Our exchange to Seowon High School, our sister school in The Republic of Korea, has been an absolutely superb, exciting and positive experience for the students, staff and parents who made the journey during the school holidays.
For the last five years our school’s Wider World View @DHS program has encouraged students and staff to take opportunities to travel in Asia. This has resulted in educational trips and tours to Korea, China, Vietnam, Bhutan and Japan. Our relationships with Korean students and teachers are blossoming with each reciprocal visit as we broaden our understanding of respective cultures and traditions. It has been a wonderful opportunity for Australian and Korean students to learn about everyday life in other countries by being billeted in family homes, as well as having the experience of classrooms and travel.
Seowon High School, established in 2003, has quality learning spaces and facilities Where the teachers generously shared their Art. PE, Geography, Music and cooking lessons with us. The students who were billeted had glowing feedback about their experiences with the generous Korean families who invited them into their homes. The students who acted as Korean Ambassadors were courteous, helpful and fun to be around. Mr Han, the vice-principal, has been warmly welcoming too. We all felt very comfortable and cared for during the exchange. Ki-Jeong, the exchange coordinator at our sister school, is a thoughtful and caring host. All the teachers have been very kind.
We would particularly like to thank Principal Yim for this wonderful opportunity to visit his school again!
Some of the highlights of our time in travelling in Korea, as tourists, were watching the changing of the palace guard, shopping in Insadong and visiting very high quality museums in Seoul and Suwon. It was a pity the pollution reduced visibility at the DMZ de-militarised zone with North Korea but it was still interesting to see this border and gain an understanding of the issues, including the concept of peaceful reunification. We also visited the War Memorial in Seoul. This is the most impressive museum with endless rooms, massive spaces and outdoor exhibits.
Korea has wonderful natural spaces. We spent quality time at scenic Songnisan National Park exploring the Beopju temple complex which includes the tallest of buddhas. The April sun was out and we basked in it under blue skies. Walking Hwaseong fortress in Suwon was also a highlight, especially for the youngest members of the party who managed some archery in the grounds. As always, walking was one of the best ways to explore the sites. The Folk Village was also excellent with superb traditional cultural performances.
The Korean people we met everywhere were friendly, cheerful, and open towards us. I particularly liked the vibe on the streets and took many photos. Street photography can be a little tense in some places around our world but Koreans seem very happy to have their photo taken. I found that young people have a sense of style and noted that Korean males buy more cosmetics than that of any other country. We also found Korean students interested in political issues and even met some protesting in the streets.
The technological infrastructure in Korea is worthy of comment. Mobile phone penetration is complete and students seemed to have very large devices, a trend found increasingly in Australia too. Free wifi is impressively omniscient. Television seems be broadcast on buses which is not something I have experienced previously. Most people reading this post would know that Koreans have a reputation for being very industrious, working and studying for very long hours compared to many countries. It was pointed out to me that Australia has many natural resources, Koreans have their ingenuity, especially with the manufacture of electronic goods, to help their country prosper.
We also enjoyed a wide-range of Korean foods at restaurants and in family homes. Everyone became very used to kim-chi. The final celebratory meal, hosted by Principal Yim and the teachers for all students and host families was delicious and our gifts from the school magnificent and highly appreciated by all.
We were all greatly saddened by the tragedy that occurred just after we arrived in Seoul with the loss of so many lives in a maritime accident. It was terrible news for all Korean people and their friends. Our hearts go out to all the families and friends who have lost loved ones.
Mr Lee and Mr Kim, who organised our trip are deserving of special thanks for their kindness and support. Ten days is obviously only a short period of time in a country but our previously very limited understanding of Korea has grown considerably and I’m sure the students, who all stayed with Korean families, have gained significantly from this experience. This exchange would not be possible without the support of these local families and the tour organisers.
My daughter is very appreciative of all the teachers and Korean ambassadors did to make her stay so rewarding. She was lucky enough to join with the school program, especially enjoying the classroom lessons where she made all kinds of beautiful items. The drumming was a particular highlight for her, as was making a kite and learning about Korean art! Lucy loved having Zara, Cedar and Ebony as companions for the trip. These youngest members of our party were great travellers, trying all foods and participating in everything. Well done, girls!
I am very proud of all our exchange students. They have been wonderful ambassadors for our school and country. When I asked our students about their perceptions of the Korea they all made comments about how friendly and generous Korean people were to them and each other.
They are all sad to depart for home tomorrow but looking forward to future Korean-Australian exchanges when some students will be reunited. In fact, our Korean friends will visit Australia very soon, in August, when our community will have the opportunity to repay the generosity we have experienced in recent days as we continue our learning partnership with the wonderful Seowon High School community.
Featured image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Darcy Moore: http://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/13909237043 and here are more photographs taken on this trip to The Republic of Korea.