Each month, the NSLI-Y program takes us on a "cultural enhancement excursion" to experience various aspects of Korean culture and help us think in new ways. These trips are always some of my favorite times of the month and each one has been unique and insightful.

Our November cultural enhancement program took us south-east to a traditional village in Andong called "하회 마을" (Hahhae village). The trip was lots of fun and as someone who isn't a huge city person, I really enjoyed the escape into the countryside where life isn't as fast-paced and you can enjoy nature. The trip focused on the effects of Confucianism on modern education in Korea and it brought up much discussion about not only Korean education, but whether or not an "ideal" system of education exists in the world. Below is a short overview of the trip both in Korean and in English:

A scenic picture of Hahae Village with mountains in the background

토요일 아침에 좀 일찍 일어났어요. 이 여행이 정말 재미있었어요! 주말 동안 역사와 문화 배웠어요. 버스로 적어도 4시간 걸리는데 모두 NSLI-Y 친구랑 같이 좋은 시간을 보냈어요. 버스를 타는 동안 빵을 먹고 책을 읽고 이야기했어요. 2시간 쭘 후에 대부분 사림 낮잠을 잤어요. 도착했을 때 첨심를 많이 했어요. 생선과 밥과 판전을 먹었어요. 먹운 후에 안동 한옥 마울에 갔어요. 우리 안내사는 아주 재미있어요. 안내사는 안동의 역사를 우리한테 가르첬어요. 관광 후에 전통 그네 봤어요. 첫번째 학생부터 마지막 학생까지 진행방향을 바궜어요. 정말 좋아요. 저는 도시 좀 안 좋아해서 시골 아주 좋아요. 서울에 도착 안 하고 싶어요! 저녁에 전통 시장에 갔어요. 사실 시장들이 정말 좋아요. 시장에 갔는데 한국어 연습을 해서 좋았고 엄마와 여동생의 선 물을 샀어요. 저는 애쁜 선물 골랐어요. 저녁 6시쯤에 침딹을 먹으려고 식당에 갔어요. 침딹이 아주 아주 좋아요!! 좀 매웠지만 달았어서 정말 맛있었어요. 많이 먹은 후에 얘쁜 다리에 갔어요. 화려한 불 많이 있고 분위기 편화로워요. 사진을 많이 찍었어요. 마지막으로 한옥 마울에 도착했어요. 마울에서 묵었고 온돌의에 잤어요. 날이 바쁜데 좋아요.

다음 날 아침에 8시에 일어났어요. 샤워가 없어서 친구랑 같이 싱크대 도왔어요. NSLI-Y 학생들이 피곤하지만 행복했어요. 아침에 유교 학원에 갔어요. 유교 학원에 도착하고 나서 기다리는 동안 커피를 마셨어요. 우리 안내사 도착하고 관광 시작했어요. 우리가 유교 가르침을 배우고 유교 학원을봤어요. 저는 역사 재미있어서 이 관광을 좋아했어요. 유교 가르침을 오늘 한국 학교들을 미치기 때문에 이 학원이 정말 중요해요. 관광 끝난 후에 불고기 식당에 갔어요. 식사 아주 맛있어서 많이 먹었어요. 먹은 후에 버스를 다시 탔어요. 홍데 도착하려고 거의 5시간 걸렸어요. 피곤한 주말 이었기 때문에 대부분 사람 잤어요. 7시쯤 하숙집에 도작했어요. 집에 도작하자마자 별래를 시작하고 숙제 했어요. 11시쯤에 잤어요. 이 여행을 너무 좋아했어요. :)

Translation: Saturday morning I woke up somewhat early. I was really excited for this trip! Over the weekend we learned about history and culture. Although it would take about 4 hours to get to Andong, the NSLI-Y students always have a fun time together. While on the bus we snacked on bread, read books, hung out and talked. After about 2 hours most of us took a nap. When we arrived we had a large meal. We ate fish, rice, and Korean traditional side dishes. After we ate we went to Andong traditional village for a tour. I really liked our tour guide. She taught us about Andong's history. After touring the village we found a traditional swing. One at a time we took turns using the swing. It was really fun. Since I don't really like the city very much, I really enjoyed the countryside. I didn't even want to return to Seoul! In the evening we went to a market. I really enjoy going to Korean markets. While at the market I really enjoyed practicing speaking Korean and while there I also bought some small presents for my mom and younger sister. Around 6pm we went to a restaurant to eat a dish called 침딹 (chicken). I REALLY liked this dish! It was especially tasty because it was a little spicy and a little sweet. After we ate a lot we went to a pretty walking bridge. There were many colorful lights and the atmosphere was peaceful. We took lots of pictures here. Finally we went back to the village and slept in a traditional house. The day was busy but very fun.

The next morning we got up around 8am. Because there weren't any showers, we helped each other wash our hair in the sink. That morning we went to a Confucian academy in the countryside. After we arrived at the Confucian academy we drank some coffee while waiting for our tour guide. When she arrived we began our tour. We learned about Confucian teachings and looked around the old school. Since I enjoy history, I really liked this tour. Especially since Confucius' teachings impacted Korean education today, this academy was very important. After the tour ended we went to a bulgogi restaurant. Since the meal was very delicious we ate a lot. After eating we got on the bus again. To get back to Hongdae took about 5 hours. Since the weekend was really tiring most of us slept. Around 7pm I arrived back home. As soon as I got home I started the laundry and did my homework for the next day. Around 11pm I went to bed. The trip to Andong was really really fun. :)

two nsli-y students pose with the red fall foliage

My favorite part of the trip was thinking about the effects of Confucianism on modern education and society. It was interesting to think about how the Confucian mentality of working hard and being qualified for your job so strongly impacts the way Koreans view the purpose of education today. While many Korean students score in the top rankings of standardized test scores, their high academic achievements come at a price. Many students I've spoke with dislike their school system and want to someday leave Korea. They feel consumed with stress and know that they won't be able to get a solid job in Korea if they don't perform well academically and get into the top universities. The system is incredibly competitive and forces students to even be stacked against one another for grades and ranking. Some have told me that even if they get into one of the top Korean universities and get to work for a large corporation in the future, their general happiness of life may not be very high because of all the stress they will face. Compared to the U.S., schools in Korea are much more focused solely on academics. Colleges often don't even consider your club participation or work experience: they just want to know your test scores. While this emphasis on academics has produced some of the top ranking students in the world, many students also feel they may be ill-equipped to face general social and life situations due to their lack of exposure to the world outside the classroom.

Contrastingly, most schools in the U.S. focus on a "well-rounded" education and emphasize being involved in student leadership, clubs, sports, and even part-time work. While I am personally very thankful for my experiences outside the classroom and feel incredibly influenced by the hobbies I've developed, I have to admit that for some students in America these extracurriculars can become a distraction from academics and may result in the generally lower average on standardized tests as compared to other parts of the world like South Korea. Pros and cons certainly exist on both sides of the spectrum, and after analyzing other school systems such as Finland and Germany, we agreed that different systems work for different regions and it would be incredibly hard if not impossible to create a system that would work for everyone. Although some Korean students may dislike their school system, I have to admit that I am very impressed by many aspects of it and think that the United States' education system could be positively impacted by some of their models. For example, their work ethic is nearly unparalleled to any other group of students I've interacted with. I'm constantly impressed by their dedication and ability to maintain a positive attitude while doing so. Likewise, teachers in Korea are paid nearly the same as doctors, showing the emphasis Korea places on education. Since students will someday be the next generation of leaders, I believe that teachers should be valued more in the United States: motivated teachers often result in motivated students. One of the best things I learned from being homeschooled for 9 years was to develop a love of learning. More than anything else, this is what will transform school systems in both America and around the world. When we start appreciating knowledge and recognizing that every day is an opportunity to learn, we will begin to diminish apathy, embrace activism, and lead in innovation.