Korean Immersion in Seoul
Why did you choose this particular country?
I inherited my interest in East Asia from my grandparents, who met in Japan while working for the US Embassy and Air Force after World War II, and who both travelled extensively in Asia throughout their lives. My grandfather documented his travels with thousands of photographs, including hundreds from his time in Korea- before and after the outbreak of the Korean War. His photos paint a picture of poverty that seems very remote to the South Korea I visited this summer, yet in many ways still shapes Korean culture. As an undergraduate, I studied Japanese and lived abroad in Yokohama, and in the summer prior to starting Georgetown, I backpacked throughout China while putting my limited Mandarin to work. The Summer Grant allowed me to finally explore this third corner of East Asia, a region I hope to continue learning about and working on after I graduate from SSP.
Did anything surprise you? What?
What surprised me most about my time in Seoul was how heightened security and militarism can permeate daily life. While most of us are aware of the constant tension between South and North, I didn’t realize until I arrived how this shapes city life in Seoul- both in big and small ways. On my way into the city from the airport, a slightly alarming video played in the subway to show commuters how to deal with a gas attack. I was continually impressed with the safety measures and disaster preparedness education efforts that can be seen in every subway stop and public area. Gas masks and large emergency supply cases, educational CPR and AED posters, flashlights, fire extinguishers and instructions for evacuation or bomb shelter procedures are visible at every subway stop in Seoul. The visibility and ubiquity of police officers also surprised me. At Seoul’s Korea Queer Culture Festival, phalanxes of police ringed the park and blocked Christian protesters from disrupting the festival. The amount of police rivaled the number of participants. On the day I left the country, a small group of soldiers were performing an emergency drill on my small, out of the way residential street. Even the massive Korean cosmetics industry reflects this aspect of society, with make-up products for men in the military ranging from special creams to remove camo paint, to soothing aloe “Extreme Power Military Masks.”
Show us a picture of your favorite meal. What is it?
Yukhoe is seasoned raw beef mixed in with raw egg yolk. Paired with various veggies and cheese sides, it’s surprisingly delicious!