Looking for a vacation destination that is educational and entertaining? Take a Look at South Korea as a possibility. South Korea is located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula, bordered by North Korea or the Democratic People’s Republic to the north and by China to the southeast across the Yellow Sea. An interesting note is that one-half of South Korea’s population lives in or around Seoul, the capital. Seoul is the second most populated city in the world.
South Korea’s currency is the won and with their economy advancements since 1950’s is now the 12th largest economy in the world. This article will include some interesting sights to visit, interesting cultural experiences, and travel tips for a visit to South Korea.
Because of South Korea’s location on an island the climate is similar to the climates here in Minnesota. Korea experiences four distinct seasons much like Minnesota. The difference is that their winters are long, cold, but dry.
However just like here in Minnesota the summers are short and humid and spring and autumn are much enjoyed and much too short. Another interesting fact is that South Korea being a peninsula is less likely to be hit by typhoons than other countries like Japan and Taiwan.
The government of South Korea was established under the Constitution of the Republic of Korea and is set up similar to the United States government. In that their government is broken into three branches the executive, the judicial, and the legislative branches.
Furthermore the local governments are set up similar by having executive and legislative branches also. This form of government was chosen because the people like the checks and balances built into the system. A Prime Minster is the head of the country and they have 17 ministries, what we call secretaries, which support the Prime Minister. South Korean people have well established artists in literature, painting, sculpture, music, dance, and drama. These are influenced from their long history on the peninsula however since their separation from the North they have taken on a culture unique to the culture of South Korea.
The arts are inspired in the population’s belief in Confucianism and Buddhism. Just as most other cultures are influenced by their religious beliefs. Most notable is South Korea’s openness to change and their ability to embrace and include change in all forms of their art. South Korean people love music and have a long history that is rich and full of innovation. Today there are three main categories, Traditional Korean folk music, popular music also known as K-pop, and Western-influenced non-popular music. Traditional Korean music is grouped into sanjo, pansori, and nongak (Korea.net, 2013). The genres of music are very diverse and include Rock, Hip-hop, Idol groups, and Classical music. Music is a wonderful example of the Korean people’s willingness to change. South Korea’s market is ranked 12th in the world and this is because of the industries they have embraced with their separation from North Korea.
They have embraces industries like shipbuilding, automobile building, and mining. South Korea has even developed a construction industry that is exported making their over-seas contracts equivalent to $2.6 billion. Their ability to embrace change has allowed them to excel at developing their technology industries. Exporting both products and jobs through companies like Samsung and Hyundai an automobile company. There is one more industry that is very interesting to Americans, gaming. Every boy growing up from generation X and on has thought of a career in video gaming. In Korea this is not only possible but one of the dominant spectator sports, or eSports. ESports are so predominant in South Korea that they use competitive gaming events for fundraising (Ashcroft, B. 2013).
When sitting in a hotel room and start channel surfing one will notice that there is more than one channel devoted to nothing but casting competitive video game matches. The competitors are usually the best in the world. Due to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that can be earned every year in prizes professional gamers exist. Just like any sport they are good because they can spend so much time practicing. Korean professional gamers are among the top celebrities throughout the country. Gaming is not the only thing of value to South Koreans. Education is valued much like all Asian cultures value education. This is very different than in the United States. Education is very competitive and often heated. There is a central committee that oversees education of all children from kindergarten through high school.
The most important subjects include math, science, social studies, and English. Note: South Korea was the first country to provide internet access to all of its schools. Also unlike the United States student teacher don’t only intern for 12 weeks and then apply for a job. In South Korea they have paid internships for three to four years before they have their first classroom. Children’s education is too important to give to a new teacher that is just finding their way.
When traveling to Korea travel via California on Korean Air. Korean Air feels like a pleasant throwback airline. Thrown back to a time when stewardesses were required to maintain standards of weight and physique. Not meaning that the planes are old. Each stewardess is able to put American customer service to shame, all being polite and soft spoken yet forceful. Personal note, there was not one time that I was choked by the stewardesses wearing too much perfume or makeup.
The stewardesses also impose some useful parts of their culture onto their passengers, such as forcing passengers to respect each other. A plane is not the most spacious way of traveling, but the stewardesses are more than willing to ensure the highest level of comfort that they can afford for each person on the flight. Korean Air stewardesses are good at their job; however they are also provided the materials to provide heightened services when compared to American and European airlines. Some of the nice features of Korea Air are warm moist towels brought to passengers to clean their face and hands and hospital style socks so you can take off your shoes and still move around in the cabin.
For many time is a little weird because when traveling to Korea passengers lose an entire day. When a passenger starts out in the morning and flies all day they would think that they had arrived that night, but this is wrong they will have arrived the evening of the following day. This works in reverse on the way back. Passengers leaving around 4pm will arrive in California at 10am the same day. This happens because the flight is a 13 hour trip and Korea is 16 hours ahead; add the fact that one passes the International Date Line. Talk about time traveling.
Maneuvering around the country is its own adventure. When traveling around South Korea it is recommended to use the train system the most efficient way of travel. With little English available one might feel as if they were in an Indiana Jones movie watching train symbols passing by while comparing them to their ticket making sure to get to the correct destination. Everything is marked in a very logical manner which allows tourists to utilize the trains without much of a hassle even with little understanding of the language. For example a ticket may have an arrow between two sets of two distinct symbols. This means that the passenger is standing in train station XX and would need to change trains at stop YY, from there traveling to station ZZ the final destination.
The platforms are labeled in the same local language with signs that guide travelers through much like the signage in an American airport. Another advantage to trains is that they were a great way to view the amazing countryside without having to spend much of your time walking through the countryside. For someone that does not speak the local language taking the train is probably the easiest form of transportation around the country. However trains don’t travel everywhere. When taking a cab it is advisable to print out a picture of your destination to show to a cab driver if you will be using one. A lot of people in South Korea speak more than just their own language but few speak English.
This can lead to miscommunication. The communication barrier can lead to being driven to the wrong location. Writing the name of the location may not be enough South Korea is known for a delicacy that most people of this country are just not okay with eating. This delicacy is dog. Korea is not the only place that is known to have use dog meat in their diet, but it is not served regularly anymore. This is a meat that was consumed during some of the more impoverished times. Even though it is not a mainstream dietary supplement anymore there are still places that a tourists might run across it. The establishments that still serve dog meat know that not everyone is willing to eat it.
Because of this when accidentally ordered waiters will point out it by said it is not something Americans like to eat and then suggest something that many Americans enjoyed. Due to the highly diverse population and the multiple languages that compliment the diverse population most places serving food of any kind have a wall of pictures instead of a traditional menu to simplify the language barriers. This can still be a little misleading since it can be hard to tell what kind of meat is in the dish. Though it is nice seeing a picture of what you are going to eat before you decide to order it. These pictures are not made of Styrofoam and painted to look perfect; instead they seemed to be just a normal picture of the dish right after it was made. This makes communication quite easy since all you have to do is point and hold up fingers equal to the number of servings. One dish recommended by many different travel and food promoters for any tourist to try is Bulgogi.
Bulgogi is ground beef that is marinated in Korean spices. It is usually served with rice and vegetables. When in South Korea one should visit the DeMilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ is the stretch of land between North and South Korea that serves as the border created from the cease fire at the end of the Korean civil war. Despite its name it is one of the most militarized borders in the world. It is approximately 160 miles long and ranges from 2-3 miles across. The United States deployed troops to assist South Korea’s succession from the communist North Korea.
After the cease fire only a portion of the US’s forces were pulled back. Today the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) is divided between Ft Lewis in Washington and a number of bases throughout South Korea. Even though the DMZ is still patrolled by the North and South it is still a tourist attraction in South Korea. When visiting the DMZ one will encounter a handful of attractions beyond the wall itself.
The first of which is a museum detailing the events of the Korean War from the perspective of South Korea. There is also a Memorial train station that is not in use but maintained as well as all the other train stations in the country. This Station leads into North Korea. It is a symbol that South Korea uses to say that they are constantly awaiting the time when they will reconnect with their brothers to the North and become one nation again. The third adventure is a tunnel that was created to sneak soldiers across the front line. After viewing the museum, the tunnel, and the train station it is time to move as far north as you can in South Korea.
There is an outpost that is setup for tourists to rent binoculars with enough power to see the other side of the DMZ. Just on the north side is a city that was built by Kim Young Ale that was a stunt to prove to the rest of the world that the North was advancing as much as the South. No one has ever been reported to live in this lavish city. Taking in the sights is not the only thing that you can do while at the DMZ.
If you are a golf enthusiast, possibly the most interesting golf course in the world can be found at Camp Bonifas. It was dubbed the world’s most dangerous golf course if not the most interesting (Sumitra, 2013). The danger lies in the still live landmines that pepper the rough throughout the course. The senses are thrown off even more if you are not used to golfing with Army bunkers on one side and fortifications on the other that include electrified fences and concertina wire.
Thrill seekers find South Korea has one unique attraction in the DMZ and the possibility to play golf in this dangerous area. However there are many cultural experiences and educational experiences to entice even the meek at heart to South Korea for an adventure. Traditional Asian art, dance, and literature are just the beginning of South Korea’s cultural experience. South Korea’s ability to embrace change has brought South Korea’s population to the West. The way they have embraced and included Western culture into their lives has brought about a culture that is uniquely South Korean, a culture worth the inconvenience of a language barrier to visit.