Eric Kim / Sunny Hills High School 12thGrade
There were certain doubts and concerns my family had when I received the opportunity to go to South Korea for a week-long program and I was almost prevented from going. The legitimacy of the program came into question. Was I going to be wasting my time there?
My own capabilities were also considered. Could I transfer through the airports in China by myself? (the answer is yes, I can read signs by myself) On hindsight, these concerns turned out to be utterly ridiculous, but they were genuine problems. Fortunately, my parents let these questions sit out on the side, because in the end, I wanted to go. I wanted to see what the program had to offer and what I could possibly learn. My parents understood that and agreed with it. I flew to South Korea a week early to give me time to deal with the jet lag and spent the remaining week with family.
The program started on July 19th. Everyone I met was very friendly, which was a relief. I am very nervous around new people, but the people I met all helped me get comfortable very quickly. Students came from all over: Spain, France, Germany, South Africa, Kazakhstan, and of course, the United States. It was nice talking to young Koreans from all over. I felt a sort of solidarity with all of them.
The next two days was mostly comprised of lectures and lessons, which I am fine with. Learning about Korea’s long and unique history is an important aspect of the program. However, I have to admit that it was a relief to sit down and play Yutnori with my group.
A highlight for me in these first two days was the Korean tea ceremony. I liked how precise and orderly each step was.
The process of making tea and placing everything in the correct position was very relaxing and gave off a strong sense of tradition. The ceremony was peaceful, simple, and pleasant. If I could, I would definitely do it again, maybe with family or friends. On the second day, we spent the latter part following a guide through Seoul. We dropped by an exhibition hall of a Joseon dynasty arsenal, saw the statue of Yi Sun-sin, and passed through a compact circle of stores. I was most amazed by the Kyobo bookstore connected to Gwanghwamun Station. It’s bright and large, filled to the brim with books of all kinds, most of them Korean books I’d never seen before. It was definitely my kind of place to be. Day three was one of the more exciting days. We visited the National Museum of Korea and viewed relics and paintings from throughout ancient Korean history. Even though we didn’t have as much time as I would have liked, I still enjoyed looking at the exhibits. After that, we split into groups and went shopping around Myeongdong. I didn’t buy much, but it was still impressive. When our shopping ended, we all went to watch the Nanta show. I wasn’t expecting anything at all, but I was amazed by the physical comedy and the minimization of spoken language. The Nanta show completely captured my attention and I would bring my family back just to watch it again.
The fourth day was another neat day. We swam in the river, tried archery, rode a horse, hit tteok with a hammer, and ate watermelons. Going in the river was probably my favorite. I spent most of my time sitting on a raft, propelling it in whatever direction felt right. It was fun and free, it let me forget everything else. I enjoyed it a lot.
The last three days mesh a little for me. We learned about the history of Seonbi scholars in Korean history, went to another mall to buy each other gifts, and ate some fantastic chicken. It was around this point that the activities partially lost their importance to me, in comparison to the new friends I made. Even though I liked and talked with people before, I wasn’t feeling myself as truly being any one of their friends. (through no fault of anyone but me, I was too shy) That was, until I roomed with Sunwoo, hailing from Germany. It was a surprise; I have no idea how our conversation started. But it did, and I talked to him for hours. We talked and jumped around topics. Talked about family, talked about school, talked about whatever came to mind. We laughed, we listened. I told him some of my favorite stories, told him about myself. I probably talked more than he did, but he said he didn’t mind listening. To me, it was beautiful, and I cherished it.
Through all the cultural experiences that I saw and didn’t understand, through all the fun I had, what I know I’ll hold dear are the friends I seemed to have made. I’m still astonished by it. People I could talk to, relate to, and enjoy being around. Maybe that’s the wrong thing to take away from this program. Maybe this is squandering the opportunity I was given. Maybe I’m being naive in treasuring this so much. Despite all that, to me, this is the greatest change that’s come in a very long time.
<Eric Kim / Sunny Hills High School 12thGrade