“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
In June this year I, along with five other lucky GLP students, arrived at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea to participate in a short term exchange program. None of us quite knew what to expect, least of all me; a sheltered Chinese Australian from the suburbs, with little travel experience and a limited understanding of my host country.
We visited memorable places, such as the famous, picturesque Gyeongbokgung Palace, the DMZ, Namsan Tower and the traditional Hanok villages. A trip to the Imjingak border village and the Dorasan Station (which would have connected both North and South Korea) located along the DMZ made me realise in a tangible way not only how deeply divided the Korean nation is, but also that there is still hope for peace and reunification. Atop the majestic Namsan Tower, some 237m above ground level, I was able to look out and see Seoul from all directions. For me this was symbolic of the dizzying heights Korea has reached in recent decades as a prosperous, highly-developed country. As far as its future development is concerned, the sky truly is the limit. The Hanok villages and Gyeongbokgung Palacein the modern heart of Seoul demonstrate the continuing relevance of history and tradition in today’s Korea, which is a country where the old exists side-by side and in harmony with the contemporary.
The cultural immersion activities were enjoyable and varied so as to give us a broad experience of Korean culture and their way of life. Learning Hangul (the Korean language) in just 3 weeks was not only one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do but also one of the most rewarding. I was fortunate to have been taught by such a wonderful, patient and passionate teacher who made learning the language fun and I also enjoyed the support and friendship of fellow class-mates.
We also tried on Korean traditional dress, watched a Nanta stage show performance, tried our best (but failed horribly) to learn K-pop dance moves and learnt to cook delicious Korean food. No prizes for guessing which of these activities was my favourite!
It is also worth mentioning how welcoming the people at Sookmyung were. We were each assigned a student “buddy” and their warmth and hospitality was evident from day one. They were only too willing to spend time with us on day trips and night activities and provide us with recommendations on where to eat, go shopping and what to do in Seoul. I had a lot of fun eating sannakji (squirming octopus), taking a leisurely night-time cruise as well as karaoke with the buddies.
I never imagined that I would be so taken with another culture, or that such a short trip could have had such a profound impact on me. Prior to my departure I did not like kimchi or K-pop but upon my return I can’t get enough of both! I have also committed myself to continuing to learn Hangul as a hobby. I have developed a love of Korean culture, which I now know is capable of winning hearts and minds across the globe. I say this as I write this blog while nursing a hot cup of Korean green plum tea.
I’ve also come away from this trip understanding myself better too. My time in Korea has helped bring out the best in me. Through exposure to the unfamiliar and interactions with others, I’ve demonstrated a real enthusiasm for learning and having authentic experiences, a love of wit and humour and an ability to connect with people, which I had previously underestimated in myself. As a result I’ve been able to create meaningful and (I hope) lasting relationships with people from different cultural backgrounds.
The Sookmyung Summer School Program will undoubtedly be the highlight of my 5 years as a University student and it’s been truly fantastic experiencing the unique, vibrant and dynamic culture and making so many friends along the way. I definitely hope to visit again in the future!
*By Tony Zhang. Tony is in his 5th and final year of a Bachelor of Social Science / Bachelor of Laws.
*The Sookmyung Beyond Borders Program at the Sookmyung Women’s University (SWU) takes place in both Summer and Winter breaks. It provides an opportunity for students to learn about Korean society through intensive academic courses, historical tours and cultural activities. Applications for the Winter program are currently open and close on Monday 26th October.
*The GLP will let students know via email and Facebook in when applications are open for future programs.