After about 26 hours of travel I wound up back in Canada on Wednesday, my adventures in Korea having come to an end. As mentioned in previous posts, there were many highlights of my time in Northeast Asia, including food, hiking, taxi rides, dong-dong-ju, drums, weather, temples, and Hangeul, just to name a few. However, it was the people of Korea that made the experience completely fantastic.
In September I wrote about my early impressions, and how Koreans were always keen that I should be left with positive feelings regarding their country. This continued right up until my final day in Korea. During December I was often asked where I had visited, what I had enjoyed and what my favourite parts of Korea were. I told of the sights I had seen and the unique experiences I had, but I always emphasized that my fondest memory of Korea, and what made the adventure so worthwhile, was how I was treated by the people.
There were some I got to know well, like some students, and there were others I only had a passing connection with, like the family that ran the local corner store. Yet they all went out of their way to be helpful, kind, and accommodating. Two groups in particular will always represent the people of Korea for me. Firstly, the Daejeon Gold Eagles Ice Hockey Club Team. I always had a smile on when I was around these guys. Their welcoming attitudes, humour and amazing work ethic never made me think twice about playing hockey in a city an hour away at midnight. Each ice time, game or practice, was an exercise in joy.
Secondly, the core group of students who attended our English Clubs were quite simply the best part of Korea. I got to meet hundreds of students at CNUE, probably got to know about 30-40 a little bit, and then there were about a dozen or so students that I will always remember. It all started back in August with some clubs to help students improve their English. It finished in December by saying goodbye to a group of students that I sincerely hope I will meet again. The core group of students that came to the clubs were the best ambassadors any country could hope for. They genuinely cared about my Korean experience. They took us to special places in Korea, taught us about Korean culture, and shared their hopes, dreams and fears for the future of Korea. They opened their homes, went out of their way to help me get settled, cared about my welfare, and were genuinely interested in learning about me and Canadian culture. I hope we will meet again because they were much more than just students. They became friends, and were without a doubt, the best part of Korea.
Korea is an amazing nation. Its progression in the last half century is mind boggling, and the credit goes to the Korean people. There is still a lot ahead for the peninsula. In just my short time some key issues came to the forefront: nuclear testing, free trade with the US, cutbacks in Education. However, I believe the work ethic, hospitality and genuine caring of the Korean people will see Korea through the challenges ahead.
I will miss the mountains. I will miss the colours. I will miss learning about the culture. I will miss the people.
Thanks must go to Selma, Mark and Cam. While they are not Koreans they certainly showcased Korean hospitality and were incredibly inclusive. Thanks to Colette for being a great colleague. The biggest thanks to those I have already described: the core group of students that attended the English Clubs regularly. Korea would have been a completely different experience without them. It would have been good, but they made it great.