Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Midshipmen Spend Semester in South Korea

Midshipmen 1st Class Myles Wortham and Grace Pruden and Midshipmen 2nd Class Suzie Bigley spent the 2015 fall semester in the Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea.

They learned much by being completely immersed in a new culture. Something as simple as food was foreign in many ways whether it was the ingredients and food they ate, the use of chopsticks, or sitting on the floor at a low table

The three midshipmen were able to travel and experience many aspects of Korean culture. They went to the countryside and lived in a traditional Hanok village where they slept on a floor mat with a buckwheat pillow, visited the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, travelled to the exotic Korean island of Jeju, and spent the weekend far up on the mountains in a temple stay to learn the traditional lifestyle of a Korean Buddhist monk.

Wearing traditional dress at the Gyeongbokgung Palace

One trip took the midshipmen to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. They rented the Korean traditional dresses, called hanboks, then took the subway to the palace.

“We encountered an array of reactions from people on the subway," said Pruden. "Most of the locals didn’t pay much attention since they were used to seeing people in hanboks using the subway as a means of commuting, but others would stare or take pictures of us. I must admit, it was a strange sight to see a traditional outfit in a modern environment.”

At the palace, the midshipmen’s native Korean friend showed them around explaining the history of the palace and of Korea. The traditional architecture and the gardens were absolutely stunning. This trip was a step back in time to learn about the 14th Century.

Attending the annual Yon-Ko-Jeon soccer game

The mids also attended the annual Yon-Ko-Jeon soccer game. Yon-Ko-Jeon is a sporting event between Yonsei University and Korea University in which the two compete in five sporting events. They compete against one another in soccer, rugby, basketball, ice hockey, and baseball.

This year was an anomaly in that it ended in a tie. Yonsei University won in rugby and ice hockey and lost in basketball and baseball.

“There was choreographed dancing for the crowd to follow and live music! It seemed more like a concert than a sporting event,” said Bigley.

The rivalry between Korea University and Yonsei University is very similar to that between Army and Navy. While West Point and the Naval Academy are well known as military schools, Korea University and Yonsei University both frequently fight for number two in the university national rankings.

During the first couple weeks abroad, the midshipmen participated in a cultural excursion headed by the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) to a Buddhist temple. While none of the three midshipmen are Buddhist, they all agreed it was one of the most peaceful places they’d ever visited.

Every night at 7 p.m., the temple monks would ring several bells, signaling it was time for the creatures of the earth, air, and water to awaken. The midshipmen and members of the CIEE program were lucky enough to be present for the event.

“It was my favorite weekend," said Wortham. "If there was one weekend I could redo, it would be that one.”

Spending an entire semester was an incredible opportunity as the midshipmen were able to learn so much about a country whose alliance with the U.S. is critical to maintaining security on the Korean Peninsula. Not only were they able to learn about the language, culture, military and lifestyle of Korea, but learning to adapt to a new environment was a great experience as well.

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