This weekend, the Fulbright ETAs went to Sokcho, a beach town on the northeast coast, to take a break from the cultural workshops, language classes, and teacher training. My first taste of travel around Korea!
Mrs. Shim, Executive Director of the Korean-American Educational Commission that runs Fulbright Korea, offered a welcome address on Friday afternoon, in which she encouraged us to enjoy ourselves during the weekend and not even THINK about studying Korean or writing lesson plans. As a self-professed workaholic, this was probably the first time I’ve ever taken advice about not working. It was definitely worth the cramming I have to do back at Jungwon.
To start the weekend, a Buddhist monk spoke to us about his experiences with converting to Buddhism and living in a Buddhist temple, called Naksansa, in Korea. That evening, we visited Naksansa Temple and ate dinner with the monks. We had some time to explore the mountains and gardens around the temple, and then we had a formal tour.
One of the monks served as our guide, telling us the history of the temple, the significance and symbolism of the architecture, and the details of the Buddhist rituals. We learned that although the current temple building is only a few decades old, a temple has existed in this spot since the Silla Dynasty, over one thousand years ago. Every time the monk described an architectural or artistic detail from the different buildings, he would jokingly say, “I designed it” and then erupt in laughter.
At the beginning of the tour, we went to a small temple with four ornate bells and drums. Each bell symbolized the teachings of the Buddha and played an important role in the evening rituals. As the monk explained the significance of the animal shapes and the colors, he paused when he explained the drum.
“Do you know why we need a cow hide and a bull hide for the drum?” the monk asked. Then he smirked and said, “Because you need both man and woman to make a lot of noise at night!”
After performing the evening bell ritual, the monk let us come into the small temple to get a closer look.
For the rest of the tour, we saw the temple building and a large statue of the Goddess of Mercy, one of the principal figures in Buddhism.
After the sunset, we headed back to the hotel. I decided to turn in early for the night so I could have a full day of sightseeing on Saturday.
We had all day on Saturday to do whatever we wanted, so some of my friends and I went to the famous Seoraksan National Park to see one of the tallest mountains in Korea. Half of the group braved the foggy weather to hike to the top of the mountain. The others (including me) took the cable car to the top of the mountain and spent our time exploring there.
In the afternoon, we walked along the beach, which was not very crowded due to the cloudy weather.
We saw Mrs. Shim and the rest of the Fulbright crew again that evening for dinner – at a Korean BBQ restaurant! It was my first time eating Korean barbecue, and it was amazing. I don’t know if I can go back to Jungwon cafeteria food!
On Sunday, we left Sokcho and stopped by a few historical sites in the nearby town of Gangneung. The first site, Ojukheon, was the home of two famous Koreans in the sixteenth century. Sin Saimdang, who is pictured on the 50,000 won bill, is considered the “mother of Korea” and her son, Yulgok Yi Yi, who is pictured on the 5,000 won bill, was one of the most famous scholars of the Joseon era. A photo of Yi Yi’s statue is below, as is a photo of some of his scholarly work and mementos.
Only a few minutes down the road, our next stop, Seongyojang, was an eighteenth century hanok, or traditional Korean house. Seongyojang showcases the architecture of the late Joseon dynasty, as well as the lifestyle of Joseon aristocrats. Seongyojang has 99 rooms, including servants’ quarters, women’s rooms, men’s rooms, and storage areas. A few of the buildings are pictured below.
Throughout the weekend, I wondered why Fulbright would be so generous as to send all of us on a vacation in the middle of our orientation. Then I realized that this weekend was reflective of Korea’s culture of social harmony and relationship-building – we must know and have relationships with each other before we can work together as ETAs. As much as I appreciated the history and nature I saw over the weekend, I most appreciated spending some time with my new friends. I hope we are placed close together after Orientation!
The Fulbright English Program starts this week, and with it my first day of teaching. Vacation is definitely over!