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See, Learn and Touch Korea

In July 2009, I received an invitation from the Korea Foundation to participate in a 14-day Korean Studies Workshop for Southeast Asian educators in Seoul, Korea. I was really delighted and highly expected to gain an awareness of Korea.

Arriving at Incheon International Airport at 7:10 a.m., on August 24, I was a bit curious on how to get through the airport procedures, because it was my first trip to Korea. But everything went simply and I was then picked up by a group of student volunteers from Ewha Womans University (EWU). On the way to Seoul, I was really impressed with the physical infrastructure of Korea, such as the highways, bridges, and high-rise buildings. Along with the other 14 participants, we checked in at the Best Western Premier Seoul Garden Hotel, which included all the facilities we needed. That evening, we were warmly welcomed by the Korea Foundation.
During the first three days of the workshop, I attended eight presentations, conducted at the EWU, about the language, history, religion, culture, and everyday life of the Korean people. All the EWU’s professors have outstanding lecturing skills, enabling the 15 participants from eight Southeast Asian countries to acquire a lot of information about Korea, even though the time allocated was limited. Personally, two facts impressed me the most – the Korean language and its economy.

The unique alphabet of Korea’s language is called Hanguel, which was created in the 15th century. The shape of consonants is based on the form of various articulation units, while the shape of vowels relate to the sky, land, and man. These practical shapes and sounds made a brand-new learner like me able to practice the Korean language quite quickly. In terms of its economy, I was amazed by the rapid growth of Korea’s GDP per capita. It was only $82 in 1962, but remarkably has since increased to over $20,000. It should be noted that the rapid economic development has been related to Korea’s chaebol, which are the large-scale Korean business groups, such as Samsung, LG, SK, Hyundai Motor, and others. After working hard in the daytime, in the evening, we attended a Korean performance of JUMP, which was the most exciting show that I have ever seen in my life.
In addition to attending the lecture presentations at EWU, the workshop included a field trip to the southeast areas of Korea, including Andong, Gyeongju, and Ulsan. During the four-day stay in these areas, I experienced much of Korean history, religion, and culture. Our tour guide, Ms. Park Hyun-sook, was a real professional. Among the many memorable experiences, can only describe a few of them. While visiting the historic village of Hahoe, I was surprised by the housing architecture of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Especially, after touring around the village area, we took a boat across a small river with clear waters and then walked along a small path lined with tall pine trees to the top of a cliff. From there, we looked out at scenic views of the Hahoe village, surrounded by the Nakdong River, which seemed to refresh and invigorate everyone. In Gyeongju, a capital city of the Silla Kingdom for over a thousand years, our group visited various UNESCO heritage sites, such as Cheomseongdae Observatory Tower, Great Tumuli Park (Royal tombs of the Silla Dynasty), Anapji Pond, Seokguram Grotto, and Bulguksa Temple, in addition to the Silla Art and Science Museum. The carefully preserved and well-exhibited ancient materials at each site made me feel like I was living together with Korean people in a past historic time. In addition, I personally enjoyed very much the practical experiences at the Yoo family residence, where everyone had a chance to make royal tea and wear royal court attire. This was like living in a Korean royal palace, if only for a moment. As for food, we went to different types of restaurants, allowing us to taste a variety of Korean foods, including traditional meals, royal meals, and buffets, along with pizza and pasta. Prior to our return to Seoul, I had an opportunity to tour Hyundai Motor production facilities, in Ulsan, where I was really impressed by the high-tech and sophisticated design of Hyundai-made automobiles. Through these efforts, I believe that Hyundai automobiles will be more and more successful in the world markets.

After being immersed in historic and folk activities during our four-day field trip, our group arrived back in Seoul to experience the modern life of Korean society. I was able to visit a typical private high school, Youngil High School, in Seoul, where I found that students are not only taught about regular school subjects but also provided with other programs and after-hour activities. With highly professional teachers and adequate instructional materials, I believe the students will be able to reach a high standard of education.
In order to be aware of everyday life of the Korean people, the workshop arranged home-stay visits for all the participants. Together with another Cambodian participant, I stayed with a family who prepared a wonderful home-cooked dinner. We later shared stories about each other’s country and people. The evening was really warm, joyful, and memorable. In addition, I spent an entire morning at COEX, the Korea World Trade Complex, to observe the high living standards of Korean society. I also had a chance to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace and a traditional tea house, as well as a cruise boat ride along the Hangang River in the evening to enjoy the beautiful views of Seoul at night.
On September 4, we all participated in group discussion, wrapup,
and evaluation sessions at EWU, which enabled each participant to freely express their comments on the workshop. This program allowed us to understand so much about Korea. At the same time, each participant was extremely excited to receive a certificate of participation, awarded by representatives of the Korea Foundation and EWU. The workshop was officially concluded with a farewell dinner, arranged on the 27th floor of a building, where again I was served such a delicious meal and could also enjoy magnificent views of Seoul in the night. In conclusion, I can truthfully say: “The Korean Studies
Workshop 2009 was very well organized, extremely exciting, absolutely useful, and most memorable.” Furthermore, I must emphasize that all the participants were warmly hosted by a team of professional staff and graduate students of EWU. Finally, I would like to express my personal gratitude and sincere thanks to the Korea Foundation and EWU for making this superb workshop possible. I undoubtedly believe that the workshop will help to increase awareness of Korea and contribute to an enhancement of friendship and cooperation between Korea and Southeast Asian countries.