Paul Dickler is Associate Director of FPRI’s Marvin Wachman Center for Civic and International Literacy. He taught AP US history for 30 years at Neshaminy High School and conducts workshops for teachers on a variety of subjects.
PHILADELPHIA –The Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Wachman Center for Civic and International Literacy has run many history weekends in the United States (53 to be precise, since 1992) but on August 18-25, we held our first history program outside the United States and our first week-long (rather than weekend-long) program. 28 social studies teachers from across the US participated in the study trip, which proved to be an invaluable exploration of Korean history and culture.
Thanks go to the Korea Foundation, the Kim Family Foundation, and H.F. Lenfest for their support of this undertaking, and to The Korea Society for helping us spread the word about the program, and Han-gyu Lee of Kyung Hee University for being a gracious host.
The trip was led by Mark Peterson, a professor of Korea studies at Brigham Young University and a new senior fellow of FPRI, and me.
Beginning with our day-long series of arrivals at Incheon International Airport, among the world’s finest airports, the group met for dinner and orientation at the Hotel Art de Chef restaurant in the Centermark Hotel. Some participants were able to visit local temples, historical sites, and museums on this very first day. Others explored the Insadong section of Seoul where the Centermark is situated. Materials were distributed and directions given at the orientation.
On Day 2, following the hotel breakfast, three talks were given. Taekgwang Lee (KHU) spoke about Korean Democracy, Paul Dickler (FPRI) spoke about Korean-U.S. Relations from World War II to the Present, and Mark Peterson (BYU) reviewed the History of Korea. After question and answer sessions, the group adjourned to a Korean restaurant, featuring chicken ginseng soup. While the Art de Chef hotel offered both Korean and Western dishes at dinner and breakfast, this restaurant is THE place to go for Korean long-boiled whole chicken ginseng soup.
The afternoon featured site lectures by Mark Peterson at Sunggyungwan and at the Jongmyo Shrine. Photographers and notetakers had a most engaging afternoon. A five-course Korean dinner at Bistro Bon (Bongwoorin) topped off a great day of learning and exploration.
Day 3 in Korea began early with check-out, breakfast, and a bus trip to Haeinsa Temple. Two students from Kyung Hee University accompanied us on our road trip to speak with the teachers about their student experiences in Korea. On the way the group explored a Korean rest area and shared walnut cakes and native drinks, as well as crab and shrimp snacks on the bus. The group had lunch at Hapcheon, at a Mountain Vegetable Korean Restaurant. Haeinsa, perhaps this writer’s favorite spot in Korea, was perfect in the mist. A full tour of the complex and temple, a healthy hike, and views of the Tripitaka Koreana, amazed the participants. Some even prayed at the temple. From Haeinsa we journeyed on to Gyeongju. Byongju Ahn, Paul Dickler, and especially Mark Peterson, spoke to the group about the sites en route, as well as other topics in Korean Culture and Politics. Dinner in Gyeongju was held at Jungsugasung, a grilled beef Korean restaurant. After yet another extraordinarily fine meal, we checked into the Gyeongju Hilton.
Day 4 in Gyeongju was bookmarked by two glorious buffets at the Hilton featuring all manner of Korean specialties as well as Chinese, Japanese, and Western dishes. Visits to Najeong, Seokguram, and the Bulguksa Temple were highlights of the day. Gyeongju National Park was beautiful. We had a vegetarian temple food meal for lunch after our site visits. The Gyeongju National Museum (all four buildings), Daeryeungwon, Bunwhangsa, and Anapji were all explored in the afternoon. Participants also roamed the Gyeongju resort area after dinner and in the early morning.
After the breakfast buffet on Day 5 at the Lakeside Restaurant, we packed up for our move to Yangdong Village, and back to Seoul. We had an intimate visit with the village leader, talked about Confucianism, and visited many locations in this UNESCO World Heritage Site (our fourth this trip). After a Korean-style Teppanyaki lunch, we traveled by bus back to Seoul. More lectures and sightseeing were accomplished in transit. That day we were just a few miles from the East Sea as well as Pohang and Ulsan. We also drove through Daegu and traversed many of Korea’s beautiful mountains. In Seoul, we re-checked into the Centermark Hotel and enjoyed another Korean/ Western buffet.
Day 6 found us next to the DMZ at the Imjin’gak, an overlook area where South Koreans who were from the North come to perform the ancestor ceremonies for those buried in the North. Since tensions had subsided overnight and talks were underway between the North and South, we were able to get into this area close to the DMZ. Our group was able to see the Rainbow Bridge, numerous Korean War Memorials and much more, before sirens sent us scrambling back to the bus. We also photographed North Korea — from a safe distance. After a Korean Beef Bulgogi lunch, we explored the Korean War Museum and then visited the main palace, in time for the guard-changing ceremony at 3 o’clock. Mark Peterson gave an enlightening site tour and talk (perhaps his tenth of the trip), followed by our Korean Teacher Dinner at the amazing Korean buffet, Seasonal Table. Byungju Ahn created an amazing experience here for both American and Korean teachers. Partnerships, student writing exchanges, and more, were organized during this meal.
Day 7 was highlighted by three new speakers and a Farewell Luncheon at Sky Cloud Restaurant on the 33rd floor of the nearby Samsung building. Kyoungna Oh (Chung Cheng University) spoke about Korean Education, Bokyeong Park (Kyung Hee University) address the Korean Economy, and Kisuk Lee (Seoul National University) gave a geography talk centered on the East Sea. After the elegant Sky Cloud lunch, participants fanned out across Seoul. Some biked 35 miles! Others went to the National Museum. Still others explored previously unvisited districts in Seoul. A few escaped to a Korean day spa. Dinner was optional, but most attended, at Choedae Gamnae, a Shabushabu restaurant, in Insadong.
Day 8 (Tuesday, August 25th) was the final day for most participants although three stayed on longer. Some left early for Incheon, while others had as much as a full free day in Seoul to continue studies and touring. Even the airport provided concerts, Korean crafts, and many other Korean cultural experiences.
While this completes a tour of the itinerary and the vast majority of sites visited, there still was free time, where many more locations were observed. One cannot emphasize enough the great contributions of Korea expert, Dr. Mark Peterson, and the amazing style and efficiency of Byungju Ahn. We navigated Korea without any problems, excepting of course, the tensions at the border with North Korea. Even our visit to the border proved highly successful amid a period of great political and military tension.
According to the evaluations, nearly all participants considered this study tour to be excellent, even among the best travel experiences in their lives. As lesson plans are submitted in the coming few months, we will be sharing them with you and posting them on FPRI’s website.
With more time we could have visited the southwest, gone to the early Korean printing museum in central Korea on our way south, spent more time on language and Sijo, and much much more. We sincerely hope to get another opportunity to take American social studies teachers to Korea — and to other parts of the world.