You live and you learn; it’s a common expression that holds the idea that the older you get, the more you know. I find travelling to be the pinnacle of this expression, exploring and viewing the world in a way that only boots on the ground and immersion into a society can reveal. Two visit two sides of a country divided for the past 60 years, back to back, was undoubtedly priceless
Looking back on my brief time at Sookmyung and Seoul, nothing but insight exists. How dynamic Seoul is! The apparent wit and work ethic of its people, the innovation of its technology, the beautiful mountains of Bukhansan, parks, rivers, museums of war and history. Even the public transport system left me in a state of awe every time I boarded at Sookmyung station!
My impression extends even to the selection of units available to study. Through this, I have started to question things that I have never questioned before. Philosophy teaches you to challenge authority, stand your ground, hold your convictions tightly and search of a sometimes unattainable truth. In gaining a blue belt in Taekwondo with my classmates, it never really felt like study, but classes in flowing strike of strength, memory and focus. This wouldn't have been possible without KK and ML.
With the student's we befriended, you shopped with us, played mud fights with us, ate patbingsu with us, introduced me to the big wide world of Green tea matcha, and recommended places to explore while continuing to live your own daily lives. It is an unrivalled level of hospitality that will remain with us for years to come!
Of course all of these great successes and achievements in the fabric of Korean society does come at a cost. My classmates spoke of a more difficult domestic life of societal competition, pressures of success and appearance, and trepidation in maintaining one's reputation amongst peers. The artificiality in general politeness and friendships were also raised, which were reflected in the country's abnormally high suicide rate and much publicised psychological problems associated with human interaction.
But of any nation I have visited, I believe that your tenacity will have the resolve to get through anything. For a nation wracked with tragedy, it has core of steel, a heart of gold and the minds of geniuses.
I was also lucky enough to have visited the other side, the seldomly explored territory of North Korea. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating places that I have ever visited, for entirely unexpected reasons.
The first impression of Pyongyang isn't one of a grey, lifeless metropolis - but one of greenery. The rolling hills, parks, rivers and grasslands adorn the sky scrapers (yes they do exist there) in a very aesthetically harmonious appearance. In no other city are you blind to the influences of the West, or even modernisation past the 60's even - But here.
People lead simply lives, without phones, the constant hunger for connectivity that infects our youth. There are no Mcdonalds, Coca-Cola sold on every street corner all the youth are running around outside with remarkable joy, water parks, extra-curricular games like soccer and piano are all embraced in place of internet cafes and shopping centres.
That isn't to say that what the media says is untrue- in studying a Law degree with a major in Social Justice great streaks of poverty were apparent just outside the capital. Workers, unable to afford lawnmowers, cut grass with simple hand-scissors for hours on end. Vehicles were so expensive that the roads were frequently occupied singularly by our tour bus, and the odd bicycle. The stature of the people were remarkably short and frail, due to the malnutrition of their earlier years.
It all culminates in a country so uniquely diverse, literally cut in half along the border, that leaves one to truly appreciate even the smallest glint in the history and grandeur of the Korean people.