Major: International and Area Studies
Hometown: Matthews, North Carolina
Study Abroad Program: Yonsei University - Summer
When I started at Carolina, I thought I would study abroad in Italy or Ireland, but a decision to step outside my comfort zone and start taking Korean classes two years ago ended with an amazing study abroad experience in Seoul and a political fascination with the Korean peninsula. Besides learning new things about Korea and improving my language skills, my experiences in Korea allowed me to discover new ways of thinking and living to remember as I return to life in the U.S., and the times I spent exploring South Korea’s culture and places and discussing social changes on the peninsula in the classroom reinforced both my desires to return to Asia in the future and to work internationally with the U.S. Foreign Service.
The 60th anniversary of the Korean War occurred a few days after I arrived in Seoul, and I spent a lot of the next six weeks learning about this tragedy in Korea’s history and the legacy it has on contemporary Korean relations by visiting the DMZ and the Korean War Memorial and through class lectures. I discovered a story that is grayer than the black and white one that South Korea and the U.S. presents and shrouded by colonial legacies and outside power struggles. Since the armistice was signed in 1953, high tensions have remained on the peninsula, and my program occurred between very high tension incidents – the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korea’s navy ship, South Korean and U.S. naval exercises, and the subsequent seizing of a Southern fishing boat by the North. South Korea and the U.S. were quick to blame the North for the sinking of the warship, but surprisingly, I discovered that a significant number of South Korean citizens were skeptical of their government’s claim when I attended a youth forum at the U.S. Embassy comprised of college students and a North Korean expert. The students were also surprisingly ambivalent about relations with the North, which many scholars predict to foretell a stabilization of relations on the peninsula and a lack of concern about reunification.
On the flip side, most of the American students I met at Yonsei University were unaware of the importance of the Korean War for relations on the peninsula. I was surprised to hear my friends ask me what the DMZ was or what happened during the War. This experience showed me how important the Phillips Ambassador scholarship and other scholarships like it are in improving the education of college students and contributing to a better understanding between people from two different parts of the world.
For example, while on a field trip at cultural center in Jeonju, I was able to experience firsthand the traditional culture that I had written a paper about for my Korean language class the semester before. Actually seeing live cultural performances in a traditional village and participating in learning traditional dance, crafts, and wedding ceremonies helped me better understand the importance that Koreans attach to these practices, and observing traditional Confucian values through these practices allowed me to better see how such values persist in modern society within the family, workplace, and common interactions with others.
Overall, my study abroad experience showed me the increasing regionalization of Asia and tuned me into hot topics in the region, such as migrant workers, democracy movements, authoritarian governments, and generational differences. It also allowed me to witness the globalization of the area through cultural and educational influences and changing economic practices as well as the means to which Asia has contributed to the globalization of the U.S., such as the mass immigration of Asians in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I look forward to continue learning about these topics in my classes at Carolina and sharing what I learned during my study abroad program in South Korea with others.