Some of the most important global dynamics in the modern era, such as rapid urbanization and uprooting of traditional cultures, are playing out in South Korea. This course will take students to Seoul, Korea, one of the largest, most dense, and most technically advanced cities in the world. Seoul has been at the center of one of the most rapid urbanization processes in world history, as the formerly rural South Korea quickly became a mostly urbanized and highly modernized country in a few short decades following the Korean War of the 1950s. This transformation involved a dramatic history of Civil War and ongoing national division and modern democratization movements as students and workers rose to topple a military regime in the 1980s. The transformation also involves a continued national struggle with the benefits and challenges of “Westernization,” as Seoul struggles to adapt Western cultural and economic traditions in an Asian country with centuries deep traditions of its own. Today, Seoul has a goal of becoming the “Manhattan of the East” and competes for the title of the cultural and economic headquarters of Asia—but what does this mean for living conditions of average Koreans and for Korea’s traditional culture? Also, what can we learn about the virtues and vices of “free-market” capitalism by studying the different trajectories of South Korea and North Korea since the war?
By visiting Seoul, students will have an opportunity to study the challenges involved in transitioning from traditional, local patterns to becoming a global economic powerhouse, and to explore the difficulties associated with democratization movements in authoritarian countries. Though Korea has aggressively engaged globalization dynamics and is a leader in global trade, the nation remains very ethnically homogenous and maintains strong traditional values and communities, especially in the more rural hinterland such as in Gyeongju, the mountain highlands and the Northeastern Coastal areas. To explore the ways in which traditional cultures are encountering and being transformed by globalization dynamics, the class will highlight Seoul's dramatic urbanization experience, but will also include trips to rural/traditional areas, such as the palaces and burial mounds of Korea’s historic royalty, the World Heritage historic sites of Gyeoungju (including Bulguksa fortress and a mountain Buddhist grotto), and rural coastal communities. The class will also enjoy an overnight Temple Stay with the Buddhist monks of the Haeinsa Temple in the mountain highlands, where we will don monks clothes and participate in all aspects of Temple life. We will also visit the Demilitarized Zone and contemplate the nature of the challenges facing the world’s last remaining country still divided by the Cold War, and the consequences of the choices each side made following this war.
Trip highlights include:
• Exploring the political-economy of the world’s largest urban development project (Songdo City).
• A visit to the DMZ border with North Korea, including a trip into the military infiltration tunnel.
• A boat-tour of the mighty Han river, experiencing Seoul’s architectural achievements by night.
• Visits with student and labor leaders, who have led Korea’s democratization movements.
• Exploring the tensions between tradition and modernization from within the palaces, temples, and coastal communities of traditional Korea.
• An overnight stay with the monks of Haeinsa Temple, a remote mountain temple of central importance to Buddhist culture
• Exploring Seoul’s world-class urban culture, from alternative artist communities, to inner-city night life, to global entertainment districts, to luxurious Noraebong clubs.
Tony Robinson. Chair and Associate Professor, Political Science
Why should Political Science students go abroad?
There is nothing quite so transformational as several weeks of serious cultural and educational engagement in a foreign country. The lessons in our classrooms regarding different social/political/economic systems, come alive in the streets every day as students experience the people, the politics, and culture and the social system of an entirely different community. I have led two study abroad trips in the past, and each time students from the classes told me the experience was one of the most memorable and educational experiences of their lives. How wonderful to spend two weeks together as a community of scholars, prowling the hidden communities, meeting the people, seeing the grand sites of another city and nation. Every day is filled with dramatic new sights and experiences, and by night the collective dinners and group discussions help students make sense of it all together.
What inspires you about South Korea?
Seoul, Korea, one of the largest, most dense, and most technically advanced cities in the world. Seoul has been at the center of one of the most rapid urbanization processes in world history, as the formerly rural South Korea quickly became a mostly urbanized and highly modernized country in a few short decades following the Korean War of the 1950s. This transformation involved a dramatic history of democratization movements as students and workers rose to topple a military regime in the 1980s. The transformation also involves a continued national struggle with the benefits and challenges of “Westernization,” as Seoul struggles to adapt Western cultural and economic traditions in an Asian country with centuries deep traditions of its own. By visiting Seoul, students will have an opportunity to study the challenges involved in transitioning from traditional, local patterns to becoming a global economic powerhouse, and to explore the difficulties associated with democratization movements in authoritarian countries. The class will include trips to Seoul’s surrounding locales, such as the palaces and burial mounds of Korea’s historic royalty, the site of a tragic government crackdown and massacre of dissidents in Gwangju, and traditional folk village life on Jeju island and Gyeonggi province. Highlights of the trip will include:
- Experiencing world-class architectural and urban planning innovations, from the top of the soaring Seoul tower to the technical innovations of the world’s largest new planned community, Songdo city.
- Visits with former and current student and labor leaders of Korea, who led some of the world’s most successful democratization movements since the 1980s.
- Considering the tensions between tradition and modernization from within the preserved palaces, temples, and folk villages of traditional Korea.
- Visits to Seoul’s four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeok Palace, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine, and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
- A trip to Jeju Island—the “Hawaii” of South Korea, home of one of Korea’s most tragic modern uprisings, and perfect site for eco- and culture-tours of traditional Korea
- Explorations of Seoul’s urban culture, ranging from alternative art spaces and street artists, to inner-city night life, to global entertainment districts, to hidden Noraebong clubs.
What was the most interesting thing that happened to you in South Korea?
I can recall a moment of profound beauty on my first night, the first time I was in Seoul. That night, we went to the Seoul tower, a tall tower on a hill in the city. From the top of that tower, you can wander around and get a glorious 360 degree view of the entire city below. Seoul is one of the very largest cities in the world--with the area boasting about 25 million people, very densely concentrated. It is also built along the vast and beautiful Han River. To look out upon the glorious lights of the largest city I had ever been in, all lit up along a beautiful and peaceful river, and to ponder what I might discover in my time in this city--it was just serene, inspiring and makes your heart soar a bit. I haven't forgotten that first view of this great city.
What was the weirdest thing that happened to you in South Korea?
Off the southern tip of Korea, out in the Ocean, is Jeju island--a rather remote destination for Korean vacationers. I arrived on Jeju island, and took a shuttle bus to one of the most remote tips of the island where I was staying. It was very late night when I arrived, the island was shrouded in mist, it was cold and the middle of winter, and absolutely no one was out on the streets in the small town I was staying in. Still, I wandered the small streets, looked in a few empty restaurants that were open for activity, and finally came to a tiny, hidden bar with a "Noraebong" (Karaoke) sign swinging outside in the cold mist. I walked in, went down the empty stairs, and walked through the door--and there in that back basement room in this hidden, quiet town, the place was packed with raucous karaoke singers, laughing, celebrating, and just howling at the moon till late night. I joined in festively (my first karaoke ever) and had the time of my life, and learned that even in the middle of nowhere in Korea, they are crazy about their Noraebong (Karaoke).
What is your favorite South Korean food?
Korean food is absolutely my favorite food in the world. I love how they set out all their small side dishes with most every meal, so there is a lot of diversity and choices and small delicacies all the time. In terms of absolute favorites, how can you go wrong with Bulgogi (barbecued, marinated beef), barbequed right there i front of you in the small charcoal pit in the center of the table. If you're into fresh squid and other strange ocean delights, you'll find that everywhere too!
What is one thing Americans should know about South Korea?
Korea has an amazing political history of unrest and social mobilization that Americans can learn a lot from. From the WW II era to the fall of Korea's military regime in the late 1980's, Korea passed through many episodes of massive social upheaval (typically opposed to military rule, to American-style capitalism and worker conditions in the country, or to violations of various political rights). Tens of thousands of Koreans were killed in these upheavals in places like Jeju island and Gwangju (site of a Korean popular commune often compared to the Paris Commune of the 1871s), often with U.S. military assistance. By the 1980s, popular mobilization had built one of the strongest unionization and student movements in the world, which culminated in the collapse of military rule in 1987 and rise of Korea's modern democracy. Still today, Korea has a vibrant tradition of popular mobilization, student movements, union activity and the like. Traveling to a country and learning how popular insurgencies and grass-roots movements have dramatically transformed one of the most vibrant and powerful economies in the world is a real eye-opener.
Why do you get excited about the subject matter of Seoul Goes Global?
My answers elsewhere on this survey should clearly explain why Seoul, and Korea more generally, are exciting areas to travel to and study. I will repeat here that Seoul is one of the largest and most dynamic cities in the world. Traveling here opens students to one of the most amazing human concentrations on earth, therefore, and is an absolutely unique experience. Students in Seoul will be at the very heart of some of the most innovative architectural developments, urban planning efforts, and urban sustainability initiatives in the world. Korea also has a storied and fascinating national history, and any American will feel transformed by their encounter with this unique Asian culture. The country is beautiful, the food is out of this world, and the Korean people are so very friendly and open to Americans studying among them. What's not to like?
What do you expect students to learn from your course?
Beyond the natural learning that will come from being immersed in an Asian culture that is uniquely homogenous (Korea is not a very diverse society--and takes pride in its status as a somewhat "unitary ethic nation"), the class will have specific academic objective. Our Study in Seoul will examine some of the most important globalization dynamics in the modern era: urbanization, democratization and Westernization. Regarding urbanization dynamics, Seoul has also been at the center of one of the most rapid urbanization processes in world history, as the formerly rural South Korea quickly became a mostly urbanized and highly modernized country in a few short decades following the Korean War of the 1950s. In recent years, Korea’s urbanization experiment has continued as the city has grown to over 25 million people, with all the challenges such a scale entails in terms of housing people, responding to environmental impacts, and dealing with growing class/ethnic tensions. The Seoul area also features exciting new urban developments such as the unfolding of the world’s largest and most technologically advanced planned urban community in nearby Songdo City. Study in Seoul therefore will allow students to explore the architectural achievements, environmental challenges, ethnic and class struggles, and urban planning innovations, associated with modern urbanization processes--even as we also visit sites of traditional living like folk villages, rural communities, and World Heritage sites. The urban transformation of South Korea has also involved a dramatic history of democratization movements as students and workers rose to topple a military regime in the 1980s and 1990s. This history of South Korean democratization includes a series of dramatic uprisings and violent state responses, in places from Cheju Island (1948) to the Gwangju people’s commune (1980) to the unionization and student uprisings of the 1980s and 1990s. The story of these uprisings and what they teach about democratization and social movement theory and practice will be explored. Students will also encounter South Korea’s ongoing democratization dynamics, including learning from leaders of some of the strongest labor movements in the industrialized world. Finally, study in Seoul will allow an investigation of Korea’s continuing national struggle with the benefits and challenges of “Westernization,” as Seoul struggles to adapt Western cultural and economic traditions in an Asian country with centuries deep traditions of its own. Today, many Seoul leaders have the goal of making Seoul the “Manhattan of the East” and the city competes for the title of the cultural and economic headquarters of Asia—but what does this mean for living conditions of average Koreans and for Korea’s traditional culture? Korea’s recent national upheaval over whether to open the Korean market to unrestricted beef imports from the United States speak to the fact that Koreans continue to be divided over the alleged benefits of Westernization—a theme we will explore in this class.
Study abroad can be an expensive proposition for students. However, from all the students I have ever traveled with, I can say that students end up feeling the money is very well spent. You simply will not have many opportunities in your life to dive into a foreign culture and community in the way will do in this trip.