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Life-changing Experience for Both Visitors and Hosts  100 U.S. Students Participate in Youth Network Program

The Korea-U.S. Youth Network program, a follow-up project to a proposal at the Korea-U.S. summit meeting in 2008, is administered by the Korea Foundation to promote student exchange between the two countries. A group of 100 U.S. students visited Korea on August 9-22, under the 2011 program to have firsthand experience of Korea and spend time with their Korean peers. Two participants contributed the following essays.

‘We’re Going Back Home with Korea in Our Hearts’

Sarah Heywood Neenah High School
Neenah, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

Angyeonghaseyo? (안녕하세요; Hello!) – Neol ijjeulseun eobseul geoyeyo! (널 잊을 순 없을 거예요; I will never forget you!).

For those of you still struggling to master the Korean language, like myself: Hello! – I will never forget you! In all honesty, I stumbled upon this program one day while I was procrastinating my study for a human bio test. There I was, sitting alone in my room in my pajamas, Google-ing “full scholarship summer programs for high school students,” completely unaware that something magical was about to happen. Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was fate. Who knows, maybe Buddha was smiling down at me at that very second. Whatever it was that brought me here to Seoul, South Korea, with all of you wonderful people, it has changed my life forever.

난타 공연장 Chance to Take Pride in Korea
I believe that ignorance is the culprit for many of the problems that our world faces today. While schools across the globe require language classes throughout all years of schooling, producing students who are proficient in two or more languages, in America, many institutions only require two or three years of a foreign language. It’s like a game of telephone; when we can’t communicate for ourselves, the message is distorted by the time it reaches the person meant to receive it.

What makes this program stand out from the rest is that it not only encourages an interest in a foreign language, but also in a culture, very different from our own. From our K-pop experience to the traditional Korean wedding ceremony, I learned that I have so much to be proud of about my Korean heritage. At home, I have no Korean friends and I laugh along with their “do math” and “hey shawty” jokes, but now, I’m going with a whole new perspective. As a kid, I dreamed of looking sort of like Harry Potter – bright green eyes, light skin, dark hair, and an awesome scar, of course – but now as I look around and see Buddhist temples, crazy wooden roller coaster, bamboo gardens, countless fashionable Korean couples, and Seoul’s city lights, I’m honored to be from such a beautiful country.

Lessons Learned from My Stay in Korea

Coming here, I was not sure what to expect, but let me tell you, I never expected to fall in love with Korean movies, be tempted to order a traditional Korean drum off of eBay, make so many great new friends, or gain a second family during my homestay.

Being here has inspired the formation of many new personal goals. In the coming year, I aim to learn how to dance like X-Cross (Korean male duet group), acquire the ability to jump as high as our traditional Korean mask dance instructor, figure out how to sing more than just “Maria, Ave Maria” from from the movie “200-Pound Beauty,” become a professional bamboo pencil holder weaver, and conquer my failed skills of getting through Korean automatic- opening doors.

This experience has also taught me some very important lessons about life. One, do not play rock, paper, and scissors when the loser has to take a bite of a hot pepper, and not only do you not handle super spicy food well, but you also suck at rock, paper, and scissors. Two, when you are given free Korean snacks, hoard them so you can take them home for your friends and say: “I spent a lot of money on these souvenirs for you guys!” And three, it’s important to slow down and thank whoever is up there for what you have been given every now and then.

한국전통 혼례식 체험, DMZ 투어 Affection for Traditional Culture
My host “sister” told me that she thought America was a place that was all hustle and bustle, where everyone always has someplace to go or something to do. It’s so easy to just coast through life, to let precious minutes slip by and not even realize it. Life is so much more than a nice car or lots of money, and I think that’s what we, America as a whole, are still grappling with to understand. Here in Korea, people truly appreciate art – whether it’s expressed through Korean mask dance, taekwondo, or playing traditional instruments. They express their love of tradition and culture, and more than that, they spread and share their gifts with foreigners like us, so we can understand what makes Korea such a special place.

We are the future of our nation, so it’s up to us to stand by our Korean allies, but more importantly, to stand by our Korean friends. Korea has made monumental strides since the Korean War ended in 1953, and I hope it will continue to advance itself in the global community. I also hope that all of you, students and adults alike, succeed wherever your path might lead you next.

Thank you to the Korea Foundation, Yonsei University, CIEE, our tour guides, our chaperones, Dalton (our fabulous camera man), and all of my peers for making this such a fantastic trip. I don’t know about you, but the Land of the Morning Calm will always hold a special place in my heart. Bogo sippeojil geoyeyo! (보고 싶어질 거예요) – I’ll miss you!

Three Days of Korea-U.S. Public Diplomacy

Um Yong-chul Han Young Foreign Language High School
Seoul, Korea

After registering for the homestay program of the Korea-U.S. Youth Network Program about four weeks ago, I was excited and a little worried at the same time. But when I finally got to meet my friends at Yonsei University, all my concerns went away. Despite the cultural disparities existing between us, we could easily share our thoughts and have sincere conversations. That includes talking about the relationship between North and South Korea. It was very helpful for me to learn a little more about the perspectives of people from different parts of the world. My house was a place to share and feel the culture of the U.S and Korea, which we can reflect on. It could be a restaurant, a playground, and a debate venue.

Thanks to my new friends, I visited several places that I had never been to, and had great experiences. At Dongdaemun (East Gate) garment shopping malls, we tried bargaining, and I hope we all felt the economic activity full of the humanity of Koreans. I was also happy to show them that Korea has grown. Also, we had some talk about North and South Korea, which was sort of helpful to me. I got to know how the relationship of the two Koreas is seen by foreigners, and it was nice to have enough time for me to erase my stereotypes.

Well, the three days we spent together seemed too short for me. I wanted to show them more places and tell them more about us. And while participating in this program, I thought that we were actually playing the role of diplomats of Korea. I mean for good purposes.

Lastly, I thank all those who have provided us with this great opportunity to get to know these amazing people. We are all going to miss you guys. Have a safe flight back to the States and keep in touch. And special thanks to my “brothers,” Kyle, Tim, and Nishant.

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