A Trip to Remember

By Clinton L. Carbon

 

For twelve exciting days I traveled through a land I had already realized I knew very little about. My Korean students had shared a few thoughts here and there about the land, food, and people of South Korea, and I had read several travel books in preparation for this trip, but nothing prepared me for the beauty and generosity I witnessed.

After the exhausting thirteen hour trip to Incheon International Airport, I now understand the demands of travel that many of our students endure several times a year to return home. It has been a realization for me that many of my Korean students are living in two worlds simultaneously: one here in the US and one in South Korea. This may also exist to some degree for those students who were born in the US and yet must adapt to customs and a culture they know nothing about. My heart was immediately won over by the Korean family I lived with for the first two days and three nights. I shared this experience with one of the students present on the trip. Although the family lead very full lives, they took strangers in and shared their existence with open hearts and impressive generosity. Through English and Korean translation provided by my home-stay student partner Jeremy, I was able to share who I was and learn things about each of them. We all bonded quickly. Each family member wanted to know as much about my life as I did theirs. I marveled at how quickly our traditional meals were prepared. I pondered long and hard about how simply and happily my host family lived without many of the things I consider ‘necessary’ in my life and I realized how little those ‘things’ were missed.

It was most impressive to look back on all that we saw and did during our travels. Our itinerary provided a view of the wealth and poverty of South Korea. We saw national treasures beside the many symbols of fast living known to Americans. As a child of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’ & 1960’s, visiting the Gwangju 518 Memorial Park was an important experience in my life as I watched film footage and thought about the lives that were lost during demonstrations for democracy in South Korea. I will not forget the stories and there were many stories that will help me focus and continue my work as an advocate for equity and justice for all.

There were many tasty meals of Bibimbop, Seaweed Soup, Grilled Pork Strips, several types of Kimchi, and Bulgogi during our travels. Our fifteen course lunch in Seoul was a culinary highlight without parallel in my life. Jeju Orange Chocolate was awesome and Korean popcorn has become my new favorite snack. H Mart here I come!

Our trip organizers provided us with daily thoughts, observations and ways to remember this trip. This quote will always remain with me when I think of my time in South Korea: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must go.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The trip home did not seem long. I came back to the United States a different man. I am forever changed.