Hello Winter Break

Hi, are you alright?

The time flies so fast. Yesterday I had my last lecture at Coventry University. Unbelievable! So probably it is time to write some sort of summary of my semester here. Although, it is not over yet, I am not leaving. I still have to take 3 exams in January. But before that I have 3 weeks of holidays that I am going to spend travelling, celebrating, and (hopefully) revising for my exams.

I have already written a few posts about travelling around the UK. It probably made some of you think that I did not really study here. 😀 Well, I did. In fact, I had 4 assignments to submit, among them were two typical essays, one book review, and one group wiki.

There was nothing special about the essays and the book review. I would say, they have pretty much the same requirements here as at MAH. But group wiki was something unusual, something that I had never done before. It also was a group assignment. We had to create a wiki page (something very similar to a real Wikipedia page) about a specific topic. It was not hard to do the assignment from a technical point of view. Everyone in the group had access to the wiki from their own computers. The platform used for it was not tricky to understand either. The only difficulty concerning this assignment was connected with agreeing on how to do it. Because all people in my group were from different universities (all exchange students) with different ideas how to write and present information, we had some disagreements. But I guess, it is a normal part of group work anyway. However, this definitely was not my favourite assignment. Anyway, we managed to make a more or less decent wiki in time. 😀

Apart from submitting those assignment, I also had to attend all my lectures and seminars, which I did. As I already told in one of my previous blogposts, they track attendance here. So it is very important to go to all your classes.

As for the exams… As I have already mentioned, I have to take three. One for each of my modules. I will have to write two essays in two hours for each exam. Two of the exams are going to be unseen. So now I just have a list of 10 topics for each one of them that we studied during this semester, and have to revise everything. The third one is going to be a seen exam. I already have a list of questions, so can start writing my answers.

To sum up shortly, I cannot say that I liked all the modules that I was taking here, but in general it was okay. Not always the classes were interesting and well-organised. But nothing is perfect. I still feel like I have learnt a lot here. And that is what matters, right?

Alright, let’s leave aside the studying part. Yesterday we also had the last party of the semester. It was a Christmas party. But it was also the last day in England for my best friend here. So we went out together, had fun and said bye to each other. It was sad. Farewells always are… It is just an integral part of exchange studies, though. Making friends and then saying goodbye. But isn’t it amazing how people can become good friends in a very short period of time. Of course, not everyone will stay in your life after it. But nowadays technology is everywhere. So it is very easy to keep in touch with your exchange friends even after you go home. People just need a desire to do that!  Those who want, will always find a moment to call or text their friends. Distance is never an obstacle for true friendship, right? And how wonderful will it be to reunite one day. Well, what I am trying to say here is that you should go on exchange. It will be hard and sad sometimes, but most of the time it will be a fantastic experience.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!

“Facing the Enemy”- A Trip to the DMZ and JSA

Annyeonghaseyo!

Today, a friend of mine and I went went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA). The DMZ is  240km long buffer zone separating North and South Korea. As the two Koreas are technically still at war, this area was created during the armistice agreement. The area is very surreal and full of contracts.

We booked to tour over Koridoor Tour which runs the USO (US army´s social and entertainment organisation), as it was recommended my by travel guide. 

JSA

We get a quick briefing by a soldier when arriving in Camp Bonifas. Our passports were checked several times and we had to follow the instructions of the soldier. Our soldier guide was funny and showed a rather unbiased perception on the situation, which I was very happy about as I had expected an extremely biased US view on the matter. We changed into a designated bus to enter the JSA. The JSA is where the North and South have meeting and discuss important issues (there are A LOT of issues). We were able to see the North Korean buildings and soldiers. The JSA is the only place which you can `enter´ North Korea safely, you literally just walk across the conference room. One side of the table marking the South Korea and the other the North. We were only allowed to take pictures of the North Korean buildings and were prohibited from waiving or staring at the North Korea soldiers. In the conference room there was both an South and North-Korean soldier. Both standing in a very tense Taekwondo position. We were allowed to take selfies with the soldiers, I did not do so, as I thought it was rather inappropriate. The South-Korean soldiers have specific training and are chosen according to their looks. Sadly, the soldier we saw was not that handsome. We were told that the North Korean soldier stood there for 7-8 hours without moving; whilst the South Korean soldier could start to move as soon as the tourists had left.

We saw the two villages of the DMZ, Daesong-dong in the south and Gijeong-dong in the north. I do not understand why you would want to live in the DMZ, however we were told that the South Korean farmers get a lot of benefits from the government. Still, the number paid does compensate for the restrictions and the danger of living in a war zone. The DMZ ironically is the most militarized area in the world and there are land mines every where! No thanks!

We then drove to Dorasan station, which was build by South Korea in order to connect the South and the North. As relations have become more hostile since, the train station is abandoned and not in use. The hope for unification was constantly repeated ( I admit I think it is unlikely and many scholars agree) and the train is a symbol of this.

We had lunch and then went to the Dora Observatory

Dora Observatory

From the Dora Observatory we had a perfect view over North Korea. We saw Gijeong-dong (where no one actually lives, only for propaganda purposes) and the gigantic North-Korean flag. North-Korea made sure to build a taller flag pole than South-Korea (just to point that out). We also saw Kaesong Industry Complex, which is were North Koreans work for South Koreans. North Koreans are exploited, as they ear very little, but way more than in North Korea, so the jobs are very popular among the locals.

Third Infiltration Tunnel

The Third Infiltration Tunnel was built by North Koreans and discovered in 1974. It is 265 meters long and 73 meters deep. It is extremely narrow, and I pumped my head a lot (had my helmet though). The tunnel is, well its a tunnel.However it is interesting to see how much manpower the North Koreans put in building it and  tiny the soldiers must have been (around 1,60 m tops). The implications are evident; malnutrition and lack of technology.

Visiting the DMZ is something everybody coming to Korea should do. It makes you realize how close the “enemy” is to Seoul. It also makes you realize how fragile peach can be, there are many incidences reported in Korean media about North-Korean aggression, seeing the DMZ makes you more aware of this. I personally wanted to go to the DMZ in order to be able to imagine a divided Germany. Even though Germany and Korea are different cases, both countries were/are divided. I cannot imagine how a divided Germany was, even if I know a lot about it. I hoped to understand the concept of a divided country more. Well, going to the DMZ did not help. The DMZ feels unreal. The atmosphere is peaceful and tense at the same time. The presence of the military is intimidating, whilst the beauty of nature is stunning. Close to the DMZ there is a theme park, there are festivals celebrated close to the DMZ, people live in the DMZ. All very confusing situations when you regard that the conflict between the North and South has not be solved.

As a German and a strong believer in democracy, I wish for unification of the two Koreas. (fun fact: Travelling would be some much easier!). However, the chances for unification become smaller and smaller. Korea has been divided for 70 years, hardly any South Koreans has relatives left in the North and the economic costs are high. 

May peace prevail!

Note: I apologize for not adding any pictures, the blog was a problem with the format and I´m not that great with computers.

Last weeks in Seoul

Annyeonghaseyo!

I´ve been rather busy the last couple of weeks. Time is passing by super quickly. I´ll only be in Korea for 10 (!!) more days.Can´t believe it. As the semester is coming to an end, I´ve got lots of group presentations and finals. Nevertheless, I´m still doing lots of fun things in order to use the remaining time effectively.

Japan

I visited Japan in two weeks ago. It was a fantastic trip. I decided to visit Osaka, Nara and Kyoto, as I´m interested in the traditional Japan and had to make a decision between eiter going to Tokyo or Kyoto. Flying to Japan is relatively cheap and very close. It takes 1.5 hours to fly to Osaka.

Osaka is a modern city which is famous for it´s great food. Not only is the food great, but so is the city itself. Here one can experience the “real” Japan and witness what Japanese people are up to in their everyday life. Osaka is a mix of modernity and tradition, like most of Japan. Osaka castle is the main attraction, and really forth a visit.

Next stop was Nara, which is very close to Osaka. Nara is known for having the largest Buddha statue and for it´s semi-wild deer that walk around the city center. Beautiful temples everywhere, Nara is basically a museum! Is stayed at a traditional Japanese house, thankfully I did not have to sleep on the floor. Neither sleeping nor sitting on the floor is very comfortable in my opinion.

Last but certainly not least on my trip was Kyoto. Kyoto is amazing. If you haven´t been there you have not seen Japan. There is such much (not exaggerating here) to see. Getting around with the buses is very convenient and I was able to see the most important sights in a rather short time. Even just walking around Kyoto is interesting as you will always come across a temple of palace of some sort! Kyoto is super crowded with tourists. When I was in Japan autumn was at its peak and the leaves looks so beautiful, therefore everybody was there! Even if the tourists sometimes were annoying (yes, I was one myself), one can escape the masses by getting up early and then being able to experience the true spirit of Kyoto.

Overall, the trip was amazing. I was there for 4 nights and was able to see the most important things. I traveled alone, which was no problem at all. Japanese are super polite and helpful. They will help you even if they don´t speak English, perfect when you cannot read anything on the signs. Travelling in Japan is easier than in Korea, as Japan has been exposed to tourists for a very long time and especially Kyoto is super tourist friendly. Since Korea now is my “normal” everyday-life, Japan did not seem that exotic. One thing that I noticed is that Japanese people are way more polite, love western things and are extremely fashionable. The amount of history and tradition is also very impressive. I definitely want to go back to Japan and visit Tokyo and see Mount Fuji. About money, Japan ist not that expensive as expected. Everything a tourist needs is affordable, so students can travel to Japan without any problems.

Even if Japan is beautiful, please combine your trip with a visit to Korea. We may not have so many palaces and temples here as in Japan (THEY DESTROYED OURS REMEMBER), but I think that Korea is very authentic and more exotic. It simply is very close to my heart.

Temple stay

After seeing so many temples in Japan and starting to run short of time, a friend and I decided to do a temple stay. In Korea it is possible to stay at a temple and experience the life of the monks there. Foreigners (non-Buddhists) do it for the cultural experience and Koreans in order to connect more to their religion and to solve their problems.

The temple was small and in the mountain (fantastic view!). Our guide spoke English and showed us around. There were only two guys and the rest women. The women were divided into two groups; one from for the adults and one room for the students. There were other exchange students at the temple stay as well.

We got told about Buddhism, very informative and without forcing us to convert. Then we had to do 108 prostrations, which was rather tiring and felt more like sport than meditating or praying. We had dinner at 5, really early but made sense when we were told that we had to get um at 4:30 in the morning (reminded me of the time that I was volunteering in hospital). After the prostrations, we had some free time. Later we met for the evening prayer, where everybody had to ring the bell and we did some meditation. Meditation is something that I have never been able to do, instead of thinking of “nothing”, I think about how my legs hurt from sitting in this uncomfortable position or how boring it is to just sit there with your eyes closed. Afterwards we made some bracelets and went to bed early.

Getting up at 4:30 was a slight pain, but doable. We did the morning prayer, it was rather difficult not to fall asleep for some people. Then to our surprise we would go an have some “rest”, we all slept until breakfast. For breakfast we had rice, which I can actually eat without complaint after being in Korea for about 4 months. The monk showed us how to eat and how to clean our bowls. This was rather complicated, as there is a specific ceremony. We had to clean our bowls with water and then drink the water, at first disgusting but Buddhism teaches us that we just think that it is disgusting but actually it is´t (aha).

We then had to clean our room and went for a short hike. The view was really nice and we meditated whilst looking over Seoul. t was quite cold so we didn´t stay to long. After walking back to the temple we had a traditional tea ceremony. We were allowed to ask the monk anything. He was really nice and answered all our questions. I was surprised that monks may have a family and that Buddhism is not against technology (THERE WAS A BEAMER IN THE TEMPLE).

Overall, the temple stay was a very good experience and made me understand Korean culture more. I did not find enlightenment or so, but I felt quite relaxed after the temple stay. If you are interested in Korean culture a temple stay is really good, as you gain insights about Korean Buddhism.

Today, I had my last lecture, Which feels very weird, but at the same time really good, as I can´t wait for university to be over with. At the end of the semester there is always so much to do, that you simply just want a break. Even if I am happy that I just have to write 3 more exams (I have 5 in total by the way) and I look forward to seeing my friends and family back home, I am very sad to leave Korea, as I´ve met great people and experiences so memorable things here.Before going back to Germany, I´ll go to the DMZ (border between Korean and North Korea), visit the opera and ballet and see all my favorite places in Seoul one last time. 

10 more days to go…

Have a great Advent season, as Christmas is basically non-existent in Korea!