Prior to this trip, I knew next to nothing about Korea – save for my limited knowledge of the ever-increasing popularity of K-pop and one or two famous Korean drama serials. However, over the course of our eleven days here, I have had a glimpse into the daily lives of a student in Korea, experiencing everything from the food to the weather to the lessons.
The Global Leaders Programme (GLP) was recently established in Bugil Academy for Korean students looking to pursue an education overseas. With a curriculum that follows the Advanced Placement system, their syllabus covers an entire plethora of subjects, dipping into disciplines from the Sciences to the Humanities to Foreign Languages. With the freedom to choose the courses we wished to attend, we were able to sit in on most of the lessons and experience nearly all the subjects being taught.
The education system at GLP varies greatly from our own Singapore system. In Bugil, class sizes are small and the student to teacher ratio low, making instances of class participation far more often. Teachers are able to give more attention to each individual student, while students themselves have more chances to consult their teachers. In this way, the usual gap between teachers and students is bridged by their close and constant interaction. The curriculum differs as well – as a student preparing to take the ‘A’ Levels, the Advanced Placement syllabus (more commonly followed by American students) was an eye-opening experience for me. While there were some overlaps in what we studied, the differences far outweighed the similarities. To put it simply, they cover more breadth while we cover more depth. But while the lessons may not have been directly applicable to us, we still stood to gain far more knowledge than we might have if we had not come on the programme.
Of course, the trip was not merely focused on academia – we too had a chance to interact with the students and learn more about their daily lives in Korea. Our exchange trip was slightly different from our expectations – instead of being attached to a buddy whom we would follow from class to class, we were allowed to choose what we wanted to do by the hour. This gave us the chance to interact with a much greater range of students. Unfortunately, we came at a somewhat undesirable time – most of the students were preparing for their final examinations and SATs. Yet, in spite of their busy schedules, they still made the effort to get to know us and bring us around: entertaining our various queries and requests, tutoring us in Korean vocabulary or explaining the content of their lessons. Some even accompanied us on our shopping trips out no matter how tired they were, giving us a chance to befriend various unique and warm individuals.
Culturally, we too were exposed to a great many facets of Korean life, both traditional and modern. In terms of food we were spoiled for choice, having the chance to eat both in formal and informal settings – from Korean barbeque to jajangmeun to bibimbap, and even authentic street food (such as rice cakes and skewered fish paste), we certainly ate our fill of Korean cuisine. Over the weekend we were even treated to a multi-course, formal Korean meal, courtesy of a student’s parent. The most vivid memory I have of the dinner was the fermented fish – supposedly beneficial to one’s health but smelling exactly like ammonia – which we eventually summoned sufficient courage to swallow. Of course, food wasn’t the only aspect of our cultural experience. Within a single day we covered both the old and new areas of Korea: visiting Gyeonbokgung, the main royal palace of Seoul, in the morning; while in the afternoon we jammed out to Inki Gayo, a Korean pop show, complete with the latest singles by various famous pop groups. It was definitely a chance to have a look at Korea from its beginnings to its present (and possibly its future), an experience that was not only fun but enriching as well.
Yet, the one thing that made the entire trip special for me was the group that I went with. From the start I had my doubts – I knew little about Korea and the people selected. The thought of being in a foreign land far from home for one and a half weeks, with a group of students I had barely spoken to before the trip had started, was somewhat daunting. At the same time, this was the first time I had been on a trip with such a small group of people, with only eight girls and two boys. The journey ahead was foreign to me in more ways than one. Yet, despite all my worries, it was the nine other students on the trip that made it all worthwhile. The tiny size of the group, which surprised me at first, turned out to be a blessing in disguise: not only was communicating pre-trip messages far more convenient, I too had the chance to get to know each and everyone of them better than I would have on a trip with a greater number of students. In the same way that the students in GLP were closer to their teachers, we too managed to bridge the gap with each other. Be it the usual routine of lessons or Korean Barbeque dinners, jamming out at Korean pop shows or splurge-worthy shopping trips, planning birthday surprises for our teacher-in-charge or exploring the school, or simply just spending time together, every moment has been filled with warmth and camaraderie – something I feel very blessed to have gained on this trip.
Upholding the values of Diligence, Encouragement, Respect and Positive thinking, the Global Leaders Programme at Bugil Academy has taught me a great many things: be it culturally, academically, or socially. Through the cold frost of winter and the underlying tension between North and South Korea, the warmth of these ten days spent in good company still permeates the air. These little friendships and amiable words exchanged are simply the seeds that, with loving care, are waiting to blossom in the future to come.
Post Contributed by Joy Chee (10a14)