating important information into Korean." They also provide language classes, a lot of workshops, and classes around Korean food and Korean cultural activities.”

What is the impact you’ve seen KCI have on the Korean community in the Bay Area?

“They’ve fed thousands of Korean seniors and unfortunately, with the rise of hate crimes against the Asian-American community, they’ve also really taken a stand in being supporters of those that are victimized, raising the banner and the awareness around the issues. In fact, it was one of the pillars of the Chuseok Festival. It was not just about raising awareness of Korean culture and creating a community after a difficult pandemic year, but also rallying behind the Asian-American community as they’ve struggled even more so in the last 2 years.”

What does putting on the Chuseok Festival mean to KCI and the community in general?

“I think it’s a way to still get together and show resilience. Everybody, especially this community, has been really beaten down over the last few years by the pandemic on a lot of different levels. It was a way of saying just because things are different and things aren’t better yet, doesn’t mean we are going to give up and deny ourselves celebrating ourselves, what makes us different, and the Chuseok holiday. We’re not letting anything stop us. It was real determination.”

What would you like people to know about KCI?

“I would love more people to know that it's there, that it exists. The Korean community is a much smaller community in San Francisco than Los Angeles or New York, so sometimes I meet friends of friends from a wide variety of backgrounds that don’t know about KCI. Many people are introduced to KCI through the language program. Certainly with the rise in K-pop and K-food, a lot of people now are interested in the Korean language and that’s how they’re starting to learn more about KCI. Learning a language is a great way to learn about a culture, but KCI does so much more than that. I hope that more and more people get to learn about KCI and all of the wonderful things they do. And the Chuseok festival, because it’s been so popular since its inception, has been a great gateway to that.” 


The Chuseok Festival is the Bay Area’s largest public event celebrating, showcasing, and promoting Korean culture, cuisine, music, arts and community. The festival serves as a way to explore and discover Korean culture across communities and generations while celebrating an important traditional Korean holiday. 

How did the Chuseok Festival change when it moved from in-person to online?

“I’ve been volunteering with the Chuseok Festival since its inception year, 2019. That was the one and only year it was in person, so it certainly was a much different feeling. It was a one day event and everyone could gather. It was much easier to showcase Korean-American vendors and makers because it’s in person and everybody can have booths set up, so people can walk around, talk, actually touch things, and have an experience. It’s also a lot easier to experience Korean food and drink when you can actually eat and drink it beyond a screen. The experience is very different, so the team last year had to figure out how to pivot to continue to share those experiences in a way when we can’t all be together. But because we’re online and virtual, now we can reach a much bigger audience, so there’s pros and cons to both sides. After seeing how many people we reached last year with the virtual festival, we were already planning a small virtual component of the in-person festival this year to begin with because we wanted to keep up that reach to a greater audience beyond the Bay Area. But when the pandemic wasn’t quite waning down the way we all hoped, we pivoted to virtual programming and had to greatly expand and change all of our programming ideas.” 

How did you decide the events that occurred at the event? 

“It definitely was very quick. We had given ourselves a date as to whether or not we were going to make a decision to whether we felt it was safe and responsible to move forward with a large in-person event. We were kind of in a bit of a holding pattern for a while with planning, and when we finally decided to switch to virtual, we had a lot to do in a very short period of time. So two other core members of the planning team and I met almost every day: brainstorming ideas and saying, “I know this person” (who can be a resource or guest). I’ve been living in Seoul for almost 2 years now so I asked myself since we’re going virtual, who do I know in Korea that can help bring Korea to the audience? We also put together a questionnaire sheet out of all of these ideas we had and asked our volunteers to rank them from 1 to 5 so we could get a better picture of what people might want to see beyond just our 3 talking heads (core planning team) trying to figure it out. So once we checked the pulse of some other people and what they wanted to see, we selected our target, so to speak, and got to work.”

What was the response from the community and those who attended the Chuseok Festival? 

“It’s really exciting and heartwarming, and it really makes you feel good about what you’re doing. Everybody was putting in incredibly long hours and everybody also was working a full time job as well on top of it. When you hear those words of appreciation and read those messages about how much fun people had, how much it made a difference, or how impactful it was to hear Marilyn Strickland speak, and other guests, you just know that all the hard work really paid off and that you are making a difference. It recharges your battery for next year.” 


Many people worked extremely hard in order to pull off the amazing experience for festival attendees. Ms. Kirk describes her own experience volunteering at KCI.

What made you realize you wanted to get involved with KCI?

“It’s actually a funny story. A friend of mine also volunteers with the festival with KCI. Before the first festival happened, she put a post on Facebook that the First Korean Chuseok Festival in San Francisco was going to be kicking off and she was trying to help find vendors for it, asking anybody that had a wide network to help. She tagged me in this post, which I thought was funny because obviously I’m not Korean, but I do have a very large network in San Francisco. I told everybody I could, including my good friend Jane. Jane was talking to another mother at her school pick-up, and she ended up being the original founder of the Chuseok Festival. They just were lamenting about how it was going really well, but marketing had really been a pain point for the festival. Then Jane messaged me and was like, ‘I volunteered you to help out in this festival’. So I volunteered, and it obviously was a really great experience. Spring and Eun-Joo, two core members of KCI and the Chuseok Festival team, are really wonderful people. All the volunteers are wonderful. It’s a lot of hard work but a lot of fun, and they do so much in the community. They asked me again last year if I would help out again at the marketing side as it went virtual, so I did it all remotely from Seoul for the festival last year. Then, it just grew again this year. I consider myself very lucky to be friends and colleagues with such really wonderful, strong, smart, incredible women that are making a difference and I’m just really thankful that they let me be a part of it.” 

What did you do in your role as Festival Manager in preparing for the event?

“It is a lot of project management at the end of the day. You’re managing a lot of different moving pieces all at one time. At the very beginning when it was still an in-person festival, you’re coordinating with the volunteer coordinator who is then coordinating with 80-100 volunteers. You’re coordinating with the programming planning team, who is all reaching out to try to lock in performers, both traditional Korean performers or K-pop dancers. You’re also coordinating with the food vendors team because you’re trying to get as many food trucks and Korean food vendors to the festival as possible. It really is having to keep track of a lot of different threads of communication, a whole lot of people, and who’s doing what, so some people don’t overlap here or something doesn’t fall through the cracks. You have to be very detail oriented and very good at communication. You also have to be very adaptable because anything can change, as we saw again this year when we moved from in-person to virtual, and how can we make the plans we have already put together work for us now so we aren’t having to completely start from scratch. I think it takes a lot of patience, a lot of understanding, and a lot of teamwork. You have to be somebody who works really well with others in order to successfully put this together. It really does take a village. It never would have happened without the incredible people and other volunteers that we had helping as well.”

What is the biggest challenge you faced putting together the Chuseok Festival? 

“I think the biggest challenge is managing everyone’s schedules. It definitely was like the old school game Tetris. We were able to lock in certain speakers very well; we actually lucked out on that aspect. But trying to find the time during the week where all of the speakers and panelists could all be together at a time when people would actually tune in, and also trying to spread events out throughout the week so that we wouldn’t have all of our programming on one day,  was incredibly challenging. There’s a lot of following up because you might ask a certain panelist what their availability is and you don’t hear for a week. You really need to be very proactive in following them up, making sure that you’re checking off all the boxes, and that  you’re getting things done in a timely manner to make sure that everything flows and appears to be effortless to everyone watching.”

KCI’s Chuseok Festival was undoubtedly an exciting and inspirational experience to be a part of, both as a volunteer and as the audience, thanks to the hard work of Ms. Kirk and the Chuseok Festival’s volunteering team. For more information on the Korean Center Inc. and ways you can help show support to the community and organization, please visit their official website here:

Written by: Karena 

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