I left for South Korea a little nervous but extremely excited. Though I had a bit of a rough start by getting lost in the bus system of Seoul in which a 10 minute bus ride ended up taking over an hour, several people were more than happy to help me find my way. I took a five and a half hour bus ride from Seoul to Ulsan, and it was amazing to see the beauty of the country. Once I was at the dorms at the University of Ulsan, I was completely comfortable. I started meeting people from other schools around the world (United States, Canada, Japan, and the Ulsan students). The ASAN International Program (AIP) was great in that it allowed students to experience as much of the Korean culture as possible during one month.
Classes ranged from lectures on Korean economy, politics, business practices, family, and religion to more hands-on learning with pottery, music, costume, and taekwondo. The excursions were amazing. They included a stay at a beautiful Buddhist Temple and going through a program to live as the monks do, which was intense but a great experience. The program took us to Seoul, where half of the country’s population lives, and we got to experience a great deal of the big city from palaces to markets to shows. We even went to the Unity Observation Building where you can see North Korea in the distance. Learning about some of the rough history the nation has had and seeing how much has changed in a few decades was really interesting. I don’t know how many times I heard the phrase, “And 20 years ago this area used to all be rice paddies,” and now it’s massive apartment complexes, shopping areas, and huge factories, such as Hyundai Motors and Heavy Industries.
There were those times I missed my mom’s cooking and Guthrie’s, but there was so much new stuff to try. Now being back home, I crave some of the dishes I had there. We all had the opportunity to stay with a Korean family for a weekend, and I felt very welcomed. My home-stay mother saw I couldn’t eat the fish properly with my chopsticks, so she actually sat beside me, pulled the meat off with her chopsticks, put it in a spoon, and then handed me the spoon! She called me her adopted son for the weekend. During our free time, we had the opportunity to see other sites in the region, and we went to amazing waterfalls and hills/valleys with carvings over 3,000 years old. We also took trips to other cities and a theme park because travel is really easy due to the efficient public transportation. What I miss the most are the people. You do so much with the group, and you learn so much from each other. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy. The upside is that we’ve got friends all over the globe, and the destinations for reunions are far and wide!