Alex Kim is currently a Senior at NYU Stern and is also a Trip of a Lifetime intern. This past summer, Alex had the opportunity to travel to Korea. Below is his story, yet another that shows that #travelchangesyou.
My trip to Korea this past August was great. Although I was only there for 11 days, I felt I was able to experience new aspects of Korea’s culture, history, and daily lifestyle that I was not able to experience before when I went during high school. The purpose of my trip was to mostly visit my mom’s side of the family, celebrate my grandpa’s 80th birthday – a big thing in Korean culture, and just explore the country.
From my trip I was able to see both the similarities and differences from my home back in the U.S. A major difference I noticed right away was the food. The Korean food in Korea was much better. It tasted more fresh and natural unlike the sometimes fake chemicals and preservatives added to the food in Koreatown in NYC. One of my favorite Korean dishes is kalguksu which are noodles made from flour in usually a chicken or anchovy broth. The taste in Korea was so much fresher and had the comfortable and warm feeling of home cooking. Traveling in NYC with taxi or Uber can sometimes add up very quickly. What seems like a short distance can turn into an expensive trip quickly especially if there’s traffic and the taxi driver is a slow driver. Taking a taxi from one side of Seoul to the opposite side costs half of what you would pay in NYC if traveling the same amount of distance. Even basic necessities such as a haircut are much cheaper like 6 dollars. Besides the cheaper living costs, the most important thing that I gathered from my trip to Korea was my recognition for my passion for traveling.
To me traveling is a way to escape one’s familiar surroundings and put yourself in something new and something you’re not normally accustomed to. Traveling is a great opportunity to appreciate the natural wonders and beauty of life itself. Although it may sound cliché, it truly does open your eyes to a whole different world. When I was in Korea, I was not only able to experience the city life such as my stay in Daegu and Seoul, but also get a chance to see what the countryside is like. I was able to drink green tea and see the hilly and sloping green pastures where farmers grew green tea. Sitting down and overlooking the sea as my view, I got to taste fresh and delicious abalone and sashimi. And driving through the countryside, I was able to see Korea’s beautiful and towering mountains gazing over the horizon that were surrounded by the forestry.
One major difference between country to country when you travel is culture and it was no different in Korea. In Korea, you’re supposed to not eat until your elderly grandparents or the oldest person sitting at the table starts eating. In America, usually people start eating right away when they get their food, but in Korea that wasn’t the case. Also in Korea, you are encourage to use formal and proper language to adults and grandparents, while in the U.S. that is sometimes not the case. Respect for family is a major part of Korean and Asian culture. The origins of this respect trace back to Confucianism. Before Christianity started to take a foothold in Korea, Confucianism was the prevalent way of life in Korea especially the aspect of filial piety, which is showing respect to your parents and ancestors. Also in Korea you don’t have to tip when you take a taxi or eat at a restaurant which makes your wallet a little happier. From the Korean perspective, tip is not necessary because service is seen as part of the overall restaurant experience not something extra like in America.
Another major takeaway from my trip to Korea was the remarkable and truly extraordinary path that Korea took to become a modernized and industrialized country. From going to the Korean War National Museum, I learned that after the Korean War, Korea was a 3rd world nation, devastated by the ruins and atrocities of war. But after the war, due to a focus on exports and education, the nation was able to rapidly turn its once dire situation around and become an incredible economic growth story.
Overall the trip to Korea was one I will always remember. Going back to the country each time exposes me to the new changes that this country goes through. Maybe it was because I was older, but I felt I learned and experienced a lot about the country and developed a greater appreciation for the country that my ancestors call home for this trip.