Aubergine

My first Homecoming

October 13, 2015
Andrew Soohwan Kim  Home School  11th Grade

By Andrew Soohwan Kim
Home School
11th Grade

This summer vacation turned out to be especially meaningful for me. I was invited by the Overseas Koreans Foundation to participate in a homecoming program hosted in Korea.

I always wanted to go to Korea. Ever since I was young, I ate Korean food, watched Korean dramas, and met Korean people. I was also passionate about Korean history, and I studied the subject diligently. However, I never got the chance to visit Korea firsthand. I knew that I would someday have to go to Korea and see the places I have only heard about.

So I was very excited when I received the homecoming invitation after winning the grand prize at the March-First Essay Contest. I viewed Korea as a nation that has a rich history and culture while in the present maintains a fast-paced and future-oriented society.

Once in Korea, I was overwhelmed by the metropolitan cityscape, but I was also fascinated by the long history the land contained. Through my visits of old Korean palaces and fortresses I could feel the humble elegance of old Korea that I have only heard about before. This positive impression of Korea was enhanced by the homecoming program. As it turned out, the homecoming left a variety of experiences and memories that I will cherish for a long time.

First of all, meeting and interacting with so many international Korean students gave me a sense of belonging to a global Korean community. Hundreds of international students attended a dynamic first introduction at Cheonan. We were divided into camps and were assigned and sent to different provinces in Korea. I was sent to the camp headed for Daejon. In our Daejon Camp we were further divided into small groups that allowed for more personal interactions among students.

These interactions proved to be what made this program most enjoyable. I had a chance to meet people from countries that I have never visited. I met students from countries such as China, Russia, and Canada who told me all about their hometowns and about their lives at school in their respective countries. Through these students’ presence, this homecoming not only offered an introduction to Korea but also an international Korean experience that was very unique.

I also enjoyed the interactions I made with the native Korean students in the program. After reaching the provinces, we were joined by native Korean students from Daejon. Throughout the time we spent with them, I enjoyed asking them about their lives in Korea, and they were more than curious about the school life I have in America. I think the relationships we made with them more than anything else helped introduce to us Korean culture and everyday life.

With our new company, our camp started our first program at the Gongju Hanok Village. This history-centered program included sections such as participating in Korean traditional dance as well as an introduction to Baekje royal attire. We slept in an actual hanok. I felt the charm of old Korea captivate me in the two days I stayed at the hanok village.

The following main program was held in Daejon. We participated in a K-Farm section and got a chance to visit a Korean high school. Out of all the programs in Daejon, I think the homestay program left a lasting impression on me. Two international students paired up with one Korean student to stay at his or her house. I think the homestay helped me to make my first Korean friends by letting me experience their lives both at home and at school. Sometimes when I contact my homestay friends through KakaoTalk I can feel this old excitement all over again.

After two days in Daejon, all of the camps gathered again to Seoul. Once in Seoul we participated in a city walking tour, visiting many famous Seoul sites such as Dongdaemun, Cheonggaecheon, and Gwanghwamun Square.

On the last day, we drove north to Imjingak near the DMZ where we rode bikes in a parade for the unification of Korea. After the bike parade, we had our closing ceremony at Sejong University. It was sad to say goodbye to the friends that I had made in this homecoming. I felt that the common heritage we had learned and reaffirmed through our eight day journey had brought us together.

Overall the whole program was fun and memorable throughout. However, there were two experiences in this homecoming that were most revealing to me. The first was at the opening ceremony at Cheonan. Amidst all the numerous Taegukgis that were flying in the warm air, hundreds of students gathered to watch a reenactment of the March-First Movement. Although I had studied about the colonial period of Korea and the heroes of the March-First Movement through books, realizing that the very ground I was standing on was an enslaved land just a few generations ago overwhelmed me. I looked at the faces of those involved in the movement and wondered what spirit drove these people to do what they did. Then I thought about the current division of Korea, and wondered what the March-First heroes would demand of those of us living in the present in a free but divided nation.

I felt this strong emotion again when we did the bike parade at the DMZ. Looking over the Imjin River towards all the barbed wire and guard posts I saw the painful history repeating itself. I realized that the independence movement is an ongoing process; the only way to complete it is unification. I saw pictures of the DMZ in America, but seeing the invisible line firsthand was a sobering experience that I will never forget.

This homecoming was a unique experience that became the highlight of my one-month stay in Korea. I felt that I had visited many meaningful places and will have many new memories. Korea is such a beautiful country.

As a history major, I had the delight of visiting the most fascinating historical sites. It all felt like a dream for me. I am always proud that I have this heritage with me as a Korean American.

Most of all, the people I met in Korea widened my scope as a global Korean. Meeting them gave me a sense of excitement and the pleasure of knowing that these seemingly different students are similar to me in many ways. Most importantly, I felt our common Korean heritage binding us together and bringing us home again.

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