Thursday, September 9, 2010
Sunnyside High School student Christine Kim had been looking for opportunities to visit her ancestral homeland for a while. This past summer she found an online program that gave her that opportunity.
With the help of the Council on International Education Exchange, Kim spent two weeks in South Korea this past August.
Kim was one of just 100 students from across the United States who was chosen to go. She had to fill out a 16-page application and offer an explanation on how she thinks U.S./South Korea relations could be better. There were other filters. Students selected couldn't have visited Korea before or have experienced Korean culture.
"Since I've never been to Korea before and I live in Prosser, I haven't really experienced the Korean culture. I was selected," she said.
There was a $150 application fee but once Kim was selected her trip was paid for by the Council on International Education Exchange and the Korean Foundation.
Kim said she and the other students stayed at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. The students were split into groups of 25 and were assigned a counselor, who was a university student. The counselor was assigned to them for the entire trip and helped them navigate their way through Korean society.
Kim said every morning started with a useful lecture. One day it was a class on surviving Korean language, another day a historical overview of Korea's past was given.
Kim and the other students spent their days visiting sites in Korea, meeting with students and practicing Taekwondo. They visited the Chandeokgung Palace and the DMZ.
Kim's favorite time of the trip was when she spent three days with a Korean family.
"We had the opportunity to stay with students from Korea," she said. "We got to see what they do in their free time."
This included visiting a lot of amusement parks, going shopping and ice skating.
"We're not super different," Kim said of the differences between Americans and South Koreans as people.
But there were some things that were vastly different. Kim said the Korean students were amazed that she gets out of school at 2 p.m. She said it was common for students to start their school day at 7 a.m. and not finish until 10 p.m.
"They would get out of school around 6 or 7 p.m., but then go to a tutor until 10 or 11 p.m.," Kim said. "They're normal students, just like us, except they go to school a lot longer."
Kim said in Korea the school chooses the classes for the students, where in the United States it's the student who chooses the classes. The Koreans also thought it was strange that Kim and other American students change classes every hour. In Korea, it's the teacher that changes classes, not the students.
Kim and her host family would talk about their lives, home life and what colleges they wanted to go to.
Kim also got to visit the DMZ while in Korea. She said there were many checkpoints she had to go through to get in and there were some places where they couldn't take pictures.
"It was an eerie felling visiting the DMZ," she said. "The two countries (North and South Korea) are still technically at war. It was kind of creepy but interesting to see."
Exchanging thoughts and ideas on Americans and Koreans was also encouraged. Kim said that older Koreans are very appreciative of the Americans for the help the United States provided in the early 1950s. They younger generation, however, doesn't really care, she said.
The two weeks went quickly and Kim said she was sad to leave.
"I felt like there was so much more to see," she said. "I'm looking forward to going back soon so I can see more of Korea. It was the culture that I really appreciated and tried to learn about."