Clifford J. Yudkoff
High School Student, Englewood, New Jersey
Recipient of Korea Trip Scholarship funded by Dwight-Englewood School, New Jersey
Before coming on this trip, I really had no emotional connection to Korea. The only connection I had to Korea was purely environmental and tactile. It was minimal to almost non-existent despite my parents' attempts at exposing me to Korean culture. They played Korean music tapes when I was younger, prepared Korean food, took me to Korean restaurants and soon. It was hard to really connect to my Korean background and to Korea while living in America. I knew I was Korean but I didn't feel very Korean. I had a connection to Korea, albeit a vague and distant connection, but it was not the connection that went deeper than just eating Korean food. This trip changed that drastically.
I've always wanted to go to Korea but I never had the chance to go. Just last year, in my sophomore year, I learned of an opportunity to make a trip back to Korea through my science teacher, Ms. Park. She had gone on the trip the previous year and had strongly recommended that I apply for a scholarship through the school so that I could go on this trip. We had a short assembly at school informing us of this opportunity to go to Korea. Shortly after I submitted my application and a few weeks later, I was informed that the school would be funding my trip to Korea with the Sejong Cultural Education, Inc.
When I had first heard the news that I was indeed going to Korea this summer, I wasn't particularly excited, it was more a feeling of indifference. I just didn't know what to feel at the time. But as the days drew nearer to the trip and the classes came to an end and the trip became more and more of a reality, became very excited. Along with excitement came other feelings: nervousness, uncertainty, and so on and so forth. I wasn't sure what to expect and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. And finally, when we had arrived at Incheon airport, despite the fatigue of jet-lag, I was wired. I wanted to see everything! All of the previous nervousness evaporated and in a weird way, I felt a sense of belonging. It just felt... right. I could already feel some sort of connection to Korea. It's hard to explain through words but just being in Korea, standing on Korean soil, so to speak, made me feel more connected to Korea than any other attempt at cultural immersion I had been through.
As the days progressed, I found myself being drawn closer to Korea. Just the time spent there was enough for me to build my connection to Korea. Everything about Korea appealed to me: the beauty of the city, the grace of the architecture, the language, the culture, everything. It wasn't just being in Korea that strengthened this bond, but it was the smaller details of Korea like talking in Korean, being talked to in Korean, the politeness of the culture (lots of bowing), watching Korean TV, and just spending time with Koreans. An aspect of this trip that really helped confirming this bond to Korea that I had begun to feel in the beginning was the college-stay. It was a lot of fun talking to the college students, learning from them and spending time with them. Another aspect was meeting my foster mom. I have yet another connection to Korea now. I have the connection of another family who cares for me. I think that one of the most connecting experiences I had was when my foster-mom surprised me by showing up on our last day and taking me and my friends out in Seoul. I was really touched by that and it was a great experience to be with her for that short period of time. And if anything, that has made me positive that I cannot deny my Korean heritage in any shape or form. Now, no longer could I stay away from Korea. No longer was there any doubt in my mind about who I was culturally. I promised her I would return and I intend to keep that promise. At this point, Korea was much more to me than just that country that I had been born in.
As the end of the trip came closer and closer, I found myself dreading the day we finally had to leave. I could not bear the thought of leaving all of it behind. I wanted to stay longer, to experience more. Like a magnet to metal, I was drawn to Korea by some invisible force that was insisting that I stay. Unfortunately, I must leave. When we landed in New York, I was a little sad knowing that I was so far away from Korea. For whatever reason, I've begun to listen to K-pop, a music genre that I've gotten into while on the trip. I've started to watch some Korean Dramas. I have this unquenchable thirst for Korean food. And above all, really, really want to speak in Korean again so that I can become fluent one day. I can say with firm assuredness that my connection to Korea has gone from minimal to a great longing for Korea. It's nice to be home with my family again but I would very much like to return.
<From a part of his essay before the trip>
I have lived and been raised American for the past 15 almost 16 years of my life, but I am also Korean. But I do not know what it is like to be Korean. I was born in Korea and three months later, I was adopted by my American parents. When I see myself in a mirror, I see a Korean face. Yet I do not feel Korean, I feel American.
I don't want to just understand Korean culture; I want to be able to know what it's like to be Korean. I want to be able to connect to my Korean forefathers. But it's hard for me to connect with people I have never known, a culture I don't fully understand. I want to be able to have that connection so that if in the future I were to meet my birth family, they wouldn't be as foreign to me as they now seem."