By Chris Presley
After spending eight days in Seoul, South Korea, as part of the Global Diversity Overseas Seminar Program, I not only have a better appreciation for South Korean culture, but have also gained a closer relationship with five other WUSTL staff members who traveled with me. Months of reading and discussing Korean culture did not compare to the immersive experience in Seoul that has helped me broaden my lens of diversity and look more closely at cross-cultural communication barriers.
During my trip, we visited Seoul National University and Yonsei University, the top two institutions in the country. Visiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gwangjang Food Market, the Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple and watching a Korean Baseball game all took my breath away. Flawless architecture from the Joseon dynasty continued to blow my mind, particularly when I thought of how many of the buildings were built before modern engineering methods, yet still had heating and cooling systems and maximized natural light.
Of course the food was an adventure in and of itself. The trip provided many opportunities to shock my taste buds! After getting adjusted to the communal dining and eating with chopsticks every meal, I was able to dive right into the flavor of the pork belly, myeolchi bokkeum (anchovies), kimchi soup, dumplings, octopus and squid. As advised by friends who’ve traveled to Seoul, street food such as waffle ice cream sandwiches and grilled chicken skewers are the best snacks in between meals!
Like St. Louis, Seoul has different areas of the city, which can sometimes show a socioeconomic divide among the citizens. Our group was able to stay in Myeongdong, one of Seoul’s most popular shopping areas, which provided many opportunities for getting a 45-minute full-body massage for less than $18,000 Won (around $17.50 USD) and observing how Koreans interacted on the streets.
Seoul was a wonderful introduction to Asian and Korean culture. I’m already planning my next excursion. Visitors might be surprised that wifi is not as abundant in the city as you might expect; not everyone will speak English; and pedestrian-only areas are rare. If you’re considereing professional development opportunities, I encourage you to apply for the GDOS program.