At a recent Korea Goes Global reunion dinner, our class shared traditional dishes, memories, and a small sampling of the some 15,000 photographs we took collectively while abroad.
Studying abroad forces you to find your way out of yourself.
In Korea, we saw firsthand the things we’d only heard about at home, such as how companies like Samsung built their empires on the bodies the disenfranchised. There, we spoke to human rights protestors responding to the deaths of impoverished Korean laborers moments before entering the Seoul-based Samsung headquarters. (We would later talk about this day to our friends with Galaxy phones and watch Korean television on Samsung screens.)
We witnessed an economy almost entirely devoted to advertising at women, who were leaving the archaic paradigms of their rural towns in record numbers to join Seoul’s immeasurably more progressive social infrastructure (a movement that’s incredibly similar to America’s economic redesign in the 1940s and 50s). At the Haeinsa Buddhist temple, we woke at 3:30am to chant, pray, and eat with the monks who lived there, feeling utterly divorced from the surrounding context of our lives.
Smaller, more intimate moments were equally overwhelming: we spent most of our trip in Seoul, the 5th largest city in the world, and few of us were prepared to understand Denver as a small town in comparison. Life there was explosive, ever-expanding; the city of 26 million had created a space that was entirely defined by a community that was as expansive as it was close-knit. Musicians busked on the streets to large crowds until 2am, food carts only shut down long enough to refresh their supplies, and artists took over public spaces with food, graffiti, and freestyle rapping with one goal in mind: to bring people together and keep them there.
Visiting Korea highlighted how political every facet of our lives is.
It made us critical of everything we were blind to stateside, as we were given the tools to see the complicated mechanics of every social and political system. In carrying our perspectives to Korea, in having them broken and reassembled by everything that was both foreign and familiar, we’re more able to appropriate the position of an outsider and be shocked by what was once commonplace.
For a political science student, the trip was enlightening; for all of us, it will inform the whole of our lives to come.
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