Kimchi, chopsticks reflect different way of life

By Yesenia Caloca
The moment I looked back to see my father’s face I knew I was on my way to one of the greatest adventures of my life.
I did not know what to expect, what to see, what to feel. I was nervous, anxious and ready to experience everything. What I didn’t know were the bonds and friendships I made while in South Korea with people I had never met before in my life. I think to myself: “How can 10 days change a person so much enough to want to go back again and again.” This Korean Culture Experience Program is an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
All the students that participated in this program, including those who go to Chosun University, made my experience unforgettable. They made me feel as if I had known them for a long time. They all helped me become integrated into their culture and I was more than happy to share my culture with them. This was more evident when we had the Culture Exchange class. This day helped all of us know each other better and understand from where we come.
During the 10 days not only did I learn about Korean culture, but also this trip helped me realize how diverse our world is and how important it is for people in general to be open to other cultures. Sitting at a table on the floor with a cushion, and with my shoes off, eating with chopsticks, was something I got used to doing.
I will say I had a bit of trouble using the chopsticks, but as long as I got the food into my mouth I was happy. Another thing that was different for me to experience was the food and how it was presented on the table. I would later come to learn kimchi is a very important and traditional food in Korea. Everywhere we went to eat, kimchi was always there. I was surprised to see many little side dishes on the table and a main meal in the center and a side of rice for each. My friends taught me how to eat some of the foods. For example, some would be wrapped in lettuce, folded, and put entirely in your mouth to eat.
Some of the places we visited during this trip were breathtaking. Most of these I saw during our school excursion to Gyeongju and Busan. Busan, especially, was my favorite place from the excursion. The city at night was so beautiful and everybody was going to and fro to places. This was something I noticed — that no matter how late it was in South Korea, people were out and about.
These 10 days in South Korea were not enough to truly experience and take in everything that was of Korean culture. But I felt as if I were part of the culture. I wore the traditional hanbok, tried to speak Korean, tried the food, made kimchi, visited historical sites, and made amazing friends.
I remember my last day in Gwangju. I woke up early to go buy some food. My friend, Christine, and I walked to the store. I tried to take in every second on my way to and from the store: the people, the smell, the snow, the sun. I never wanted to forget that peaceful morning.
This trip has taught me to embrace my Hispanic culture, but to also embrace Korean culture. Years from now I hope to look back and remember all the people I met and all the memories I made in this trip. South Korea is a country rich in food, culture, and kind people, and I will never forget my visit here.

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Yesenia Caloca

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