As a Programs Intern with Meridian International Center, I have had the privilege over the past month of working on the U.S. Congress – Republic of Korea National Assembly Exchange Program. This program will send ten American students to Seoul and ten Korean students to the United States. During their time in their host countries the students will learn about Korean-American relations and about how the two governments compare and differ. The program officially began last Thursday July 7 when all of the participants flew into Washington, DC for a week long orientation and team bonding. Their experience will culminate later this month in Korea where the Americans and Koreans will travel together to the DMZ.
Working on this program has been an amazing experience for me. Previously I had had little interest in Asian culture. Due to my Spanish speaking background I had always been more drawn to exploring Latin America or Western Europe because I knew more about those areas and felt a stronger connection to them. Although I recognized the beauty and rich cultural traditions of Asian nations, they never seemed to grab my attention. However, during the last academic semester I enrolled in a Modern East Asian history class. I took the class because I wanted to expand my knowledge of the world beyond Western Europe and Latin America. As an International Studies major it is important to me that I have at least a basic knowledge of as many cultures and areas of the world as I have time to study. I ended up loving the class, so when Sarah Yagoda asked for my help on the Korean program I was more than happy to oblige. I had so much fun researching current events in Korea for the Americans to read up on and to read through the advice the Koreans sent to their American counterparts because I learned so much from them myself.
As I worked on the program I became increasingly intrigued by the Republic of Korea. The more I learned the more I wanted to know about this amazing country, its culture and its people. By the time the program officially opened I was practically buzzing with excitement to meet the participants. I had the honor to attend the opening dinner Thursday night at Beacon Bar and Grill near DuPont Circle. At first I admit I felt a little nervous because I had never been to a dinner where my specific job was to facilitate conversation between strangers. Fortunately, that turned out not to be an issue at all. Both the Koreans and Americans were so keen to begin the next month of adventure that the conversation at my table never wavered. The Koreans wanted to ask as many questions about American culture as the Americans wanted to ask the Koreans about what their home country is like. It made me happy to watch people from completely different backgrounds interact so eagerly with each other. My only regret is that I am not able to travel with the group to Korea! After working on this program Korea has definitely worked my way into the top five countries I want to visit next. Maybe next year I will apply for the program myself.