[Authored by Professor Jeff Overby] Much like the recent trip to Amsterdam, the Massey School sponsored its first study abroad trip to Seoul, Korea, in March 2010. The trip included 10 Massey students and was led by Dr. Sean Yoo. Dr. Jeff Overby also accompanied the group primarily for the purpose developing possible study abroad partnerships with Korean universities. With 23 million people in the metropolitan area, Seoul is Korea's capital and largest city and one of the most populous cities in the world. As the group was soon to learn, Seoul is also one of the world’s most modern cities, full of skyscrapers and multinationals, yet still very traditional, with old palaces, shrines, gardens, all mingled amongst four inner mountains and four outer mountains.
After an almost 24 hour trip, the group arrived in Seoul on Sunday night, March 7. With a little bit of sleep behind them, the group began its first full day in Seoul on Monday with a visit to the U.S. Embassy to hear an economic overview of Korea presented by the U.S. Commercial Service. Following this introduction to the country, the group participated in a guided tour of the city, including Seoul City Square, Cheong-gye-cheon Stream Park, and some shopping along the famed Insadong Antique & Art Street. The walk also gave everyone a chance to sample some of Korea’s street food, including a variety of rice cakes, hoddeok (sweet pancakes), kkultarae (honey treats), and even beondegi (silk worm larvae). The evening ended with an incredible Korean dinner accompanied by traditional music and dance. The meal included an almost endless variety of dishes, each one beautifully presented.
On Tuesday, there were two corporate visits, LG Electronics and Burson-Marsteller Korea. At LG Electronics the group learned about how LG turns consumer insights into innovation. The Burson-Marsteller visit revealed the significance and unique challenges of public relations in Korea. The group concluded the official day at a Nanta performance. Nanta is the longest-running show in Korean history and involves traditional Korean samul nori music performed on improvised instruments, such as cutting boards and kitchen knives, along with acrobatics, pantomime, and audience participation.
On Wednesday, everyone woke up to find 6 inches of snow on the ground. Seoul is absolutely beautiful in the snow, and it certainly doesn’t appear to stop anyone from their daily duties. The group visited Deutsche Bank to learn about the financial crisis and regulatory reform and also to get the perspective of a foreign firm operating in Korea. Dr. Overby and Dr. Yoo also visited with two universities, Yonsei University and Sogang University, to discuss future study abroad opportunities.
Thursday was a full day, and even included some surprises. The group began the day by visiting two different law firms, Kim & Chang and the Institute for Trade and Investment, to learn about legal and FDI issues in Korea. Everyone then proceeded to Gwangjin-gu, one of the metropolitan districts of Seoul. In January of this year, Nashville hosted a two-week exchange of ten high school students from Gwangjin-gu, and Belmont University was honored to host the group for a day during their visit. The city of Nashville has already signed a “friendship city” agreement with Gwangjin and the intent is for the two cities to become official Sister Cities later this year. Everyone was surprised to see the electronic sign outside of the city hall building displaying the words, “Welcome Delegation of Belmont University.” Following formal televised presentations by Vice Mayor Jong-Yung Park and Dr. Jeff Overby and an official gift-giving ceremony, the delegation was provided a tour of Konkuk University and Techno Mart. Techno Mart is a super-size shopping center with over 2,000 electronic shops on 10 floors of a 40-story building. Prior to a period of shopping, however, the group was given special access to the roof of the building. Standing on top of the helicopter landing pad, the view was incredible, with building after building as far as the eye could see in every direction. The evening concluded with yet another traditional Korean dinner overlooking the Han River and hosted by officials from Gwangjin-gu.
Friday began with a presentation from Soft Landing Korea on the subject of understanding Korean culture today, including traditional values and modern trends. The group then traveled by bus about an hour south of Seoul to visit a traditional Korean Folk Village. The village is a living museum, containing replicas of traditional houses representing different regions and social classes, numerous collections of Korean cultural artifacts, a traditional street market, restaurants, handicraft demonstrations, and live performances of traditional dances, music and other entertainment. Following a bus ride back to Seoul, the group celebrated a farewell dinner at Bulgogi Brothers in the famous Myungdong district. Bulgogi is one of Korea’s best known dishes consisting of thinly sliced meat marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar, which diners grill at their own table. Not a bad way to wrap up the trip!
After last-minute shopping (or sleeping) on Saturday, the group departed Seoul for Nashville. Thanks to some weather problems in Chicago, the return trip was at least 24 hours. However, Korea had made a positive impression on everyone. As they say in Korea, the second visit is always by choice, and everyone agreed they would love to visit again.
[Authored by Professor Jeff Overby]