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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