Before I left for Korea, many people asked why I was going there. I looked at a few study abroad trips and thought this program would be an ideal choice. The cost was reasonable and when else would I decide to visit someplace like Korea? Another question I was asked a few times was whether I was going to the North or South. I, of course, went to the South since the North is basically inaccessible.
When I arrived in Seoul, it was pretty much a time warp. Korea is 14 hours ahead of the central time zone so that took a day or two to adjust to such a difference. The next morning after our arrival we traveled to Daegu where we would stay for the next week and a half. The scenery was beautiful–mountains were everywhere. We spent the first couple days getting used to the campus and then beginning our classes/activities. During the length of university stay we met a few times for history/culture class and language class. Everyday was scheduled from breakfast to dinner and although we were quite busy, it was great to be able to see so many things. There were about 18 participants, so we had a good group and definitely enjoyed each others company during our time.
The itinerary included:
-a Daegu city tour with ‘student aides’; the student aides are university students who are english education majors. They were there to show us around and gave us a chance to meet Korean students.
-Samulnori demonstration (we were able to see the traditional Korean percussion instruments and try it out ourselves)
-a day trip to Gyeongju City: Bulguksa temple, Cheonmachong (King’s Tomb), museum
-traditional tea ceremony: we learned the proper way Koreans serve tea
-tours of Hyundai Motor Company and POSCO (one of the world’s largest steel mills)
-Tae Kwon Do class
-Daegu University Student Festival: a huge 3-day celebration on campus with food and lots of fun
We were all sad to say goodbye to our new friends but were also excited for the next 3 days in Seoul. Seeing the traditional Korean culture in action was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Korea is such a historical nation that not many people get to experience first-hand. Everyone we met in Daegu was so friendly and excited to talk to us. They were always eager to share their customs with us and to help us better understand their culture.
On Friday morning, we were up and ready to leave by 5:30am. A bus was there to take us to the train station where we would then board the bullet train to Seoul. What had taken us about 5 hours by bus a week and a half ago, only took 2 hours by train. We went straight from the station to the DMZ tour, but not before we stopped for another traditional Korean meal of Bibimbab. During the hour bus ride to the Panmunjom Truce Village/ Joint Security Area certain rules were stressed to us. We had to have shoes with a closed back (in case we were in a situation and had to run..) and we ABSOLUTELY could not point or wave in the direction of the North. When we were told not to take pictures, it was essential that we listen. Finally, before entering the area, our passports were checked and we had to sign a paper stating that we understood the possibility of injury or death in such a situation. I think that was when a lot of us got a little anxious. Of course, that was only a precautionary measure. A UN bus driven by a South Korean soldier and accompanied by a US soldier took us on the tour of the inside area. We were given a briefing explaining the creation of the DMZ and events leading up to it. We were only allowed out at a couple locations–one of which was the UN ‘blue buildings’ which host talks between the North and South. As shown in one of the pictures, the soldier guarding the back door is there so as not to let anyone pass into the North. During most of the bus ride we were not allowed to take pictures for security purposes, but it was quite interesting–with barbed wire fences and bunkers in different areas. Especially with everything going on in Korea, I feel very lucky to have seen the DMZ/ Truce Village–it’s such a huge part of history.
The last couple of days in Seoul were great, we were able to shop in the traditional markets and I even bought a piece of luggage for a pretty cheap price. I felt really safe in Seoul compared to some bigger cities in the US. Korea does have quite a low crime rate–I didn’t see people lurking around like I have in other places. I did see a few homeless people sleeping in the subway areas, but they were perfectly harmless and not looking to hurt a soul.
Being in Korea was a once in a lifetime experience for me. Not that many people just decide to go there. It’s a beautiful country full of history and while it’s hard to get used to a different place, it’s also important to broaden one’s horizons. I had a somewhat hard time getting used to the food–there are a lot of spicy and pickled foods that most people from the US are definitely not accustomed to. I know most of us on the trip were not used to it! However, we all gave it a shot and even used chopsticks with every meal! I met a few friends over there that I will continue talking to through email and maybe I’ll even get to see them again one day. Korea was a trip that I will never forget!
By Ashley Farmer