Seoul: Korean War Memorial, Tourism, and Three Reunions

Our group was tired by the time we got back from the DMZ on Saturday, June 8. But the War Memorial of Korea is just a short walk away from Camp Kim, so we decided to squeeze in one more site before calling it a day. We actually arrived in Seoul on June 6, which is South Korea’s Memorial Day, so when we visited the memorial a couple of days later, workers were breaking down tents and other structures that had been set up for the special day.

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Even though it’s a memorial to those who served and died in war and conflict, I find the memorial grounds to be peaceful and serene.

The next day, we had the privilege of visiting Yonsei University, one of Korea’s  most prestigious universities, for a talk about tourism in Seoul and South Korea. It was sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association’s Asia chapter.

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And here’s where this “day of reunions” started. During 2009 and 2010, I lived in Seoul and taught for an English language academy. One of my best students was Minju Kim, an intelligent, hardworking young woman who is now an upperclassman at Yonsei. Did I mention that she speaks four languages?!? Minju was waiting on us at the end of our meeting.

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Minju talked to us about college life in South Korea and shared some of her professional aspirations with us. We asked a lot of questions, and it was a fantastic opportunity for some American college students to get a peek into the experiences of one of their counterparts in Seoul. As I told the group, I’m super proud of Minju and everything she’s accomplishing.

By Sunday, everyone was getting used to waiting on trains and subways. On this particular afternoon, though, we had to wait … and wait … and wait … before our train finally arrived. Luckily, we found some wifi to help us pass the time.

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We were on our way to COEX Mall, Asia’s largest underground shopping complex. Surprise is part of the travel experience, and I was surprised to find many of the stores and restaurants (including my favorite!) shut off behind walls bearing apologetic messages about renovations and improvements. It looks like the shopping experience will be back up to full force later in the fall. This is what some of the construction looks like from the outside.

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This is where our second reunion of the day happened. We found Lisa Hellier! She’s a 2012 graduate of WTAMU’s journalism program, and I feel partly (okay, maybe mostly) responsible for her packing her things and heading off to Seoul to teach. That’s her on the right side in the white shirt. We were all enjoying some Starbucks coffee — and air conditioning.

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One of the terrific things about travel is reuniting with your expat friends, whether they are former work colleagues or former students. Every time I return to Seoul, that’s the most valuable component of the trip for me.

And I promised three reunions, right? Megg Dunlap, the twelfth member of our study abroad group, finally arrived in Seoul and reunited with us at COEX. She was one of WT’s main presenters in this year’s National Student Advertising Competition. I’m proud to report that WTAMU placed in the top 10 nationally. Go Buffs!

I’ll leave you with some exterior photos of COEX. It’s located in the Gangnam district of Seoul, and it’s a dynamic area.

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Next post: walking through my old neighborhood, Itaewon, and getting a view of the entire city from Seoul Tower.

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