July 10, 2012 by travelinggrits
July 5th, Day 1 of the Fulbright Korea orientation program, and our cultural training had already begun.
Despite arriving at Incheon International Airport at 5 a.m. earlier that day, we were in for a full day of meeting the other 80 Fulbright ETA grantees, settling in to our rooms at Jungwon University and beginning our life in Korea.
Armed with nametags and information packets and full of our first Korean cafeteria meal (kimchi, rice, meat, soup), we trooped up to a classroom for our first group session. The orientation team introduced themselves and established expectations for the participants. Reality descended upon us, trickling into our consciousness like the rain gently falling outside.
We transitioned into basic cultural knowledge, starting with insa, the traditional greeting required for interaction with older and influential members of society. At first, our bows were awkward and deliberate, but just a few days later we now dip into spontaneous bobs with more natural grace.
This exercise brought us to our introduction to “oodi” (우리). After scrawling the characters in large print on the chalkboard, the orientation coordinator explained that the script meant “we,” in the collective sense. The example presented to us was that Americans may often say “my country,” while Koreans will refer to “our country,” a sharing of responsibility and ownership among many.
This applies to my experience as well. It is not mine alone, but something that is shared with family, hometown, college, state and country, wherever I go. Prior to my departure, my dad emphasized that I should “remember who you are, where you are from, and where you gotta come back to.” I represent these communities through my every word and action.
“Oodi” (우리) also incorporates the Fulbright program, a community of scholars spread across nations and time, of which I am honored to be a member. I am a special individual, yet part of a larger whole working toward a greater goal. J. Williams Fulbright described the program as aiming “to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”
The cultural exchange Fulbright envisioned comes in any shared experience, and it is just as much a learning opportunity for me as for those I meet. A group of ETAs and I chose to attend a local Methodist church on Sunday, and we were welcomed with open arms, even invited to lunch with the congregation afterwards. Watching the service ritual reminded me of the ties between faith communities worldwide, despite denominational or language differences. And although I struggled to keep pace with the singing, hearing the familiar tune of “Jesus Loves Me” warmed my heart beyond words.
Despite experiencing occasional sensations of great distance from my previous notions of reality (whenever I think of what time it is back home, or stare blankly at a street in the nearby town of Goesan covered with signage in Korean characters), I still feel connected to my values and core being (reinforced each time I correspond with friends and family back home or participate in a hobby like running or playing music).
And now, I am building a new reality in this community, extending invisible threads to new friends, both American and Korean.
Today's inspiration: Romans 12
Listening to: “Good Life” by OneRepublic