Places to Go and Things to See

All is well in the land of the morning calm. Haven’t quite figured out why they call it this yet, but stay tuned. I will have the meaning behind it for you in my next blog.

Yonsei campus, Wonju is definitely a place that embodies calmness and serenity as it is situated in the Charyeong mountains of Gwangju. Its campus is away from the hustle and bustle of the city, nestled right up against the tall foothills of the surrounding mountainside, so its extraordinary scenery is not to be underestimated or overlooked. Soon, the surrounding flora will be in full bloom and according to the native students, the campus will transform itself into a beauty all its own.

Yonsei campus, Wonju I would not recommend to those students who are in search of a more metropolitan experience, the kind you can find in the colleges of Seoul. Rather, it’s more in line with students who wish for something other than the fast paced life of the city. It’s more for people who don’t mind being considered country bumpkins or mountain folks if you will. There’s definitely more time to study here and perhaps find yourself.

There does exist a night life here, though. Conveniently located across the road from the campus is Maeji-ri, an area with a handful of pubs and drinking establishments that students congregate to in the evenings to drink alcohol and carry on. And boy do they like to drink in Korea! According to my language instructor, Korea is 4th in all the world for hard liquor consumption. And it’s not because of the high sales volume of hard liquor. Instead, the reason is Koreans imbibe a concoction called “poktahn” which is a glass of beer combined with a shot of the indigenous alcohol, soju (ethanol and water).

When the shot of soju is dropped into a glass of beer, it makes the alcohol content somewhere in the range of what is considered hard liquor. It’s a lethal combination that gets the drinker inebriated in a shorter amount of time, so my instructor has said. The Koreans are shorter on time than us San Diegans because of their uber-busy lifestyle, so it’s their point to get smashed quicker and some say harder! Lucky for me, I’m not a drinker, so I can’t say if it’s all that good, but I do enjoy having my sweetened fruit vinegar drink (another popular Korean health beverage) in the evenings in the cozy confines of my dorm room.

Although the campus can get a bit claustrophobic for the students that live here, Global Village participants have the opportunity once a week to venture out to close by vicinities to explore the customs and culture of Korea. It is part of our Korean Cultural Experience class that meets on Fridays and thus far we’ve been chaperoned to two destinations for a fun day in the sun.

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The first was Korea’s National Museum where we saw relicts of old. Especially memorable was seeing two iron Buddhist statues that remained after Japan’s colonization of Korea (1905-1945). These were notable since during the Korean colonial period, most of the country’s iron and metal was confiscated for the war ambitions of then Imperial Japan. It was explained that the reason these Buddhist statues were designed with large earlobes and small mouths is due to the belief that people should listen more and talk less. That coincides with my disposition since I don’t talk a whole lot, but like to listen to others. It was comforting to be validated in such a way.

Our second field trip was to the Korean Folk Village of Suwon. Here they reconstructed a village of the Joseon dynasty of late 19th century. We walked through the village like villagers and handled dated agrarian tools firsthand. We also witnessed a reenactment of a traditional wedding ceremony and viewed a horse/rider stunt show with bows, arrows, and a whole lot of physical action. Lunch was traditional Korean and what’s funny about that is although the buildings and infrastructure have all been modernized in this country, the food has remained the same, I assume, for centuries. It has maintained its exact flavor and appearance, so it is kind of like going back in time every time Korean food is served. I suppose it’s like that in any country (except for ours).

Midterm week is upon us and during this time, all social activities shut down as to provide the students with all the time they need preparing for whatever exams they may have coming up. For Global Villagers, our mutual mentoring sessions are put on hold for two weeks as are our team meetings. Yonsei University is considered a first rate university here in Korea and its prestige is well known. So the students here are quite serious about their grades. So it’s that kind of school.

I must say, Korea’s been all that I expected it to be thus far. I haven’t gained any kind of keen insight as to my question “how Korean am I?” or “How are Koreans different from Americans?”. But I have a feeling if I keep asking myself that question, an answer will come. And it’s safe to say, I’ll provide that information here.

There’s a lot going on in this country and I’d like to discern through it all to gain a better perspective of myself when it comes to returning back to the States, but so far, this much I can say. Koreans are competitive people and I think that competitive nature has allowed them to survive throughout history even with all of the impeding forces geographically close by, but you could hardly tell by the looks of it. Koreans are competitive, but competitive with themselves and they seem to push themselves to their limits to gain prosperity, knowledge, and prestige for their country. Nationalistic? Yes. Selfish? It seems not. That I think adds to their charm.

Well, that’s it for me this time. Hope all is well in America’s finest city. Save a place for me at Buddy’s when I get back. Aztec for life!

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