🇺🇸🇰🇷 A Time to Remember

Being eligible for and choosing to join Plus 3 are among some of the best things that came to me since I became a student at Pitt. As a Political Science and Marketing student wishing to attend Law School one day, I knew I wanted to study abroad in a place with a political climate like Korea. Spending two weeks to immerse myself here and observe first-hand its culture and sociopolitical situation was not only very enjoyable, but also extremely mind-opening and educational.

South Korea is one of the United States’ strongest and most important political allies and trade partners in Asia (Picture: The Daily Signal).

First, let’s go through what fascinated me as a Business student. I was amazed at Korea’s highly hierarchical corporate structure. It is almost engrained in the culture for everyone to follow these rules that aren’t explicitly in writing and is so prevalent that pretty much every single Western business leader we talked to would bring up as a cultural shock. 

For instance, in certain companies, employees would remain at their offices overtime if the CEO or their higher-ups are still working. According to a businessman we talked to, they do this in order to not offend their leaders and hinder their chances to move up the ranks. Another example is the social norm of “빨리 빨리” or “hurry, hurry.” Walking in the streets of Seoul or any other bustling city of Korea gives me the vibe that everyone has somewhere to be—and they gotta be there quick. The subway cars are always packed, crosswalks are divided into two lanes, and so on. Escalators are also split into two lanes, one on the left for people who would walk, one on the right for people who would stand (i.e. us). 

“빨리 빨리”

Hurry, hurry!

On a different note, the experience I got with the South Korean political culture was, perhaps, what I will value the most.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump meets with his South Korean counterpart (Source: Washington Post)

Among our scheduled site visits in Seoul was the City Hall—easily one of the best spots we went to in my opinion). The building is staffed with many senior tour guides who have vast knowledge and experience not only about the building, but also the history of the city and the country.

Our tour guide was a knowledgable older guy also. He has been to the United States seven times, including a couple of times in Pennsylvania, but not yet Pittsburgh. He told us he wanted to come and we said we would love to have him.

As part of the tour, we were given a small discussion about the recent history of the Korean Peninsula—about the war that never ended. The talk was so interesting and real that we all got silent to listen like a group of children gathering to listen to grandpa telling a fireside story. He told it with a passion so strong that I never got to experience from any U.S. history professor in the States.

The United States recognized the Republic of Korea as an independent state in 1949 and established diplomatic relationship with it the following year.

As the story went on, he described the United States and its soldiers as a savior, a fierce protector of democracy with her heroes defending the South Koreans from the North’s invasion and destruction. The man denounced the DPRK regime and its dictator while not forgetting, his eyes almost tearing up, to thank the Americans for still providing them with financial and militaristic support until this date.

As a fellow Asian who looks at America from a similar perspective, I listened in awe and reverential respect for our guide.

“I was born during the Korean War. We were so poor and had nothing to eat. It was the U.S. and white people that helped this country in a difficult time to establish a democracy and get richer,” Shin Deuk-jin, 68, told The Korea Herald during the rally while holding a U.S. flag.

The Korean Herald
Gigantic American and South Korean flags flying side by side at a political rally (Source: The Korea Herald)

One week later and a six hour drive away, we were in Busan. It is a city on the other side of the country. Busan was where the North Koreans pushed the South Korean forces down to and almost erased the South off the map during the invasion that started the Korean War. It was late at night and we were on the beautiful Haeundae beach to enjoy the calm and peaceful atmosphere.

Jasmine (@jazcad), Emma (@emmaahlgren), and I hailed a cab back our hotel. Our cab driver was a very friendly man native to Busan. When he realized we were a group of students from the U.S., his eyes beamed with excitement. Although the guy spoke little English, he tried to give us a thumbs up, expressing his approval towards America. After roughly ten minutes, he pulled up a translation app Naver, the tech company we visited in Seoul, developed, and tried to initiate a dialogue.

Entrusted by Emma and Jasmine, I did most of the conversing. After some general questions, he welcomed us to Korea, said thank you for America’s continual support for democracy, and stressed the importance of the U.S.—R.O.K. diplomatic alliance. We returned the warm gesture by saying we appreciate his hospitality and we absolutely love his country.

A political rally asking President Trump to attack North Korea (Source: The Spokesman-Review)

Many young Americans nowadays fail to recognize the privilege and status they possess simply because they were born in the United States. With the exception with those who would go to the extreme of criticizing and hating their own country, most Americans take their naturally-born citizenships for granted. 

I do think, however, although we cannot blame them for that since most didn’t know any better, studying abroad programs such as these help us realize the immense respect and appreciation the free world, from France to Poland, from the Philippines to the the Republic of Korea, has toward the United States, the land of the free, and the defender of democracy.

America has always, and will always be, the police of the world and the defender of liberty and justice for all.

Being part of this Plus 3 program in South Korea not only taught me new things academically, culturally, and professionally, it also solidified my positive comprehension of the United States of America and made me realize, more than I ever have, how fortunate I am to be able to live and go to college in America.

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