July 4, 2017
Jeff’s Korean Excursion: Part 1
My name is Jeff and I live in northwest Indiana. I was offered the opportunity to travel to South Korea during the summer before my freshman year of College because of a friend of mine. The three-week trip consisted of time in Seoul at the beginning and end of the trip, and time at three elementary schools in the southern region. Some background about me: going into my trip I ate a small number of foods, and I was a bit nervous about traveling to another continent for the first time, with no travel buddy by my side. These issues turned out to be limited; I quickly adapted to the food and different environment.
I landed at Incheon International Airport and took a bus to Seoul. During my time in Seoul, I experienced many types of Korean food as well as Japanese ramen, Starbucks, and McDonalds. There has been no shortage of food and I have been consistently full. The best meal I ate was Korean BBQ pork with garlic on a piece of lettuce (I like onion and garlic now).
Another great Korean meal was seafood bebimbap, which is a mixture of rice (with A LOT of butter), assorted fish, dried seaweed, and onions soaked in soy sauce. Bebimbap is commonly vegetarian and made by adding veggies, a spicy pepper paste, and other add-ins to a bowl of rice. This allowed me to add what I wanted, while excluding the dried anchovies! Experiencing another culture’s cuisine opened up my possibilities to many different types of food.
The meals were great, but the architecture and activities in the city were even more amazing! Seoul is built in the center of a group of mountains (the landscape in Korea is roughly 70% mountain) so all the buildings are built up very tall with numerous basement floors. I visited a palace that is in the center of the downtown area that looks eerily similar the palace in Kung Fu Panda and a museum that showed the history of the emperors in Korea.
I also visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where I walked part of an infiltration tunnel the North Koreans dug to attempt an invasion of South Korea in 1978. The tour included sights of the famous Freedom Bridge that connects North and South Korea as well as the fake village that the North Koreans put up as propaganda. It was a thrilling experience, especially at the military checkpoint we had to cross in order to visit the DMZ. During the tour, there were camera restrictions for security reasons so I could not take photos at many of the interesting sights, namely the infiltration tunnel.
Some of the insights gained at this point in the trip were the similarities between Seoul and Chicago as well as the benefit of knowing another language. Seoul should be envisioned as a Korean Chicago, with a few differences; there are an insane number of coffee shops, many compact cars, and public transit is used extensively. The benefits of knowing another language include, but are not limited to: access to different resources, more potential people to interact with, and greater possible life opportunities. We’ll see where these takeaways bring me, and I just want to reiterate how valuable it is to have unique travel experiences. Stay tuned for the rest of this 5 Part Korea Series!