ISC: Judith Veld from Utrecht University
For me, 2016 was a year of adventure. It started by leaving the safety of The Netherlands for the snowy mountain peaks of Canada to go on exchange. As I was picking my courses I decided to take Korean. ‘Why on earth would you take Korean in Canada?’ is what everyone proceeded to ask me. I had been listening to Korean music for a few months and watched a drama so to me it seemed like a perfect opportunity. As the semester progressed I started thinking ahead of my summer, knowing that I had to leave Canada by the 28th of June. I looked at a map of the world and immediately made a decision: South-Korea. I Skype-called my parents and booked my flight tickets right away. That summer I would spend two months in South-Korea, although I did not know yet what I would be doing….
Inspired by my Korean classes I decided I wanted to take a summer school to learn more Korean. Since Women’s and Gender studies are part of my major, EWHA was the perfect choice for me. When I saw the offered Women’s and Gender studies courses, I knew that I had found my summer plans, and the session I also so happened to be timed perfectly with my flights. The rest of my time in Canada flew by and suddenly I was standing at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam again for my one-day layover before going to Canada. I had just about enough time to see my parents, empty my suitcase, and change my clothes. Walking through Gimpo Airport felt unreal. I suddenly found myself surrounded by Korean! The next day I moved into my dorm, and the EWHA adventure was finally starting.
The first exciting thing was meeting my Peace buddy. I had already been kakaotalking with her for a month and it was so much fun to meet her in real life! Throughout the summer school we met up multiple times, exploring different parts of Seoul. After the summer school I stayed in Korea for an extra month and I met her again, we even went to the mud festival together! The Peace Buddy system was a really nice way to meet Korean students. It was also really convenient to know someone to ask questions to. Whenever I had questions about places to go to for food or drinks, or questions regarding Korean translations, I could always ask my peace buddy. From the line friends store to noraebang and from samgyeopsal to bingsoo, my peace buddy introduced me to all the important Korean things.
The day after the opening it was time for the first classes. I took Gender Relations in Korea and Korean 1.2. The Gender Relations class was really inspiring. The Netherlands is known for being quite progressive and we score high on all the gender equality measures. Korea, however, still has a long way to go. Learning about Korea’s history and how the current gender roles came to be, gave me a lot of insight into why I was seeing what I was seeing on the streets. My teacher, a Korean Ewha alumni who had been involved in the protests for democracy in the 70ties, was very knowledgeable on the topic and I learned a lot from her.
The Korean language class also was very useful. When I came to Korea I had been studying Korean for 4 months, but I mostly only learned writing and reading, so my listening and speaking skills were still very underdeveloped. During my one month at EWHA I progressed a lot, up to the point where towards the end I could have basic conversations with the locals!
Besides the interesting courses, several fieldtrips were also included in the program. The first fieldtrip I went on was one to the kimchi museum where I learned to make my own kimchi. Traditional kimchi is way too spicy for me, so I decided to leave out most of the red pepper when I made it. At last I had kimchi that I could eat and enjoy without burning my mouth! Afterwards we went to a non-verbal show, which was really funny and impressive. It was such a cool experience to go to a show in a foreign country and have a great time, even though you are not fluent in the language. This experience has actually been central to my stay in Korea. I could only speak and understand the basics of Korean, but I had a really great time, even with Korean natives whose English wasn’t that great. The Korean friendliness and willingness to go to extreme lengths to help you even though verbal communication is not really possible is something that I will warmly remember.
The second fieldtrip was to Everland, where I found a Holland village. I had never expected to find a Holland-themed village in a Korean amusement park! Other than that, I really enjoyed the small zoo that was in Everland. I had never before seen an amusement park with a zoo in it. Korea really knows how to do things right.
The fourth fieldtrip I went on was to the house of sharing, a place established especially for the so-called ‘comfort women’, women who were held captive and used as sex slaves when the Japanese dominated Korea. Being there and talking to these women was as inspiring as it was confronting. The horrors that these women must have gone through are unimaginable. At the exhibition on site I learned that there were about 80 Dutch comfort women as well. It shocks me that I have never heard about this issue, despite there also being so many Dutch victims. It is a horrible fact that such a crime of war is just shoved under the rug. As a small extra fieldtrip, our Gender Relations class went to one of the Wednesday protests in front of the Japanese embassy. These protests have been held every Wednesday since 1992 and are held to force the Japanese embassy to acknowledge their war crimes and issue an official apology. So far, the goal has not been fully attained. I’m really grateful that our teacher took us to the house of sharing and the Wednesday protest, and that I now know about it so that I can spread the word and do everything I can to give these women the justice they deserve.
The last fieldtrip was to the DMZ. This was another confronting fieldtrip. The DMZ is the place where you can really see and feel what the division of Korea means. While staying in Seoul I never really realized that the border was that close and that I basically was in a ‘war-zone’. The Koreans themselves do not seem to be to be too bothered by the split in daily live. They have found a way to continue their daily lives and have accepted North-Korea being right there. It sometimes makes you forget that Korea is still very divided.
Overall I am really happy that I chose for the EWHA summer program. The courses were both fun, but also stimulated me to think about very real issues in Korea. I met a lot of awesome people and I did so many fun things with them. I had (a lot of) bingsoo, stayed out until 10 in the morning, sung my lungs out and saw someone smoking a cigarette with chopsticks…. I don’t think I could have found any better way to spend my summer.