Seoul Searching

Hello friends! I hope you appreciated my cringeworthy blog title. I wanted to share about our first retreat, which was not necessarily relaxing. I spent a very busy week traveling with my fellow YAVs in Gwangju, the mountains, and Seoul. We had the honor of meeting many people and hearing their stories. Learning more about Korean history has been one of my favorite things about my time here, and one of the most significant.

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This statue is from the Gwangju Uprising memorial, which we visited on day 1 of our trip. Political violence erupted in Gwangju from May 18-27, as the Korean military responded with violence to democratic movements held by students, resulting in a massacre. South Korea was operating under a dictatorship at that time, since a military coup that previous October. The Korean government framed the events in Gwangju in the media as a communist uprising. For many of the Koreans I’ve talked to, memories of these tumultuous times are still fresh. As an American, I feel eager to learn as much as possible about modern Korean history, since the narrative we learn is that we helped South Korea establish capitalism and democracy with the Korean War.

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Day 2 of our trip was spent journeying to the mountains, as we experienced this winter’s first snowfall! As a Florida girl (I hate calling myself that) snow is always magical for me. The entire scene was so memorable, an enchanting layer of white that came from nowhere. I felt a great deal of peace exploring a Buddhist temple in Jirisan National Park.

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After walking around the grounds, we got to thaw out in a cozy little tea shop. Don’t mind my goofy site-coordinator, I chose this picture because I felt it captured the ambiance.

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That evening we enjoyed a traditional meal. Look at that gorgeous table placement!

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On day 3 I woke up a little bummed because it was Thanksgiving evening in the US, and I missed my family. But then I looked out of my hotel window to this view! Then I wasn’t so bummed anymore.

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I just think this picture is the cutest. This was our last snowy mountain moment before we made the trip to Seoul for the rest of the week!

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This statue is from the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul, which is dedicated as an open space to remember stories of comfort women, who were forced into sexual slavery during Japanese occupation. The chair next to the girl is meant as an invitation to sit in solidarity with her as a statement against the injustices that these women faced. We also had the chance to visit an NGO in a town right outside of Seoul whose mission is to help sex workers for US servicemen heal and reintegrate into society. While it was painful to visit these places, the bravery of the women who have told their stories was powerful.

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On our final day in Seoul we went to a protest that has been held every Wednesday for over 20 years. Former comfort women and people involved with the organization gather in front of the Japanese embassy to demand a formal apology and demand reparations for the victims. There used to be more comfort women at these protests, but many of them have passed away since the protest began. The organization actually gives money to help women currently in conflict areas who have been victims of sexual violence.

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On a lighter note, one of my most memorable moments in Seoul involved this burrito.

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This picture was taken at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which was about an hour bus ride away from Seoul.

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I wanted to share this photo because I think it says something significant. This is the Joint Security Area (JSA), where negotiations between the two countries take place. However, citizens from South Korea are not allowed to visit. It is a room full of tourists taking pictures, laughing. (Like me! Taking a selfie.) It is also a very tense place where two countries are still at war, largely because of the role of the United States. After the tour everyone can go to a gift shop and buy key chains, tee shirts, North Korean wine, etc. It was a very bizarre experience.

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Although I didn’t have much time to rest, I still consider this retreat to have been an amazing experience, filled with learning, emotion, and laughter. Thank you for everyone who has donated to my fundraising efforts. This was truly a week I will never forget. If you want to ask me about it, feel free to message me!

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It’s Daejeon!

So, Daejeon has this really well-articulated logo and it looks a little something like this.

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Yep! That is about how I have felt my first few weeks here. There is too much going on to simply say, “it’s been amazing!” or “it has been terrible.” At times it has been both. But I love it, and learn new things everyday.

I think the common denominator in my first few weeks here has been saying yes. Eh, maybe more like accepting things, because they are happening. Like ordering food at a restaurant. Or being gracious about hospitality without really knowing what is on the agenda. I am slowly learning to be patient and accept these uncertainties.

I think that will help me in my site placement, where we have to get creative about how to communicate.

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Me, clearly struggling.

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Me, clearly having fun.

That’s it folks! I promise to post more insightful thoughts later. Until then, XOXO.

The Korea Decision

Hi Friends!

I am excited to share with you my decision to go to South Korea for a year with the Presbyterian Church’s young adult mission program. Upon graduation in December, I applied to this program with the desire to serve others and live somewhere new. Despite this, the decision to commit was challenging and stressful. I had not pictured myself going somewhere so far away. I had wanted to go to a developing country. I look at these doubts now with a sense of appreciation, knowing that part of service can be going to a place you did not anticipate going, and letting go of expectations. The more I learn about the South Korea YAV program, the more called I feel to go there.

South Korea is known for having one of the most rigorous education systems in the world, usually highly ranked by international standards. In South Korea family is commonly viewed as an economic unit, with each family member expected to play a significant role in helping the family succeed as a whole. This can be positive, and is part of why South Korea’s economy has seen rapid development in recent years. However, it also puts enormous pressure on South Korean youth. It is more difficult for families with less means, for the pressure falls harder on them. I hope to enhance their children’s lives by helping them develop their language skills (as I develop my own), and alleviating some of this pressure. One particularly neat aspect of my experience will be volunteering aside Korean university students, which should further immerse me in Korean culture.

I will be serving at the Beopdong District Children’s Center, which was established in 2005 to provide free meals and after school programs for children of low-income families. It is common in South Korea for families with money to hire after school tutors. Hopefully I can serve the poorer families like a tutor, which is actually something I have done here in Jacksonville. This program is unique in that it engages the entire family in activities. The South Korean culture heavily values community, and I am excited to experience this.

During my year in Korea, I will study the tumultuous history of the Korean peninsula. I will travel with other volunteers to the Korean Demilitarized Zone, museums, and historical sites. The Korean War is known as the forgotten war, but its effects are still present today on the divided peninsula. The focus on conflict analysis and peace during my year is something I am looking forward to. I think it will provide a larger context to my service, both as an American abroad and as a disciple of Christ.

With an open mind and heart I look forward to learning about another culture and growing with the people I meet during my year. The YAV Program will start this upcoming September and finish the following summer. While I hope to find peace within myself, I am sure I will face anxieties and difficulties as I exit my comfort zone. I invite you to join me on this journey by following this blog throughout my year. If you would like to donate to help me fundraise, you can do so via the link below. Each volunteer is required to raise $4,000 total. Your prayers and well wishes are also appreciated.

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/E210911/

Peace and Blessings,

Alexis Erdelyi