Minsi Sun, a linguistics major, finished out her 2nd year this past summer at Yonsei International Summer School in South Korea. During her experience she took many photos to share what she saw and learned there, so keep scrolling to learn more about it!
Jonathan Thomas is a Second Year student, currently enrolled in the UVA Exchange: Seoul National University Program in Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul National University is nestled into a contour on the side of one of Seoul’s largest mountains, Gwankak mountain. The mountain is located to the south of the city, and like most of Korea, is particularly picturesque during the fall months when the trees covering the mountains turn from green to autumnal colors. Getting off at Gwacheon station puts you at the base of the mountain path that begins the ascent to the top of Gwanak mountain. The path winds its way up, following a clear stream which makes it way down the mountain in the opposite direction.
Just before the peak of the mountain, there are a series of buildings, where you’ll find an ornate and active Buddhist temple, with its members still operating and maintaining the temple. However, this isn’t out of the ordinary. Walking up to the top and finding a temple is quite common in Korea, with many of them located on or around mountains. This doesn’t mean that Buddhists or Buddhist monks are in anyway secluded. Often times you’ll see monks with their heads shaved dressed in gray robes riding the subway. Additionally, if you take the bus from Seoul National University to the closest subway station on the east side of the school, you will be thrust into the busy area of Nakseongdae station. The busy streets are home to coffee shops, restaurants, stores, and churches. The churches are highlighted by the spires jutting up from them, but apart from this they look like any other building on the street.
What is remarkable about this is the coexistence of both of these religions in harmony. Many times, religions butt heads, clash in their ideology and generally don’t get along. While there have been rises and falls in popularity of both religions in Korea over the centuries, Korea has had a history of religious acceptance, especially of foreign religions, and the divide between Christianity and Buddhism is about fifty-fifty. This has created a dynamic that has continued into the present. The religious order of Korea isn’t something of tension, but rather a virtue, where the religion you hold is your belief and the religion another person holds is their own belief. This has created a society where Buddhist temples and Christian churches sit virtually side-by-side without the slightest hint of animosity.
While this may seem trivial, to me it’s a refreshing reassurance. Currently, there are quite a lot religious conflicts spread across the world, and these conflicts are some of the most difficult to resolve. Therefore, to see a country and culture like Korea where two religions can coexist, sans conflict, gives me hope that those conflicts have some sort of resolution, and makes me appreciated Korea for its unique cultural aspects like this one.
Elizabeth Kim is an Economics major, who attended the Spring 2017 UVA Exchange: Seoul National University Program in her third year.
Zachary Diamond is studying abroad in South Korea and Japan on UVA’s short-term Commerce program Finance in Northeast Asia.
After visiting Samsung in Gangnam, a group of us ventured to Bongeunsa, a Buddhist temple constructed in 794 A.D. The first thing was the temple is absolutely beautiful, especially because they are currently celebrating Buddha’s birthday so thousands of colorful paper lanterns are hung up throughout the temple. It was extremely relaxing to walk through the entire area. Apart from the central prayer building, the temple is built into a hillside allowing for a small dirt trail surrounding by trees and a giant statue of Buddha that people would circumambulate in prayer.
Below is my favorite picture I’ve taken so far on the trip as it resembles the most fascinating part of this temple. From the spot of the picture, I was standing around trees, listening to nature and wind set off peaceful wind chimes. However, directly across the street are large class skyscrapers that hold offices for national and global firms. In Seoul I found a direct contrast of modern and traditional that is not evident in the United States. While Korea feels like a new and foreign land, the skyscrapers remind me just how similar it is to a large city in the states.
At the temple, I found myself conflicted between respect and experience. At the temple, people were in deep prayer and I felt as if I was trespassing on their special place. Especially at the statue of the Buddha, I was hesitant to walk close to the statue as I did not want to distract or interfere with those in prayer. Personally, I would be extremely thrown off and probably mad at anyone who was being a tourist at my temple back home. While for me the Bongeunsa was a spot to visit on this trip to Korea, for many people it is their sacred space and normal temple. The more I stay in Seoul, the more I realize it is just like any other city, and that makes me feel somewhat guilty about trying seeing special places of the city as I’m treating the city as a spectacle and not what the locals treat it as, home.
Jessica Park, a Media Studies and Studio Art major, is currently studying abroad in Korea on the UVA Exchange at Korea University. Check out her photo blog below!
About two and a half months ago, I wrote this: