South Korea has such an interesting history of rapid technological and economic advancement that observing its historical landmarks can be rather shocking at first. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace in Jongno-gu, Seoul's capital. This massive palace remains the largest one in Seoul even extending all the way to the Blue House, where Korean president's office resides. Having been rebuilt twice due to two Japanese invasions, the palace structure and design stand in very good condition. Surrounding this historical sight is the modern city ecosystem that is Seoul, presenting a stark contrast to the ancient style of building inside. On a clear day, the palace is simply breathtaking with the bright blue sky and white, fluffy clouds capturing the scenery like a painting.
Of course, when visiting such a historically significant sight, one must commit fully to the experience, which is why I was dressed in head to toe in a traditional Korean hanbok. Though this attire appears rather heavy and hot, on the contrary it is quite light and comfortable. While I am not one to dress up, I did enjoy fulfilling my childhood dream of feeling like a princess for a day. Looking in the mirror I felt like I was exploring a new part of myself and heritage which gave me mixed feelings best described by intrigue, shock, and excitement. Growing up in America being Korean American, I had not dressed in a hanbok since I was a tiny kid. My dual identity often leaves me feeling like I’m not Korean or American enough to fully fit into one category. Thus, being fully immersed in my Korean culture was something somewhat out of my comfort zone at first.
Chae Eun, a student from the Yecco club was our tour guide, showing me and a couple of other students around the palace, offering commentary on the history and purpose of the different areas and rooms. She was basically a pro, as she told us she does around 2 palace tours every month. With her expertise, we were able to take amazing photos in the best location and grab a very much needed lunch of cold Korean noodles after all the walking we did. Talking with her during lunch I was able to learn more about Korean culture and her daily life which was extremely insightful as someone trying to assimilate into Korean life.
Overall, I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who wants a fully immersive experience in Korean culture. Though there are moments you may feel slightly out of place or uncomfortable, it’s important to let go of any hesitation holding you back so that you can, as cliched as it sounds, “go with the flow” and really have fun! I know that I'm so glad I did that and allowed myself to have a truly memorable experience at Gyeongbokgung palace.