Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, immense xenophobia against Asian people has emerged in recent months, and mockery of East Asian culture has intensified over the course of the year. It is therefore more important than ever for Koreans to take pride in their heritage and deep cultural roots. With the implementation of remote learning, I have gained much more free time to explore Korea's rich history and culture. So, I took advantage of this opportunity to travel to the Jongno-gu area to educate and immerse myself in our country's traditions.
|[Photo of Gyeongbok Palace in Jongno-gu. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lee]|
At Seoul International School, students are not given Korean language or history classes; the most I've learned at school about Korean history is small snippets from my AP World History course, where bits of Korean history are mixed in with large chunks of Chinese- and Japanese-history focused lessons. However, by taking a trip to the National Museum of Korea, National Palace Museum of Korea, and National Folk Museum of Korea, I was able to learn about the various dynasties of Korea from centuries ago in great detail. However, the museums also displayed other aspects of Korean culture, such as art and architecture. For instance, Jay Kim, a senior at Seoul International School, emphasized how interesting she found the architectural design of Gyeongbok Palace when she visited. She wrote, "In a garden at the palace, there was a model of a wealthy house and the gates were purposefully made to be slightly lower than a person's height so you'd have to bow down to get in. It was supposed to be a reminder to people to be respectful and humble." Although it was initially difficult for me to understand many of the museum artifact descriptions, the museums provided English language guides that helped me comprehend the complex history and story behind each object.
|[Photo taken of a hall at a Korean traditional palace. Photo courtesy of Christyn Moon]|
After I explored the museums, I wandered the streets of neighboring Samcheong-dong. I always loved going to Samcheong-dong when I was younger because of its beautiful art galleries and the Instagrammable restaurants scattered along its streets. However, visiting the area after learning about so much about Korean history instilled in me a completely different sentiment. Seeing how the neighborhood had integrated traditional Korean architecture and culture into modern Korean society was truly an experience. In particular, the juxtaposition of traditional Korean architectural exteriors against a modern churros café showed me how traditional Korean culture has remained relevant and alive in the 21st century.
|[Photo of the streets of Samcheong-dong, where traditional architecture and modern buildings coexist. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lee]|
To be honest, I always felt a bit ashamed of not being very educated on Korean history and culture. I took both AP US History and AP World History and had absorbed an immense amount of knowledge about countries all over the world throughout my high school years. But somehow, I had only a surface-level understanding of the story behind the very country I called home. Going to these museums and neighborhoods, however, reminded me that it's never too late to educate myself on my country's history, and that I can learn by going to palaces instead of studying Korean history textbooks. My friends, who went to these traditional sites with me, echoed similar sentiments. Christyn Moon, a senior at Seoul International School, wrote, "Although it was my third time visiting Gyeongbok Palace, the rich Korean history dating back to centuries ago is still so captivating. I felt like I had traveled back in time to experience first-hand how the royal family lived and walk through the gardens the king had once passed."
Although these museums and palaces have been closed until June 14, I would highly recommend that you take a trip to visit – once they are open again. Going to Gyeongbok Palace is a refreshing experience that is sure to cure your boredom after quarantine.
Seoul International School
Rachel Lee email@example.com