After a long night out in Seoul and two hours of sleep I struggled to wake up at 7:30 am and walk nearly a mile and a half to the Airport bus station…with luggage. Professor Mutti’s vivacity amazed me. This man carried three pieces of luggage in his hands effortlessly while Megan and I struggled to roll our one bag and keep up with him. I’m not lying when I say that we could hardly stay within 20 feet of him. I pray that when I grow up I’m half as vibrant as he is.
I was so happy to finally get on the plane so that I could catch up on sleep. Unfortunately as much as I wanted to I couldn’t, mainly because its hard for me to sleep in moving vehicles, but also because there was so much turbulence! I started reading the safety manual especially considering that Korean Air makes their announcements in Korean first. If there was an accident they may not make it to English! I figured I should take matters into my own hands.
After 13 hours of going through air pockets we finally touched down in the U.S. When you get off the plane in Dallas you end up in this glass hallway that takes you straight to Immigration. You do not pass go or collect $200. Talk about border control! (It’s similar in other airports but it really hit me at the Dallas airport especially since we just talked about border control in my soc seminar) Anyways, I almost missed my connecting flight thanks to U.S. customs! They have no mercy. It’s like no one cared that I was about to miss my flight.
After roughly 18 hours of traveling I finally made it home!
Korea was amazing!
I apologize for the delay in updates. I’ve been recovering form jetlag and preparing for my summer, but I’m back for the last few posts. I’m sure you’ve been dying to find out about the end our time in Seoul. It was Amazing!
We started our last day with a visit to the U.S. Embassy, which was conveniently located within in blocks of our hotel. One of the Foreign Service officers from the economics department discussed Korea’s economic situation and US-Korea relations from the perspective of the U.S. For the most part her presentation was consistent with the story we’ve been hearing. However, there were some topics that seemed a little shaky, for example, current attitudes towards the presence of the U.S. Military. I’ve learned that recently Korean attitudes towards the military in Seoul have actually worsened due to some recent incidents, specifically amongst the younger generations. In contrast, however, the Foreign Service officer argues that the younger generation simply doesn’t understand the significance of U.S. military presence. Regardless it seems like this might be a potential problem in the future if attitudes do not improve. Interestingly the U.S. military base is moving 60 miles outside of Seoul and this is apparently because the Korean government wants the land that the base is on. I’ll admit that I’m being a little biased right now.
Afterwards we ate lunch at another western restaurant and then headed back to the hotel for four hours of wrap-up sessions. . The first was lead by Dr. Kihwan Kim. He discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the current Korean economy. There were some things that really stood out to me, which I will talk more about in Reflections. The second was lead by Professor Mutti and was basically our last class.
So you’re probably wondering what was so amazing about this day, right?. Keep in mind that you might not understand, but I’m going to explain anyway. Dr. Kim hosted our farewell dinner that evening and it was so inspiring. Throughout the entire meal I couldn’t stop smiling. I was and still am so grateful to have been in the presence of such prestige. This dinner was more intimate than the welcome dinner. Dr. Kim shared his life stories with us, which was so rewarding. Sometimes I forget that those who inspire me like Dr. Kim were young at one point in time. Although this sounds cheesy it really does remind you that you can be anything and that obstacles in life are just that. Anyways Dr. Kim started talking about black history, which almost made me cry. He had such an appreciation for my history and not just in an academic sense. That was amazing to me. I was trying to soak in every moment.
Throughout this whole trip we’ve been treated like VIP. As Grinnellians we’re very privileged students. Throughout the entire trip we were escorted everywhere by two tour guides in a tour bus. Mind you there are only 12 of us including the tour guides. Imagine a greyhound bus half empty all of the time. After most meetings we’re given nice souvenirs. Some nicer than others The privilege goes on. I’ve definitely been spoiled on this trip. Today our privilege was most evident. We visited the Goldman Sachs Seoul office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Korea Exim Bank.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade we met for teatime with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. For those who of you who don’t know this is like having tea with Hilary Clinton. Another thanks to Dr. Kihwan Kim. But wait…I can’t forget to mention that on our way to the meeting room we took the Golden Elevator…which is the VIP guest elevator. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that I am so grateful to be given the opportunities that I’ve been given the on this trip. Including the people I’ve met. To be able to pick the brain of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade is an invaluable experience. By the way the tea was delicious.
After our amazing experience at MOFAT we headed to the ICF mall which is an international mall with many stores that you’ll find in the U.S. In Korea, sales associates follow you around in the store. Its extremely annoying….mainly because back home someone following me around in the store would most likely mean they’re discriminating against me and fear I might steal something. Aside from that its just plain annoying. I can’t shop in peace with someone stepping on the back of my heels after every step I make. Bag back lady if I have any questions I’ll ask. Regardless I understand that this is just a cultural difference so I deal with it…I’m just venting right now.
On another note I really like that Korea understands its social responsibility as a leading economy to help underdeveloped economies.
We ate at a western restaurant today! Yay!! By the way special shout out to our tour guides Mr. Kong and Hailiey. They’ve truly been amazing! Thank you so much for showing us a great time.
Yesterday we visited the Korea International Trade Association, Korea Venture Capital Association, and Yonsei University…and in that order. Ill be honest during our first two meetings I was extremely tired. I had a difficult time staying awake. I did learn that Korea is seeking to promote and expand the services sector. From this, I think that predictions of Korea being a future financial hub just might be true. Next up, Yonsei University. This visit was another reminder of my tunnel vision. I forget that like the United States, Korea also has its higher education system… except on a smaller scale. I think that the influx of international students enables my tunnel vision slightly. Anyways, Yonsei is one of Korea’s top three schools. Getting into one of the top three is an extremely competitive process in Korea. 80 percent of high school graduates go to college (United States is around 40 to 50 roughly). The number of students attending college in Korea is so high that the government is actually trying to encourage students not to go to college. However, according to the Dean of International Affairs at Yonsei going to college is not really an economic issue but more so a social issue. His reasoning is that you have to have a college degree to get married in Korea. Which is why so many desire a college education. Given that it is very expensive to prepare a Korean student for college in America in addition to the actual educational costs (tuition, room & board, etc) he wants the government to accommodate the high demand for a college education by creating more top universities in Korea. Very interesting issue. While Korea is trying to figure out how they are going to educate their already intelligent students America is dealing with underfunded schools and high levels of violence in marginalized areas. We need to get on their level. After a discussion with the Dean and Associate Dean of International Affairs we got a tour of the University. The tour was cut short due to the fact that it was EXTREMELY cold outside. It felt like wind was cutting my skin. We were able to see the library, which was built by Samsung and believe me it was high tech. After our tour I couldn’t wait to get back to the bus. I came back to the hotel and crashed.
Everything in Korea is small. Serving sizes are small. Cups are small. Napkins are small. People are small. I’m not sure how the cycle works here. When I say that I mean I’m not sure if the serving sizes are small so the people are small and therefore they think they should remain small. Or the people are small so the portion sizes are small to maintain the size. Whichever way it works being fat is not acceptable here. Not just fat but anything other than skinny.
I noticed this first in the food. I have yet to see cheese here. Where did you stash the cheese Korea? Seafood, chicken, pork, and beef and vegetables are what typify most Korean meals…and while I thought there would be this excess of white rice I’ve even had to ask for that. Thus far at the restaurants we’ve ate at you just drink water. The waiters don’t even think to ask what you would like to drink…in your small cup. Anytime that I have wanted something different it has been like a special request. Also where is the bread? I confess that I am a carb lover. There is never any bread. Even the junk foods are healthy here. When I get home I want a big nasty cheeseburger with a large side of fries and extra large peach ice tea! (No this is not what I eat on a daily basis)
Anyways to the meat of this post. Most Korean women are 5’3…5’’5 is pushing it, size 5 or 6 shoe, and size 0 in clothes. I am 5’7, size 8, and I wear a 9 in shoes. Although I am also considered a little tall for the average American woman it’s not like my height is out of the ordinary. In fact back home my height has never really been a problem when shopping for clothes. Neither is my shoe or clothing size. But here, its like being the Iron Giant or something. Last night the girls and I went shopping. Let me mention that before actually coming here I was stoked about shopping. Anyways, literally everything is one size fits all…Koreans. Stores only have small sizes. The only things I might have been able to fit were the trendy oversized sweaters. 0_0.
Apparently Korean women face a lot of pressure to stay really small. I’ve been told that most Korean sizes are <00 to 3 and three being the larger of the sizes. Apparently this is due in large part to the preferences of Korean men. Men aren’t afraid to say a girl needs to lose weight and neither are Korean parents I’ve also been told that there are so many coffee shops in Korea because coffee is typically the meal of choice instead of an actual meal. It seems like there is even more pressure to stay thin here than in America considering that there aren’t many sizes offered by stores and overall size discrimination.
I’m not sure how to look at this. Is America big or is Korea small? I’ve asked this question when it comes to many things I’ve seen in Korea. Is America’s metric system normal and the rest of the world different? Is America right for using the word soccer instead of football? Or vice versa? This is the question I am beginning to ask myself. Which way you should I view the world. Taking a neutral position is always an option as well.
By the way yesterday we visited Samsung, LG, and GM Korea. Samsung and LG are both chaebols in Korea. I must say that Samsung impressed us a little more than LG with their exhibition hall to display their technology. I should also add that they gave us 500 GB hard drives. . Who is going to top them? At GM Korea it was interesting to hear the perspectives of an American company in Korea. I think the history of US-Korea relations is definitely helping the company in terms of Korea acceptance.
Our trip will be coming to an end very soon
When the sun sets in Korea it outlines the top of the mountains creating a beautiful backdrop of Gyeongju City, which is where we spent part of the weekend. It’s absolutely beautiful.
Gyeongju is about 3 hours from Seoul by KTX (Korea Train Express). It’s one of the oldest cities in Korea with over 1000 years of ancient Korean history. I think I can speak for the entire group when I say that when you get off the train you immediately feel the peace and calmness of the city. Of course this could be very much because were coming from the restless Seoul. Regardless it was a nice getaway. Our first activity: visiting the Silla dynasty tombs. Learning the history of a country is always a rewarding experience but for me the most enriching experience was visiting the Buddhist Temple up in the mountains. One of course because I got to mountain climb(sort of) and two because it was a refreshing cultural experience. Anyways, since the first day I’ve been in Korea I’ve wanted to go to the top of a mountain and lucky for me not only did I get to go to the top of mountain (basically) I was driven most of the way! The drive up the mountain took about 20 minutes and the curves gave way to an awesome view down the mountain and the surrounding territory on our way up. Something about seeing Mother Nature at its best is rejuvenating. I come from a big city and am therefore never in the position to appreciate what I saw yesterday. Not to sound cheesy but it reminds you of what is important in life. We forget because our lives are encroached with what’s not important and this is especially true in a big city. Well anyways, I don’t practice Buddhism so there wasn’t anything particularly special to me other than being able to learn and appreciate a different culture, scenery, and history. We were also able to leave a little piece of Grinnell. This was definitely my favorite part of the day.
The main purpose of this trip to Gyeongju was to visit Hyundai and POSCO two chaebols in Korea. At both companies we got a tour through the facilities and production process. I am not really sure how to describe what I saw other than really cool. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take any photos. Being a consumer I tend to take for granted what goes into many of the products I use. Another reminder of the tunnel vision I have when going about my daily life. While throughout the semester we’ve discussed the economic steps taken to foster economic growth for Korea I think we’ve failed to really give credit to the core of Korea’s story, that being their culture. One thing I saw was a prevailing Confucianist ideology which has bred a loyal population. That coupled with the competitiveness of Korea’s society I personally believe is at the core of Korea’s economic development. (my spiel for all you that think sociology is useless). Well that’s it for today folks. Pictures are up now so please check them out here
Yesterday we put business to the side and had a little fun. Ok…well a lot of fun…despite the fact that we still had to wake up early. We took a trip to the National Korean Museum. We didn’t learn anything about Korea’s economy but we did learn a little ancient history, which was refreshing. Beautiful artifacts and national treasures…you can take a look at the pictures from Day 3 once I post them.
Afterwards we finally made our way to Namsan Tower better known as the N tower. I realized I’ve been saying the name wrong all this time btw. smh. Regardless I absolutely loved it. The bus only took us so far so we had to walk up this extremely steep hill. (I couldn’t really complain because up until yesterday I had been asking to go mountain climbing) We ate lunch below the tower looking out on the beautiful city of Seoul. During lunch conversations I learned so much about Korean culture. Did you know that Koreans can decide to pay a lump sum of money for an apartment upfront instead of monthly rent and then they will get their money back after the lease is up. The landlord makes his money off of the interest of the lump sum. That option is pretty cool right everybody wins. Its almost like living in an apartment for free…well it basically is. Also, crime rates are really low here. I asked what was the craziest thing that has happened here in the past few years and the response was (I’m excepting school shooting…bank robbery) a major protest (0_0). Kiyan was also really shocked. She asked “so if there is no crime what does the news do?” lol..smh. Its sad when we feel like the news has no purpose other than to report on crime. SMH America. Korea isn’t only an economic model but a social model as well. After my delicious lunch (which you can see on the food diary page) we went to the deck on N tower. There’s this super cute tradition where you can buy a lock write a message on it to that special someone, lock it to the deck, and throw the key. Isn’t that sooo cute??? There were so many locks just everywhere. It’s supposed to represent endless love…awwwwww. <3
We then headed to the Cheonggyecheong Musuem (I hope I spelled that right). Which documented the 2005 Cheonggyecheong restoration project. To sum it up, in the 70s Korea covered the historically significant Cheonggyecheong river with a highway and eventually the highway deteriorated due to poor technology and then in 2005 the Korean president decided to uncover the river and bring life back to Seoul…everything improved afterwards. We took a walk along the river, which is frozen right now, and then…Myeong Dong (a large shopping area in Seoul)!!
I love Myeong Dong so much! I love the atmosphere! I love shopping! I love haggling for super cute clothes! Just everything! This was a girls event btw…everyone else we dropped off at the hotel. Korean women are so fashionable I need to learn a thing or two from them. Simply classy. Love it! I thought about just snapping random photos of their outfits but I thought that might look a little creepy. We went to soo many different cosmetics stores. Unfortunately I didn’t really buy any makeup one because I didn’t want to fall in love with any particular product and then be sad when I can’t buy anymore and two because I’m black in Asia so therefore there isn’t a lot for me. Regardless I had a great time. When it came to haggling sometimes the language barrier got in the way of things…but Koreans have gotten creative. This lady started haggling with me on a calculator! It was soo funny (wish I had some pictures). btw my ears pop a lot here..is that normal? Someone comment and let me know. Also just in case you were wondering btw means by the way. Anyways although I didn’t want to leave Myeong dong I had to for dinner (which was so awesome..Korean barbeque). ..but I am going back very very soon.
Oh and in case you wondering because yesterday was Saturday and all…yes Seoul has a night life…but what happens in Seoul stays in Seoul so just know…we had a good time….gangnam style!
See more photos from Day 3