Seoul, South Korea: March 7 - 14, 2015
Korea was an amazing experience – not only was it the furthest I’ve ever traveled, but it was also about as far removed from Western society as I have ever come. Traveling throughout Europe in the past, I noticed subtle differences in mannerisms, behavior, and food. However, in East Asia, the differences are much more pronounced, including the very writing they use. Before going, we learned what would be expected of us as American students traveling abroad – some basic do’s and don’t’s – and also, what to expect while there. For example, when giving or receiving an item from someone, you do so with both hands instead of one. This is something unheard of in Western society, but taken very seriously in the East.
After returning home and taking time to reflect on my experience, I very much respect the cultural practices I observed. It is clear that Koreans are a very prideful people extremely serious about progress and self-betterment. They are intent on proving their worth despite the atrocities of the past. South Koreans are also clearly fashion-conscious, well groomed, respectful, and polite. Although I was expecting to feel singled out or uncomfortable while in a country where I am immediately identifiable as a foreigner, there was not a single time where I actually ended up feeling that way. Most of the people we met with were extremely gracious and welcoming – and, unlike in some circumstances where this may be fake or aimed at personal gain, it all seemed very genuine. Looking at the past, I understand fully why South Koreans place so much emphasis on education and moving forward, and I believe the rest of the world could do well to follow their example.