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