By Dara Rose Cattani
My Korean trip was a priceless experience that strengthened my understanding of Korean culture. I feel very grateful to have had this opportunity that went beyond textbooks and lectures, but was all about the gaining of knowledge through exploration.
Before leaving for Korea, I thought about what I was going to write in my paper. I thought I would write about the people, the culture or maybe the education. But when I was in Korea, passion kept re-emerging in my head. There was so much passion within the Korean people. I saw passion in how they maintained their Korean traditions. I saw passion for keeping their history alive. I even tasted the passion in their food.
Although South Korea is modernized, it still holds on to many traditional values and the old ways of living. We saw this in the highly populated cities and rural areas we visited. I especially saw this at Seongeup Folk Village on Jeju Island. Cultural properties in the folk village have been handed down from generation to generation and include treasures such as thatched roof houses with lava walls. I also saw tradition in music as students are still learning instruments from thousands of years ago. The students at Sook Myong Girls High School in Seoul performed the gayageum. The gayageum is a traditional Korean string instrument developed around the 6th century. It was a beautiful and impressive performance.
Koreans are proud of their culture and want to maintain the heritage to remember their history. We saw this type of remembrance at the Gwangju 518 Memorial Park we visited on the trip. On May 18, 1980 Korean citizens took a stand for democracy from military martial law, but were defeated and many were killed by the South Korean army. This was a very emotional visit to see a national cemetery and to learn about the restored honor to the victims of this tragic event.
Korean people appreciate and value their food. Korean food is a great source of energy which pertains to strength of the mind and soul. Traditional Korean wisdom says that “food and medicine are grown from the same root,” therefore “there is no better medicine than food.” Korean culinary tradition focuses on five colors, which are white, yellow, red, black and green. Colored ingredients are blended to produce foods that allow the body to efficiently absorb nutrients. We learned this in a Korean cooking class that we took with the Jeon Nam University students in Gwangju.
The Korean people have passion about so many things and I was privileged to see some of it firsthand. I feel this experience has helped me become a more aware person and a more effective school counselor. It has not only given me more insight to the Korean culture, but it gave me an understanding of how important it is to appreciate all students’ cultural backgrounds and learn where they came from. From this experience, I will be able to educate my fellow colleagues through discussions and information sharing about the Korean culture. Also, I hope to help the Korean students as well as other foreign students with a smooth transition into school.
Thank you to Mrs. Jo, Mrs. Julia Park, the Closter KPG, Mrs. Mok (BCKPG) and the rest of the Sejong members who made this trip possible for me. An opportunity to not just learn but to truly live the culture…what can be better than that!