Speach from 2010 Summer Farewell Ceremony in South Korea
By Tuyen Than, Participant from Franklin High School, Seattle, WA
Below is a short text version of my experience while in Korea. As much as I can say only condensed, shortened and inspiring.
Speaking as a second generation immigrant, opportunities never really came our way because my family couldn't afford it. Also, with 2 other brothers I never really had anything to myself.
However, like a miracle, an opportunity arose. It was a full scholarship to South Korea through Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and of course, I immediately applied.
A few nerve-wracking couple of months later, I check my email to find out that I had been lucky enough to receive the full scholarship.
August 8th came and before I knew it, I was on a plane flying from Beijing to Seoul along with 99 other students I have never met before to a country I have never been to. I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what to expect. But I know that this wasn't just a trip to a foreign country ... it was a mission. We, the 100 chosen students were picked out of the thousands to represent the U.S.A. and create amicable relations between the two foreign countries. This mission required us to be able to adapt to the different culture, the climate and the people.
In two weeks, we were all going to get a crash course on South Korea.
Now, a lot of my ideas of Korea culture stems from hours of streaming Korean dramas and movies. But of course, reality never aligns exactly with our expectations and instead of the forbidden romance -- we learned a little Korean, learned about the culture, ate Korean food, lived with a Korean family, went from one historic site to another. We also crossed into a war setting, basically living as though we were Koreans by participating in Korean culture.
Overwhelmed by everything Korean, something stuck with me the most about Korean culture and history: the impact of the division between North and South Korea. As well as the comparison between the similarities between the Vietnam war and the Korean war. This really caught my interest because of the United States' involvement in both similar wars and the current state of both countries. Korea is divided and Vietnam isn't. Korea is living history of what happened and this trip has shown me living proof of big impacts based on small decisions forcing me to wonder: 'what if the U.S. had not interfered? Would it be difficult for North Koreans to transition into a capitalist economy? Also, how will North Korea develop? And will I be alive when they finally unify?'
Overall, now that this trip is over I feel more connected to Korean culture, not just because I learned about it, but I lived it. I suggest studying abroad be a requirement for all American students. I challenge to take yourself out of your own ways of thinking and step into someone else's way of thinking.
Tuyen Kim Than
Franklin High School