I don’t know if my sister reads my blogs (if she does, hi Sarah!), but as soon as I get home, I’m going to tell her to become a diplomat. Honestly, after our visit this morning, becoming a diplomat might be my second career choice if engineering doesn’t work out. Today we visited the US Consulate in South Korea, which I quickly learned functions similarly to an embassy, but on a smaller scale. Our presenter was born in the states but now works as a diplomat, moving every few years to a different country to serve in the US embassy or consulate. He explained that his day-to-day responsibilities vary greatly: some days he will present to a group of foreigners like he did with us, sometimes he attends official state functions on behalf of the United States, sometimes he speaks at nearby universities, and sometimes he works with the mayor to coordinate and supervise laws and policies. I was blown away by how many places he has lived in and the number of languages he speaks (5, by the way: English, Hebrew, Italian, Korean and Polish), and the fact that he is able to experience those opportunities through his job is incredible.
Next up was lunch, which was chicken and rice cakes drenched in a spicy sauce similar to teriyaki, served with tortillas, rice, and of course kimchi on the side. The food was served family-style, which has been very prevalent in our meals throughout the trip. Koreans like to order many large dishes and share between themselves, which is a contrast to American culture in which each individual orders their own separate plate. In my family we actually do prefer to share a few dishes between ourselves, Korean style, but I know this isn’t common among my American friends. Even through their respective eating styles, it is clear that Koreans value a group identity while Americans celebrate individualism.
In the afternoon we traveled to Pusan National University. The bus arrived a bit early, and so a bunch of us spent the extra 20 minutes getting bubble tea at a nearby café. The menu was entirely in Korean, so I picked out the fanciest looking drink and hoped for the best. This was an excellent decision, as it turned out to be brown sugar flavored and was absolutely delicious.
When it was time for the visit to begin, we were led into a classroom for a lecture on the history of North Korea and its relationship with South Korea. This topic has come up throughout our trip, but the speaker emphasized how prevalent poverty is in the country. I know that if I were asked to picture North Korea, I would imagine the relatively modern capital city of Pyeongyang – however, that setting is not typical for the majority of North Korean citizens. Many of them live in the rural, impoverished parts of the country with little to no access to electricity, consistent food, or clean water. One reason why North Korea is unable to provide more resources to its citizens is because it pours a vast amount of money into its military. If I lived in North Korea, I would be angry at the fact that so many resources go towards an army that rarely needs to defend against attacks – however, the professor explained that since many citizens have been told from birth that the United States and other countries are constantly trying to invade, they consider it a worthy sacrifice.
The second part of our visit was spent touring the engineering facilities, and the rooms we saw definitely put the Pitt Makerspace to shame. There was a 3-D printer so large that you could probably print a life-size statue of a person, as well as tons of smaller printers in the process of creating individual projects. It’s amazing to see how many resources Pusan University invests in its engineering department, and all of the students seemed so invested in whatever project they were working on.
I will say, however, that there was only one girl in the engineering class we visited, so I’ll wear my SWE shirt tomorrow with pride.