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Hebron High School News Online

The Hawk Eye

Hebron High School News Online

The Hawk Eye

Seoul Searching

How a trip to Korea changed the trajectory of my life
Rachel Mun
My sister (on right) and I (on left) pose for pictures with traditional hanboks on. We visited the folk village in Suwon, South Korea, and were able to immerse ourselves into Korean culture, which gave me a sense of belonging I’ve never felt before.

Six months ago, I was in a mental coma waiting for school to end. I was alive, but not conscious. Here, but not really present.

That’s when something out of the ordinary happened. A month before school let out, my parents broke the news that we would visit my hospitalized uncle in Seoul, South Korea — which meant missing my last few weeks of junior year. I’ve been to Korea four times before and the last time we went was nearly seven years ago. So even though this wasn’t good news, as the days started dwindling to the flight day, I still looked forward to a break from monotony.

“Korea is unique because of its history,” my parents always told me. “After the World War II era of Japanese imperialism, the country’s economy and livelihood was burnt to the ground. Yet somehow, over a short time, Korea became one of the most advanced, thriving countries in this world.”

Would this be true for my spirit as well? Was this a trip for revival?

Truly in the “American mindset,” I started soul searching. The first few weeks that my family was waiting to see my uncle were spent exploring. Everything was marvelous. My grandparents who I hadn’t seen in years were constantly with us. There was no school, no responsibilities, and it seemed everything I wasn’t able to do in the last year I could now chase to my heart’s content.

My sister took a picture of me sleeping on our road trip to Busan, South Korea. Behind me, the landscape of the Korean mountains is immortalized inside the small car window, and represents the small perspective of beauty that I was given.
(Aria Mun )

I was able to hold my grandmother’s hand and feel her age in my palms. I was able to hear the calling from street food stands and see high school students’ pressed uniform collars. We ate live seafood, felt the waves crash at our feet and rode the air rail over the Busan ocean. The cities — Seoul, Gangnam district, Songdo district, Suwon, Busan — were connected like the arteries of a heart, and inside the thrum of it I thought: this was what living is supposed to feel like.

But there was also the quiet.

There were times when I was inside my grandparent’s small apartment in Seoul, or when I sat and watched the lives of other people pass by me. Teenagers were out at cram school (intense tutoring program) until late at night, the elderly carried cardboard boxes they could sell for a cent on their backs and the cigarette butts littered the deep alleyway. The city lights were all too bright at times.

I stare down at the blue Busan Waters through the translucent base of the Songdo Beach Sky rail. Seeing Busan, South Korea from this angle gave me a sense of smallness and wonder.
(Aria Mun )

Korean people were strong and resilient, advanced and intelligent, yet the youth still struggled and the working economy was like a mountain many couldn’t climb. I wondered how the struggles of life could still span all countries and all cultures, how within the beauty there could be the broken.

In immersing myself where my ancestors lived and learning all these new things, I found out how much I didn’t know. For example, the Korean language is translated backwards from English; all the words at the end of the sentence are at the beginning. Just like that, my life felt like it was being translated here. Backwards to forward. Mundane to exciting.

I kept wondering why I was falling deeper in love with a country I thought I already knew and connecting with a culture I already adored. How do you fall in love with something you were already in love with?

The answer came when my cousins took us to a beautiful observatory in Seoul that overlooked the blue waters. We had already briefly met, but they were still excited to see us the second time. In fact, both of them took off work and made extra time to meet for my dad’s birthday. We sang happy birthday, clapped, then went to the beachfront, and all of us were laughing and connecting. It was a moment of peace where everybody could feel sincerity and love.

I took this picture of my family in the lower right corner at an observatory that peered over the waters. We were at the edge of the Korean peninsula, and the world seemed to fit in my palms with my family near me, laughing and having fun.

When saying goodbye, my oldest cousin gave me a gift — lipstick. Back in the car, I stared at the golden cover and the brand name on the cap, and I thought about how different my cousin’s lives were from mine. Their dad, my hospitalized uncle, got into a debilitating car accident when they were young. Since then, they’ve had to take care of themselves and their education could only go so far. It became clear to me that they hadn’t been living — they’ve been surviving.

Then, I thought about my sickly grandmother. That morning, she woke up every morning to make special food for us through her pain. My uncle, forever changed by his accident, was unable to live life properly anymore. When we visited him, he still smiled and loved my dad, who he always asked to see when we were out of the country.

I could only feel shame. Soul searching. What was I searching for? Turns out, I had it all there. A loving family, a good support system, an opportunity to enjoy the perks of another country and the chance that, tomorrow, I can be a better person than today.

The thing I was looking for wasn’t in Korea’s innovative architecture, huge supermarkets or even its delicious food, but in the eyes of the people who love me. I vowed, as I tucked my cousin’s gift away, that I would come back and give back to my family. I wanted to give my grandparents a proper house and take my cousins out to eat at a fancy restaurant. I wanted to study hard and make them proud.

Korea didn’t help me find myself; it helped me find the definition of culture and it revived my ambition. Whether I become a doctor, a diplomat or even a lawyer, I know I want to save people and touch them as deeply as I was touched. I needed to shift my perspective.

From conscious to alive. From here to completely and passionately present.

From me to people I love and want to fight for.

View Comments (2)
About the Contributor
Juliana Mun
Juliana Mun, Subscriber
Senior Juliana Mun is the opinion editor and this is her second year on staff. In her free time, she enjoys writing long stories, traveling and going out with friends

Comments (2)

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  • J

    Janice CrutcherOct 10, 2023 at 2:49 AM

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your family is blessed to have such a thoughtful member who wants to make a fruitful change in their lives. And to your extended family that is surviving because of an unfortunate circumstance, may they feel the blessings of your love for them. May your message of love and hope to help your family be a gentle reminder for us all to give ourselves to others.

  • M

    melOct 6, 2023 at 6:10 AM

    Excellent… well written coming from
    her ❤️