How has your perspective of Korea changed since first arriving at the beginning of the month?
I have learned a lot about kids from my host family. My younger sister and brother remind me of my sister and I years ago. It helps me realize that even on the other side of the globe, kids will be kids. And from a larger perspective, people will always be people, no matter where you go, and that means many things: how people behave, love, hate, or function. Before I left the states, I thought Korean people would be very different and unrelatable. But now, I find the opposite to be true.
- Chase Engel
In the beginning of this trip I thought that North Koreans were not open to the idea of reunification with the Sorth. I thought that those who defected against the North would resent it, I thought those who left never want to go back, but I was wrong. Through the stories and experiences told by North Korean defectors I learned that many citizens there want to leave because of their lack of basic rights and freedom. They want to leave, but have hope in there being a day where the country will no longer be split. Those who escaped want to visit the North again because they still consider it their home, despite all the horrendous actions and policies. This allowed me to really grasp the true meaning of the word “home” because it is often said “Home is where the heart is”, but I never really understood that. Those wonderful people showed me that home does not have to be glamorous, home may not be safe and home may not be stable. Home is where you grew up, home is where family is, home is a place you want to return to for peace.
- Valerie Lam
In the beginning, I understood South Korea to be a largely collectivist society with peaceful protests and progressive ideas delivered in a careful manner. This is true to a large extent in both the technological advancements of public transit and modern gadgets and in the political realm where peaceful marches are held frequently in Gwanghwamun Square. What I didn’t fully realize was the willpower of the Korean people. On Gyodong Island, the Korean people living there look to the sparrows that carry soil from North Korea to build their nests on the island. They are a natural symbol of hope for reunification for the two nations and the families of which they are comprised. Another example is when the people of Gwangju demonstrated the indomitable spirit required to uphold the values of democracy against the militant government in 1980, making a lasting mark on what South Korea’s government is today. In this way, I understand that Korean people are not only cognizant of their role in their community, but that they have the courage and resolve to work towards their nation’s future.
- Husam AlZubaidy
When I found out I was going to South Korea, my friends were worried. They told me that it is a conservative country and tends to be very exclusive. Hearing that, I was very nervous about this trip. However, after arriving in South Korea and traveling through various regions, my perspective changed completely. People in South Korea are very welcoming and apparently they are constantly becoming more open. A lot of the elders are pro-U.S. and very fond of Americans. There is improvement happening every day and not once have I encountered any hostility towards foreigners.
- Crystal Htwe
I through people would be less welcoming to foreigners and make less of an effort when talking to us. However, wherever we go people are always using body language or simple English to get the message across. Even in stores the employees will try to sell you things through body language, which is how I ended up buying a face powder with unknown functions. Also, I thought people would stare at us with contempt but they actually look at us with curiosity.
- Mariana Jaimes
At the beginning of the program, one of the opinions I had was that North Korean defectors must hate North Korea. I was under the impression that they would never want to go back to a county as oppressive as North Korea. When I met them and they spoke about their experiences in Korea, I not only heard about the tragedies they faced, but I also heard about how much they miss their families and North Korea even though the government is controlling. Also, I learned that North Korea encourages art and music which was completely unexpected for me. I had never had an opinion on whether the North or the South should ever reconcile, but now that I have learned more from the perspective of North and South Koreans, I hope that they will reconcile in the near future.
- Anahi Alcoser
It’s been going very well. I spent the night (7/25) with my host family and Husam’s family. I’ve gotten to know everyone a lot better. I’m truly connecting with everyone and usually I am a bit shy. When it’s time to leave I truly am going to be torn because I never thought I could get so close to strangers so quick. I’m going to be a mess but I know I got the best out of this trip and the people. One of the longest but the most impacting thing in my life.
- Aqila Sabir
During our week with the North Korean defectors a lot of my prior biases were eliminated. They were very bright in contrast to the media’s perception. They also wanted to go back to their hometown even though they suffered a lot from the regime. Their culture was also very similar to South Korean culture even though 50 years have passed. Without The Experiment I wouldn’t have found this out.
- Valentina Castellar
At the beginning of the trip I thought I wouldn’t enjoy any of the culture part of the trip. Including the food, music, and clothing style. However since being here I have fell in love with Korean fashion and I am trying all the food in the hopes that I will actually like it. The music is still a little harder for me to get into. It’s nice but it’s still not exactly my type of music. I hope to find some music that I’m into.
- Amya Mebane
Since we left Seoul, my perception of Korea has changed. Moving cities allowed me to see more of the beauty of Korea. It was wonderful to see mountains instead of buildings. My perception of North Korea has also changed tremendously. Hearing stories from North Korean defectors about their hometowns and their lives before they escaped, humanized the country and made me realize that there is more to North Korean people and culture than just a country under a dictatorship.
- Stacey Rosenfeld
Koreans are physically affectionate, regardless of gender. When a Korean man is with his buddies, he may hold one of them by the hand or female college students may link arms as they walk down the street. This is a sign of friendship or closeness in South Korea. Before my stay in South Korea, I believed that Koreans were more reserved people. This expressiveness is worth mentioning because such impressions are rarely, if ever, made in western media.
- Caitlin Graham
I think at the beginning of this trip I was so amazed at all of the differences between the US and Korea, that those differences were all that I noticed. I thought that because Korea’s history and culture was so different, that the people would be very different too. Having more conversations and, in particular, staying with a family, has helped me see that this was not the case. My host sister and her parents speak and argue the same way that I do with my parents. They talk about grades and chores; all the same conversations that I have with my own parents. Seeing my host siblings wrestle reminds me of how my own brother and I wrestle and joke around. I’ve felt completely comfortable because we have similar family dynamics, and I’m sure that many of the other group members have had similar experiences. It makes me happy to see that families, no matter where you are, can share the same love and passion that my family has.
- Charlie Haigh
Before I came to Korea, when I thought of North Korea, I thought of it only as a terrible dictatorship, where people were oppressed and Kim Jong Un was one step away from pressing the nuclear button. However, after coming to Korea, learning about the country and meeting a group of ladies from North Korea, my perception of North Korea widened immensely. While the people of North Korea are under an oppressive dictatorship and have very few freedoms, it’s still their home. Talking to the North Korean ladies helped us realize how much life and happiness there is in North Korea, that I didn’t know was there and that they are normal people leading out their daily lives with their families and friends. So when they told us how much they miss their hometowns and communities, we can understand why.
- Melody Rice
My perception of Korea has changed the longer we stayed because as I’ve learned about Korean history I’ve learned how painful it was and feel like I’ve learned a level of empathy I didn’t have. Meeting the North Korean defectors and seeing them be happy and have fun helped me humanize North Korea being a real country with real humans not this scary thing I believed it to be.
- Jessie Knowles