By: Abneries Gonzales (State University of New York, Buffalo)
It has been three weeks since I came to South Korea. There have been times that I wished to go home, such as when I temporarily left my passport behind, got sick from eating kimchi in the morning, and when I got lost all the time. Yet it is all these experiences that have allowed me to discover this country, its culture and its people. The way strangers help you and if they cannot help you personally, they will find someone to do so; their wisdom, the way they make you feel like an old friend there is so much I have learned in these few days that has helped me change my perspective on almost everything. Things that to me seemed normal in my daily life are now questionable and it has made me reassess what I consider as truths.
The other day I visited Deoksugung Palace near City Hall and it was a strange sight. In the middle of the busiest area in Seoul, there is a nest of tradition, history and peace; it seems like a great contradiction yet one could say it is the truth of every Korean. Throughout the centuries, Korea has been a nation that developed on its own, and it has been seen as a precious place by its citizens, but also by its neighbors. Time and again it has been invaded, its people and culture almost erased by the attempts of the sovereign powers of the time. Yet as the mountain who does not bow down to the howling wind, Koreans have been more than obstinate to keep their identity and traditions alive no matter what.
This is palpable throughout Seoul today, one example being that of having ancient palaces sharing the panorama with modern skyscrapers, being modern yet keeping traditions in the core. It is not about refusing change but molding it to your expectations and self. And that gives me hope because everyone can still be themselves and keep their traditions alive. At the same time it gives me a tenacity to excel and follow through this experience that not everyone gets to acquire and whatever I gain from this, to use it for the benefits of others. Hopefully by the end of the semester I have realized my goals, enjoyed my stay and had learnt to tolerate kimchi in the morning.