(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
This last week full week in Seoul was very eventful. We had our last week at Mulmangcho, and we went to Busan for the weekend.
If you’ve followed the group blog or any of our personal blogs, then it was pretty clear that we had a very emotional and difficult time saying goodbye to our students from Jiguchon, the first school we taught at a month ago. We felt like we had done at least something to impact their lives, but we wished we had more time with them or that somehow they would remember us in the long run. It’s safe to say that our goodbye from Mulmangcho was just as, if not more, emotional and difficult than that of Jiguchon. At Mulmangcho, we essentially lived with the students. We lived in a different building, but we ate all of our meals together and spent all day with them. At Jiguchon, we spent about 5 hours a day Monday through Friday with them. So, naturally, our separation from Mulmangcho students was bound to be even more difficult.
Personally, I felt guilty leaving. Some of the students were our age, and we spent our days and nights talking to them as friends would. Thus, when we had to leave it was as if we were leaving them behind. These students are bored out of their minds all the time because of how rural Yeoju is. While we would leave to go to Busan, Seoul, the United States, they would stay there and continue with the same daily schedule they’ve had for weeks, months, even years. They just study all day and night for their exams and see and talk to the same people every day.
When talking to one of our group members, we both felt like we wanted to cry as we rode in our taxis away from the school. While walking around in Busan that same Friday, I couldn’t help but think about how much the students our age would enjoy taking this weekend trip and spending it with us. I couldn’t help but think about how if it weren’t for the unfortunate situation of having been born in a country that didn’t have the same liberties and opportunities as the US and South Korea, they now couldn’t enjoy themselves in the same way that most people their age were enjoying themselves in the same country they were in. They were living in South Korea, but they weren’t living as South Koreans yet.
Even though leaving Mulmangcho was harder than Jiguchon, there is a positive with Mulmangcho that is different from Jiguchon. That difference is that the students we spent time with at Mulmangcho are also our friends. At Jiguchon, the oldest students were 14 and in 6th grade whereas at Mulmangcho the students we spent most of our time with were 16 and up, so we are Facebook friends and Kakaotalk friends and can keep in contact with them in a way that we never could with Jiguchon students. Thankfully, this means the separation from Mulmangcho- while painful- is not necessarily permanent.
After having left Mulmangcho on Friday, we went to Busan for the weekend. We visited several museums and Busan Tower. Busan can basically be considered the second most famous city in South Korea after Seoul, but it has a different vibe and narrative than Seoul. While Seoul is considered one of the most modern technologically advanced cities in the world- like most famous major cities it is very hectic and fast-paced, one of our group members described Busan as Seoul’s chill older brother. Busan has none of the pressure Seoul has to be a competitive capital city, and so is able to develop comfortably. More so than that, Busan was the only place to not be taken over during the Korean War. When Seoul was taken by the North Korean army in the early 1950s, Busan became South Korea’s provisional capital. It remains untouched by the war physically, but much of its narrative is based off of its important role during the war. After having gone through this program learning more deeply about the North-South conflict and its history, going to Busan seemed like the perfect way to feed and nourish all the information with the actual environment where it all culminated. We were able to see where refugees of the war actually lived when we went to Gamcheon Cultural Village, where refugees found work at the Gukje Market, and even visit Syngman Rhee’s home during his time in exile.
One such example of this culmination was going to the International Market and finding the store that 국제시장 (reads Gukje Market but English title is Ode to my Father) the movie based itself off of. In the movie, the main character is a refugee of Hungnam, North Korea that comes during the war and works at his aunt’s spice store in the Busan International Market. As the main character grows old so the market develops, and the store in the movie is an actual store in real life that we were able to find and browse through its products. It was incredibly meaningful for all of us to walk through the streets which we have seen so many movies and videos and read/heard so much about through several mediums.
Now with just two days left, we are wrapping up our thoughts and thinking about our experience as a whole on this program. It is definitely a bittersweet ending.