Week one of my Duke Engage experience has been pretty wild. Being immersed in a new culture is just as exciting as I expected it to be, and I’ve been learning an immense amount. Hongdae area (the part of Seoul that we’re staying in) is a vibrant quarter surrounding Hongik University (known for its arts programs), and therefore bustling with young, artsy students, and constantly filled with buskers and dance groups of every flavor. The streets are lined with an impressive variety of shops, cafés, and restaurants, some of which reference the famous Hongdae Playground, which is a small park near the university that is a favorite of students and tourists alike. After a day or two of settling in, we headed up into the mountains to the Institute for Unification Education (IUE), which was an incredibly thought provoking experience and showcased the beauty of the Korean mountainside.
We attended lectures by government officials, academic authorities on the subject, and even North Korean refugees, interspersed with field trips to sites such as the Joint Security Area of the DMZ, one of the four tunnels dug under the DMZ by North Korea, one of the stations of the currently defunct Trans Korean Railway, and Hanawon, an education and settlement facility for North Korean refugees run by the government.
Over all the team felt the presence of the government a little more than we expected in both the programing and in daily life at the institute. On a surface level, we realized that all of our time in the lecture halls was being filmed, but the thing that struck us the most and that we spent the most time talking about was the overwhelming attitude that of course unification is the only answer, of course it’s feasible, and of course it’s going to happen. Overall, I’m so excited to learn more about this culture and spend more time in this amazing city, and though I’m a bit nervous for our first day at the school tomorrow, I can’t wait to dive in and see how it goes.