Two weeks ago, I went on a trip to Busan thanks to the Korea Foundation. Located in the southeastern-most tip of South Korea, Busan is the second most-populous city in South Korea.
We rode the high-speed train from Seoul to Busan (covering over 200 miles in less than 3 hours!). The first evening was spent learning more about foundation and its work. We heard a guest lecture from Vincenzo Campitelli Iacomi, Professor of Italian at Busan University of Foreign Studies. He has been an Italian expat in South Korea for nearly a decade. Something interesting in his speech was how he "hated" globalization because it inherently dilutes local cultures. He felt strongly that there is a great importance in multiculturalism.
When I heard him say that, I raised an eyebrow. Wasn't he, an Italian expat in South Korea, a product of globalization? Maybe it was an English-Italian lost in translation type thing , but I thought that was a strange thesis in his presentation.
Despite a slightly strange lecture, the other participants were great. One of the participants is an intern at the Korea Development Institute. He is Mexican. Funny enough, because his family moves between Mexico and Texas, he went to school about 25 minutes away from me. Now, his family lives in my hometown. It's crazy to think how we both came from the suburbs of Dallas and ended up Busan. Talk about "It's a Small World"/ aka globalization in action.
My roommate from the trip was also from the Korea Development Institute (she is an exchange student there). From her, I learned from that KDI was located in a special government city, Sejong. This was the first time I have heard of Sejong. It turns out that because Seoul is not geographically central in South Korea, former President Roh Moo Hyun proposed that the capital be moved to central Korea. This way, all provinces are more equidistant from the capital. Lee Myung-bak, then mayor of Seoul, who later went on to become president, challenged Roh and won. However, this didn't stop several government agencies from moving to Sejong.
It's crazy to think about how we have very different backgrounds. Yet, we shared uncanny ties with one another. Two of us were affiliated with the Korea Development Institute. Two of us have lived the suburbs of Dallas. All of us had at least some proficiency in Spanish. At one point during the trip we all spoke Spanish to one another (after not speaking Spanish for 3 years though, my ability compared to the other two was laughable). Imagine- a Russian, Mexican, and Korean-American all speaking Spanish to one another in a coastal city of South Korea. Globalization in action.
The trip was focused on experiencing "a day in the shoes of a Busan citizen". With this in mind, we began a jam-packed second day. First, we went to Songdo Beach (←). The water was very a beautiful crystal blue color. It was also quiet and rather deserted. Granted, we were there at 10 AM on a Sunday. However, the sand of the beach barely had any footprints. Next, we went to Gamcheon Village. This wasn't initially part of the itinerary, but I was persistent in persuading the group and our tour guides to go there, haha. Nestled in foothills, Gamcheon village was initially a slum that served as a home for war refugees. After the government decided to invest money to develop this area into a "culture" village, it is now home to many artisans and murals.
Gamcheon Village is another example of globalization at work. One of the first things that popped into my mind when I heard about this place was a TED talk I watched by two artists who went around to Brazilian favelas and transformed them into public art pieces. It's so interesting to think about this phenomenon taking place in South Korea as well. What's more, even the nicknames of Gamcheon Village (Macchu Picchu of Korea, Korea's Santorini, lego village) are reminiscent of globalization.
After going to Gamcheon, we went to BIFF, or Busan International Film Festival Square. As the name suggests, Busan is home to one of the largest film festivals in Asia. BIFF Square is a an area with lots of movie theaters and a sidewalk with handprints of famous directors and actors. Next, we went to Gukje International Market (→). A market with an eclectic mix of items. At Gugkje, you could buy anything from a taxidermied puffer fish to handmade hanbok (traditional Korean costume). The last stop on our tour was a visit to Jalgachi Market, the largest seafood market in all of South Korea. At the market there was a building with a terrace area where you could see Yongdusan Park, originally home to a shrine built by the Japanese area during Korea's colonial period.
To me, this trip was globalization at its best. People coming from all walks of life sharing their own (cultural) experiences in the midst of learning more about South Korea. I will be on the lookout for my trips by the Korea Foundation.