My trip is coming to a close, and if you’ve followed along with all these postings, bless you! I’ve attempted to convey just some of the great experiences that I’ve enjoyed on this trip. One of the common topics of conversation at the end of each day starts with the question, “Was this a Top Five day?” It seems fitting to ruminate on this question, not a conversation-starter, but as a reflection for the whole trip.
Deciding on the top five has been really tough for me. The first three were easy — the drumming and musical, the visit to the DMZ, and getting to see the Seokguram Grotto and the end of the Silk Road are easy choices. The next two slots are much more difficult. Some of these I’ve written about, but others haven’t received any blogospheric attention because I haven’t had enough time to process what I’ve seen and then turn around and write about the experiences. Some of the early days seem so far away now, even though it’s only been two weeks, that more recent events seem more vivid in my memory. That’s how traveling and having a great time goes, though, isn’t it?
My experience at the local high school was wonderful, and I really enjoyed visiting the site where a great temple once stood, so those experiences are worthy of consideration if I’m rounding out my list. I also enjoyed listening to the Cheong Seong talk about Confucianism. The final experience that we had all together was at the Korean War Memorial, where we went to hear General Paik Sun Yup speak. General Paik has a fascinating, and controversial story — he is a retired four-star general from the ROK army and was instrumental in helping to secure South Korea after the war. He was a colonel during the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, and was promoted quickly to General (one-star) at the age of 29. He talked about his experience in the Korean War and the rebuilding period after. After his talk I got to shake his hand and exchange business cards with him. Later, I started thinking that I shook the hand that shook the hand with people such as Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and heads of state from all over the world in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s — that was pretty cool. Another wonderful day and powerful memory was from our visit to the Haeinsa Temple, which sits atop a mountain close to the city of Daegu. The ellaborate temple complex is a national treasure for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most significant reason is the Tripitaka Koreana is housed there. What’s that, you ask? It’s the entire teachings of Buddha on 80,000 wooden blocks. Seeing where they were stored was transcendental.
There are lots of other memories that don’t appear on the trip itinerary, too. Engaging with other teachers about our craft happened all the time and was incredibly valuable. Going to the FC Seoul professional soccer game as a group was really great, and there were numerous adventures into different parts of the city to try new food and see sights at night. One of my favorite nights was when four of us found a plastic picnic table outside a 7-11 to sit at in a trendy part of town one night. We sat there for almost two hours, snacking, sipping local rotgut, watching all the different people swarming past us. It was a terrific way to see the city. I also really enjoyed jogging near and along a lake out in the countryside and along the Han River in the city. Another treat was getting to see what the landscape of Korea looks like, which I spied through the window of a bus as we drove through the southern part of the country to various historical sites. Herodotus writes that geography is destiny, and I felt like I understood Korean more clearly after seeing the ubiquitous hills and countless, tiny farms that dot the countryside. The people who settled this land were, and are, resilient. I’ve enjoyed learning more about them, and doing so with a community of teachers who are passionate about what they do and how they do it. It’s made it easier to see the significance of what we’ve learned and seen since we’ve gone through a common learning experience.
I’m realizing that the process of picking a top five list from these wonderful experiences is not only difficult, it’s actually just plain absurd.
I’ll conclude my reflections succinctly: this has been a wonderful trip by any measurement. I am very grateful to the Korea Society for selecting me, to the Korea Foundation for financially supporting the program, to the other Fellows who participated and explored with me, and to you, for taking a few moments to read about some of my experiences.