Saturday, November 23, 2013

Seoul, South Korea III

Annyeonghaseyo! It's been a long month. My classes ramped up and there has been something to do every weekend. We went to the historical city of Gyeongju, volunteered at an animal shelter, and took a three day trip to Osaka, Japan. I've also found myself reflecting a lot on Korean culture and the differences between Korea and the United States.

When I first arrived in Seoul, I saw more similarities than differences. After spending the summer in Washington DC, I discovered most of us born and raised in Missouri are generally more friendly than our eastern counterparts. It's no surprise then that the genuinely friendly people and abundance of liquor in Korea reminded me of home. However, the longer I'm here the more apparent the differences between Korean and Midwestern hospitality become.

South Korea is still a nation at war. A visit to the Demilitarized Zone at the border with North Korea confirmed this in my mind. Less than hour from Seoul, passed several anti-tank walls, live mines, and barbed-wire fences is a completely different world. As I looked out over the "Bridge of No-Return," passed the gate containing hundreds of hand-written messages with well-wishes from South Koreans to their brethren in the North, I could see how real the tension was. The visit provided some context for Korean society.

I thought about the sense of community fostered in the United States during World War II or after the 9/11 attacks. The threat of war causes us to rethink our priorities and consider what is really important. The threat of war is perhaps one source of Korean hospitality. In an environment where the threat of attack is a real possibility, friends and family become very important.

A sense of community is also built into the Korean language. It is not uncommon to use familial terms to refer to your friends or elders. The equivalent of "uncle," "aunt," "big brother," or "big sister" are often used interchangeably with the equivalent of "sir" or "madame." It is as if all of Korean society is one big family. Despite being a foreigner, the longer I'm here the more I feel like I'm becoming part of that family.

It will be difficult to return to life without kimchi and soju.

Annyeonghi Gyeseyo!

Below is a link to an album with pictures of my university.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In the face of death...I shall stand stronger

Praise to the God Almighty,

   The end of the semester is upon us and I have just began living life. Soon after I wrote my last blog post about the conscience recognition of my everyday lifestyle, I choice to live up to the words I wrote to my readers, and to myself. One week later, I took a spontaneous trip to the tallest mountain in North Africa--Mount Toubkel. The summit reaches about 14,000 feet, my first hiking adventure and a challenge of my living worth.
  The journey was a long and unprepared. My friends and I expected little to what was to come. We were silly in the fact that we THOUGHT* we could plan this trip in a few hours, not knowing we did not have the proper means of supplies and navigation. The next morning we set out after class, young naive Americans ready to conquer the Mountain with our American Flag blazing in the wind, we jumped on the train and started heading to the South of Morocco--Marrakesh. Riding economy class, we enjoyed ourselves and stranger's companies. Learning more about the small cities we passed, admiring the beauty of the desolate desert, staring at the world we assume to know.
  Finally, soon after arriving to Marrakesh, we made our way to a cheap hostel, Waka Waka. When we arrived we simply wanted a large replenishing meal and a goodnight's sleep, but like the young soul's we have--YOLO screams when an opportunity arises. Two *cute* young men, one British, one French, ask us out to dinner, as three young women we were weary at first, but we accept the invitation. A few hours later we invite our British friend, Alex to join us on our pilgrimage.
 The next morning, we grab our hiking backpacks, boots, and determination (after a big, filling breakfast) and head out the door. We walk to the Marrakesh taxi stand and barter our way to a thirty dollar ride to Imlil, the small village outside the mountain. One hour later, we arrive to our destination, thrilled with excitement, we ate our lunch and hydrated ourselves before the days that lay ahead. Making our way through people's backyards and finally up on the paved road, we crossed the riverbank, there is were I realized there was no turning back.
  I bought two water bottles, thinking that we would find the smaller Berber villages on our way up to the top. I immediately realized, I am not in the best physical shape. My fellow friends, are all in great physical shape. I was struggling to make it up the mountain the moment we starting trekking upwards. Struggling to catch my breathe most of the way, I was lagging behind the group, struggling to put one foot in front of the other. These next few days were going to be extremely challenging, both physically and mentally.
    The excitement of hiking up the mountain soon wore as I was struggling to keep my heart rate under control. With an old map, we had printed off of Wikipedia, we began to make way past the other hikers onto a more desolate path. We kept hiking up the mountain, beginning to see less local people, then running lower on water and food, we assumed up were still traveling the correct way. We kept faith in our navigational skills and trekked forward, thinking we would make the camping ground (which was marked) way before sunset. The camp ground was a three hour hike from the bottom of Imlil, based on time we should have already made the destination, but because I slowed the group down, we assumed it was just our timing.
   After seven hours of hiking, we soon realized there was something missing. We were all exhausted, without food or water. We kept false peaking, thinking right around the corner would be refugee. Taking a small break, Remy and Alex ran to see if the refugee was anywhere in sight--there were just miles and miles mountains all around us, that is when we realized...WE CLIMBED THE WRONG MOUNTAIN. Not only did we climb the wrong mountain, but of COURSE to make the situation worse on top of the fact that we didn't have but an inch of Remy's water and no food, there was no safe place to camp out and the sun was setting. Hiking at night is the dangerous, so we tried looking on the map to see if there was a number we could call, there was not. Then we tried to call our director, no phone service. We had no choice, but to try to quickly climb back down the mountain.
  Fear quickly set in, we were all being tested. It was so hard not to just sit down and cry, but it the fire inside me to keep me moving. As we were running (literally) down the mountain, Remy, was encouraging me because I was scared for our lives. The mountain was so steep, that one misstep would take you down to your grave. At one point I was sliding on my butt because I had fallen on my back so many times. We made it half way down the mountain before the sun finally set.
  Darkness was upon us, we rummaged through our backpacks for our flashlights, and slowly made our way down the mountain. Feeling defeated and betrayed by the sun, we slowly made our way down the path. Soon enough we broke the silence of fear with laughter and faith that a warm meal and bed were waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain. There were moments were all I could do was tremble; tremble with fear, lack of food and water. Was this the end? Was I going to die on this mountain, without saying good-bye to my family and friends? NO, I would never let this be the end.
  The human mind is so powerful, all it takes it courage. Soon we were closing in on a village about five miles away, seeing our  flash lights they signaled us SOS and we soon signaled back. Within twenty minutes, the villagers had ran up the mountain and found us. Helping us walk down the mountain, we soon realized where we had branched off and headed in the wrong direction, we were supposed to cross a bridge and instead we went up the wrong path.
   The Berber village does NOT under any circumstance let any foreigners stay in their village, but they fed us and let us sleep in a spare room they had. GIVING me hope in humanity, the fact that people are inherently good was something that did not cross my mind when I was up on the mountain shouting HOW GREAT MY GOD IS, but I realized that humans deserve recognition. Laying in bed, on this thin mattress, my belly full, my thirst vanished, the cold mountain air stinging my cheeks, I thought about how grateful I am. How lucky, I am to be alive. That nothing in this would could stop me and what I have in store for the future, that tomorrow morning, I was going to climb the *correct mountain and summit the peak.
  The next morning, after a long, cold night, we started climbing the mountain, again I began to struggle to catch my breathe. Watching my friends effortlessly run up the mountain. Hours later we finally reached the refuge, we where still so exhausted from the ten hour hike the day before and the five hour hike that day we decided we take an easy day and sleep.
  The next morning we got up around six, before the sunrise and began hiking the mountain. This was the most exhausting day yet, we at one point were literally rock climbing. While struggling up this mountain, sixty year old men were passing us, that's when I came to realize things to change in my life. At one point Remy was physically pushing me up the mountain (she is a great motivator).
  FINALLY, we reached the summit point! THANK GOD! Such a relief and worth the beautiful sight. I understood even though I really struggled up there, I reach the top! Sitting there basking in the warm sun, and breathing the freshest air in the world, I had a revelation! Life is much more than what is expected of me, it is what I expect for myself.
  Coming down the mountain was very fast! We tried to go quickly,because we were running out of money and we needed to get to Marrakesh. Slowly, but surely we made it down the scary path. At some points after the refugee it felt like I was running, so we could grab a cab in time to get to Marrakesh.
   Climbing Mount Toubkel was the most emotion hike I have ever taken, but it has motivated me to get in shape. I want to be healthier to set an example for myself, to live by my words. Life is too short to live by an outline. I am ready to take the world by my hands and craft my own future.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mid term wrap up!

What's the craic UMKC?

So I'm sitting on my couch in Camden attempting to write a Shakespeare paper after have ten days off. This isn't easy! So I decided I'd be a lot happier if I were to revisit some of the incredible moments I've enjoyed since being abroad. Lets go!

Working my way immediately backwards, yesterday morning I was in Dublin, Ireland. I spent nine days in Ireland, three of which were spent in the capital while the rest were spent bussing about the beautiful country side and staying in smaller cities, or tiny towns. Ireland has always been a county I thought I would enjoy but I had no way of preparing myself for the awesomeness of the place as a whole. The people really are as happy, outgoing, helpful, and kind as you'd expect. I took a three day Shamrocker Adventures tour guided by a cute young lady named Kim. She was a local Dublin girl and exuded happiness to be able to show off her country to tourist from all over the world. With the tour I was able to see castles, national parks, kiss the Blarney stone, get blown away by the Atlantic winds of the Cliffs of Moher and many other breath taking views in just three days! I will definitely be a repeat customer with this company and urge any friend to go through them if you're looking to see Ireland without renting a car.

Before I was exposed to the awesomeness that is Ireland I had been studying in London the past six weeks. I should emphasize studying. This has been the hardest semester of my career, but also one of the most enjoyable. I only have classes Monday through Wednesday. When classes are over I have ample time to explore London, which I have been taking full advantage of, but during the school week there is a lot to be done. I wont bore you with my class schedule, but just know that if you are coming to study, you should remember that you might be doing a lot of work though all you really want to do is go out, see plays, try new restaurants, visit museums, and shop. I think there is plenty of time for both with a well managed schedule.

I did find time to go to Munich for a second time this trip for Oktoberfest. This IS everything you hope it to be. The bavarian clothes are so fun to see, the locals are laid back the women wear their hair in braids, and the mass (1 Liter ) of beer is flowing. The day before Oktoberfest my roommate and I were lucky to visit Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen. I recommend this stop to anyone traveling in southern Germany. Absolutely gorgeous castle surrounded by even more inspiring natural beauty: waterfalls, mountains, reflective lakes, evergreen forrest and a biergarten. This castle is a must visit.

With six weeks finished and six more to go, I'll be back to post photos and discuss the great places I'm lucky to explore. I'll be returning to Kansas City on December 12th around midnight...just in time to walk for graduation the next day! Getting excited about finishing my undergrad and making more travel plans for the future!

Bye for now,