From peacebuilding to K-pop: A summer abroad in South Korea with The Experiment

November 1, 2023  |  By Eric House

This summer, The Experiment in International Living took 14 U.S. high school students on an experiential learning journey that explored politics and human rights alongside pop culture in South Korea.

In the Experiment South Korea: K-Culture and Peacebuilding program, students experienced South Korea’s blend of ancient traditions and modern K-culture while learning about the country’s approach to conflict resolution and peacebuilding with neighboring North Korea.

Students were first introduced to the Korean language and history in the vibrant, bustling city of Seoul. They also learned the basis of peacebuilding through studying interpersonal skills, intercultural communication, problem-solving, and relationship-building with a professional peacebuilding facilitator.

Two students learn to make a traditional Korean dish alongside a chef.

Experimenters learning to make a traditional Korean dish.

In the cities of Gangwon and Gwangju, the students dove deeper into the history of the conflict between North and South Korea by discussing Korea’s demilitarized zone and colonization. The lessons were enriched through peer learning with local youth. On the cultural side, they enjoyed ancient tea ceremonies, games, and handcrafting.

In the city of Suncheon, they furthered their knowledge of the Korean War alongside local students before doing a coastal cleanup activity together.

“Intermingling with the Korean students was one of the highlights for me. Even with the language barrier, we were still able to communicate, and completing the community service project with them was great,” Crystal said about the cross-cultural friendships formed. The students stayed with homestay families throughout their trip, which taught them more about daily life in South Korea. They even spent one night in a traditional Buddhist temple where they meditated, cooked traditional cuisines, and crafted prayer beads.

For many Experimenters, these homestays and community-based experiences were especially impactful. “The homestay was the most immersive part of the program, and I loved every bit of it,” said Ellis.

Five students wearing life jackets on a boat pose for a group selfie.

Experimenters enjoy a boating excursion.

“I still keep in contact with my host siblings from my first home,” said Maddie. “It is a great experience whether you are introverted or extroverted. You will end the program a new person. It is an opportunity to give back through community service and make friends. It was overall rewarding.”

Of course, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without K-pop, the popular music of Korean culture that’s become a global phenomenon. In Chungbuk, Experimenters learned about modern Korean culture and cuisines while practicing their K-pop dance moves.

As they wrapped up their trip in Seoul, taking time for shopping while dressed in traditional Korean clothing, the Experimenters reflected on an unforgettable summer full of new experiences, skills, and friends.

“During this trip I experienced lows and was often pushed to my limits, [but] those lows can’t compete or be compared to the highs,” said Sara. “Even throughout all that, the memories and smiles shared are now engraved in my brain.”

Five students pose for a photo while wearing traditional Korea clothing.

Experimenters try on traditional Korean clothing.

“My summer in South Korea through the Experiment is truly going to hold a special place in my heart for the years to come. Not only did it teach me about a new culture and its rich history in a country I have never been to, but it also taught me so much about myself,” said Alexa. “I am forever grateful for emerging from the trip with new brothers and sisters, new friendships, and a newfound confidence in myself. I could rave on and on about my positive experiences during this program, and I 100% recommend it to anyone considering traveling through the Experiment.”

Learn more about this program here as well as the newly launched South Korea: Korean Language and Culture program.