I only have classes from Monday to Thursday; we get Fridays off for field trips or free time. However, my classes do run long. Although I only am taking two classes this summer, my classes are both two and a half hours long. I begin classes at 12:30, and end at around 6:15. Because I am attending a summer program, classes are much more rigorous and are packed with a lot of content in such a short amount of time. Last week was my midterms, my first exams in the program so far. For my history midterm, we were given twelve terms that we had learned about during the past couple of weeks. We could choose ten of the terms, and had to write as much as possible about the subject, including dates and why the term was important to Korea’s historical development. My Korean midterm was a straightforward language test consisting of writing out sentences and knowing basic vocabulary.
I think that the subject of Korea’s modern history is really fascinating, and in my class we get to watch many interesting documentaries about things I have never been exposed to through American education. The other day, we watched a documentary about North Korean mass games. Mass games are huge festivals in which North Korean citizens perform fantastical and extravagant shows, including roller skating, gymnastics, and aerobic performances. All performances are clean cut and 100% synchronized, and demonstrate absolute devotion to both North Korea’s history and the current North Korean leader. The documentary I watched, titled A State of Mind, follows the lives of two North Korean girls, 11 and 13 years old. Both are skilled gymnasts that participate in the mass games. They spend almost all their time training and practicing their routines, straining their bodies to put on the perfect performance for their Governor General. Through their lives, we get to see daily civilian life in Pyongyang, the rigor and intensity of preparing for these mass games, and how much propaganda is shown to North Koreans every day.
I thought that this documentary was extremely eye-opening, especially because I did not know much about North Korean society. The people of Pyongyang believe that they are living their best and happiest lives possible, because they have never been exposed to anything else. Their education only teaches their own history and how great their leader is. It also made me very sad to see how strenuous and tiresome training for these mass games can be. One of the girls said in the documentary that there were many times when she hated practicing for the games. They work all day without any rest, and stretch out and strain their body. I think this especially resonated with me, because I did gymnastics for seven years and understand both the physical and mental toll that rigorous training can take on someone. I highly recommend watching this documentary.
My Korean language class is much more lighthearted. We have successfully learned the Korean alphabet system, and I feel proud to be able to walk down the streets of Seoul and read the signs and names of the stores. I am still not comfortable casually talking with someone, but next week we will begin to learn the casual conjugations of verbs, which may make things easier and more applicable for daily use.
Of course, my study abroad experience does not boil down just to studying. For our most recent field trip we went to Lotte World, basically South Korea’s version of Disney World. Whimsical music plays on speakers reminiscent of “It’s a Small World.” There is even a castle in the center of the park that looks similar to Cinderella’s castle in Magic Kingdom. Fun fact: Lotte World actually hosts the largest indoor theme park! There is also an outdoor theme park for taller rides. My friends and I waited in line for rides such as the wooden roller, Atlantis, and the Viking, a big boat-shaped ride that swings you back and forth.
I have been able to find a good balance between work and play. Next week are my finals, however, so I’ll have to work extra hard this weekend, so I can celebrate after!