July 22, 2014
by An-Quang Nguyen and Eileen Yoon
We started off the day at 9am as usual. But instead of having class, we got to go on our last Seoul City tour! The first stop of the day was a Minsok Village (한국 민속촌), a traditional Korean folk village located in Gyeonggido (경기도), a province just outside of Seoul. The trip took a little over an hour by bus, and when we arrived, we were some of the first visitors of the day. Unlike other traditional “villages” we saw in Seoul, this entire village was inhabited and used as a place for tourists to go see the ins and outs of traditional buildings, enjoy shows and even see the backdrops for famous Korean movies and dramas. To add to the authenticity, the employees donned traditional clothing and stayed in character throughout the day. This village is an important site because of its role in preserving Korea’s long history and rich culture as well as attracting tourists from all over the world. Thanks to attractions like this, tourism in South Korea today is booming, which in turn is helping the nation establish itself as a global power.
Upon entering, the tour guide pointed out large totem poles that were erected to keep evil spirits away, something that was commonly done in the past. There were also charms placed above the doorways of people’s homes, which reminded me of the videos we watched in class of Korean Shaman rituals. The influence of Shamanism was quite profound and a huge part of the culture in Korea, just like that of Buddhism and Confucianism. Influences of Confucianism could be seen in the way the living quarters for men and women were kept separate even after marriage! We also had an opportunity to watch a traditional Korean wedding ceremony, which felt drastically different from the warm, bright wedding ceremonies we’re used to seeing today. The lack of a personal touch and limited interaction between the bride and groom made it feel rigid and more like a business transaction than the union of two people in love.
As we waited for the shows to start, the tour guide showed us various buildings and let us experience first-hand what it may have felt like to be alive during that era. While some people tested out the different punishment tools and got thrown in jail, the rest of the group got to feel like royalty as they took turns sitting in the governor’s seat, elevated high above everyone else. In the Joseon Dynasty, the hierarchical structure was strictly adhered to, and remnants of this structure can still be seen today in places like schools, the workplace and even Korean homes. (more…)
July 12, 2014
By Shalea Klepner, Nick Yamamoto, Lee Sooah, Jang Seonwoo, and Choi Young Hyo
For the second half of our second Old Seoul Tour, we visited King Sejong’s summer palace, Changgyeonggung Palace (창경궁). Built in the 13th century by King Sejong the Great for his father, the palace stands today as a historical symbol that is accurately renovated to provide a peek into life at that time.
It was recorded that King Sejong’s father killed all political enemies to ensure his son’s ascension to the throne. Thus the palace’s history could be said to begin in political conflict. One of King Sejong the Great’s most noteworthy contributions to Korea was the creation of Hangul, the modern-day Korean writing system. Hangul was created to be so simple and easy to learn that even peasants could pick it up easily.
As with any country’s landmarks, thinking about the conflicts and scandals that reportedly occurred within the palace’s walls inspired great intrigue and interest.
The inside of the main palace building was beautifully painted, similar to the interior of Gyeongbokgung Palace. The colors have faded more than those of the other palace.
The king’s servants would carry the king up a set of stairs to the main building. Only the king could be carried over this area, and even now the stairs are blocked off to visitors.
July 4, 2014
By Jiaqi Wang, Jiajing (Jenny) Tang, Eun Bee Park, Go Eun Choi, Hye Jin Kim and Sue Min Park
Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁
Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first stop in our Seoul city tour. Gyeongbokgung was one of the major palaces in the Joseon Dynasty, but the original palace was later destroyed during the Japanese invasion. The reconstructed palace is still based on feng shui, and now it’s one of the most symbolic places of Korean history.
Every hour there is a guard changing ceremony. Though it is more of a performance nowadays, in ancient times, the changing of the guard was essential for the security of each palace.
Geunjeongjeon (근정전) is the place where the king met the officials, greeted foreign visitors and gave national announcements. The ancient Korean architecture style is different from the Chinese and Japanese styles in terms of colors, locations, etc. When the Korean king was building the palace, he didn’t destroy the environment around the location because Koreans believed that they were part of nature. The palace is surrounded by mountains in four different directions, and there are rivers crossing the palace. The lines of the roofs curve mildly upwards, and the number of statues placed on top of the roofs represents the rank of the building.
July 27, 2013
By Maggie Deagon and Daniel Kim
On July 18th at six in the morning, our group braved the Seoul drizzle with sunnier visions on our minds. Busan was the destination that thrilled us—a southeastern city known for the friendliness of its people and beauty of its beaches. Little did we know of our coastal adventure’s true magnitude.
We boarded KTX (Korea Train eXpress) to most efficiently arrive at our destination. KTX is famous for its role in Korea’s time revolution. In a word, “balli-balli” sums up the importance Koreans place on efficiency. The faster things can be done, the better! Thus, the creation of KTX helped minimize travel time between Korea’s coasts, increasing productivity. Although the trip is shorter to the southeastern coast than it would be via other methods, our group still had plenty opportunity to catch up on the rest we lacked the previous night.
July 15, 2013
By Yuni Choi, Ari Lyon, and Melina Sutton
We started off the day by hopping on a bus that took us from the Ewha campus to Yongin to visit a Korean folk village. The village is a recreation of what a traditional village looks like and the employees even dressed in hanbok, the traditional Korean clothing. As soon as we stepped into the village, we got our first taste of traditional Korea. Our tour guide showed us replicas of an herb store, the women’s quarters of a house, and stores that sold traditional household goods and crafts. They were even selling traditional goods such as wedding ducks and masks. Our TA Lucy bought a handmade shoe horn! The folk village had an area for people to play tuho, a game where one throws a stick into a canister. But our attention was easily diverted to the performance area where “Farmer’s Music and Dance” was going on. In this traditional dance, men wear hats with long ribbons on them and dance to the beat of drums. After that ended, there was another performance of a woman doing acrobatics on a tightrope. She started off by just walking across the rope and I thought that was the whole performance, but then she started bouncing and sitting on the rope while making her way across! Needless to say, the folk village was a favorite for many. While we have visited many places that display contemporary Korea, this let us experience traditional Korea.
July 11, 2013
By Shawn Rhoads, Hye Young Jung, and Jaemyeong Lee
Coming to Korea, most of us only ever heard the song “Gangnam Style” without really knowing what the Gangnam Style actually is. Perhaps a few of us learned in our pop culture classes that the song was in fact more than just a catchy beat and dance craze, that it was actually social commentary on Korea’s recent excessive attraction to designer brands and superficiality. However, there’s nothing like an actual visit to the district itself to experience for ourselves that unless you’re ready to spend your entire week’s allowance on a single article of clothing, there’s not much to Gangnam. Nevertheless, we had many cherished memories in the underground shops in the subway station.
Despite having been in Seoul for a week, our first hanshik (traditional Korean meal) didn’t come until Friday, and there couldn’t have been a better place for it than San-dul-hae near Olympic Park. For less than $15 a person, we were able to enjoy all of the banchan (side dishes) and bap (rice) that are included in all traditional Korean meals. The ssal (uncooked grain) was cooked in a stone pot unlike other modern rice cookers, so the bap was particularly unique from all the other bap we had eaten. When Korea had a royal family, only the king had the privilege of enjoying this type of dish.
Korean eating culture is very different from that of the West. There is no main dish and everyone shares from the same set of side dishes. We thought it was interesting that there was everything – fish, meat, vegetables, grains. While there are many different mannerisms that come with Korean dining – such as using chopsticks, receiving with two hands, and eating on the maru (floor) – there are many similarities that Westerners practice when eating meals with their families. Similarly to Korea, everyone helps themselves to the different dishes at the table and they are fed until they are full. However, when dining out, each person usually orders their own meals which differs from the communal ways of Korea.
July 9, 2013
By Abigail Becker and Hyunji Lee
We went to Seoul N Tower for the first part of our trip on Wednesday. Although it was supposed to rain, the day was amazingly clear, which made a perfect condition for viewing Seoul from the top of Namsan, where the tower is located. Just like the other trips we went on, we got in taxis in several groups and left for the entrance of the tower. After all of us arrived, we took a bus to the mid point and walked up the rest of the way. After having lunch at a food court below the tower, we dropped by Cold Stone and grabbed some yummy ice cream. Each of us looked happy with sweet dessert in our hands. We looked around the plaza, where there were hundreds of millions of love-lockers hanging on trees and handrails. We also enjoyed the view of Seoul from the plaza, though an even better view was waiting for us at the top of the tower.
After ice-cream time, we finally boarded an elevator to go up to the tower. There, we could see whole of Seoul from every angle. We found the Blue House, Kyeongbok Palace, Yeoido in the middle of Han River, Sangam World Cup Stadium, Myeongdong, Itaewon, Hannam-dong, and so on. It was a great opportunity to see Seoul’s landscape thoroughly. We also had time to write and send postcards at the top of the tower, which would be an unforgettable memory for USC students. If there was a sad thing, it was that we could not find our school, Ewha, which is located on the other side of mountains.
July 8, 2013
by Lauren White and Kayla Foster
We made it safely to Korea and after a nice weekend of rest we started our first tour of Seoul on Monday. The theme for the day was “Old Seoul.” Therefore our first stop was Gyeongbok Palace.
As an avid Korean drama watcher, I felt as if I had just walked on the set to one of my favorite historical dramas. I was amazed by the beautiful detail, as well as the amount of space. I was imagining a smaller version since it was located off of a busy street in what seemed like the middle of the city. We were guided to several rooms that were in the palace that gave us a general feel of how life was in the Joseon Dynasty, but it was the ingenious architecture of hanok, traditional Korean homes, that truly stood out to me. I was surprised by the advanced technology, as well as the way nature was intertwined with architecture. There are three gates that one must pass through to go into the palace acting as a thick layer of security. The first layer of security includes a large open space that is ideal for holding large gatherings, as well as making public announcements.
August 3, 2012
by Tia Uchiyama
It seems my peers have chosen to write about our adventures in Seoul in a rather serious manner. And for that reason, I hope you won’t mind that I’ve chosen to speak more casually and frankly about my experiences in Seoul.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Korea before coming to study in Seoul. But I also don’t feel like I experienced much culture shock. Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with Eastern culture through my studies at USC, or maybe it’s just because I adapt well (ha-ha). When I looked over our schedule before departure, I had no conception of where these places were or what they entailed. I knew a little Korean from my friends, but not nearly enough to get around. I felt nervous about being able to communicate and navigate an unfamiliar city.
I was surprised to find so many non-Korean restaurants around the Hongdae and Shinchon area. I’m not sure why I was surprised, necessarily…
I had ridden a subway before, so the act itself didn’t bother me. But because I didn’t know anything about the geography of Seoul, I was gripped rather hard by my fear of disorientation. I checked, double-checked, even triple-checked the maps before boarding; my eyes nervously flickering between the moving map and my USC friends. Though after I made my first trip to Myeongdong solo, I started to feel more confident riding the subway.
If there were one thing I had to pick out from Seoul as my number one, it would have to be the public transportation. It’s very affordable—to the extent of being considered “cheap,” often only around 1,000-won, or maybe 1,200-won for a trip across the city. To give you an idea of how ridiculously inexpensive this is: it costs $2.50 in Hawaii to ride the bus one-way. Taxis are also much cheaper here, and infinitely more abundant. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an empty taxi driving around in Hawaii (save for the more tourist areas), whereas you could probably catch a taxi anywhere in Seoul. The 50,000-won travel allowance we were given so graciously by our sponsors was more than enough to go wherever we wanted, whenever.
August 2, 2012
- by Anna Pazderski
The first thing that triggered my interest in South Korea was its dance scene. While Korea is known for its Hallyu stars who dance to their songs, I have also heard praise for its break-dancing scene and hip hop world. So, when I came to Korea, one of the first things I wanted to do was somehow take part in this side of Korea.
I took classes for two weeks at a studio called EZ Dance, right next to Ewha University. I will remember my experience there for the rest of my life. It was unlike any other. The whole process was unique from the start, from my friend helping by being a translator to entering the studio and needing to put on slippers.