My Trip to Andong

I recently had the opportunity to visit Andong and Andong Hahoe Village, one of the many Korean sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  It is my goal to see all of these sites during my time here as Ambassador.

While there, I went to Andong National University to meet with students.  I was impressed at how hardworking and academically focused they were.  They were interested in many different fields, from English to Engineering.  It was easy to see their strong ambition to succeed and I was impressed with the quality and caliber of their questions and insights.  At the same age, I was not nearly as motivated and hardworking, and wouldn’t necessarily have thought about going to talk to an Ambassador from another country.  But here they were, on winter vacation, asking excellent questions and sharing insights about Korea.  The school had a sister program with Kentucky State University, which is close to my hometown of Cincinnati.

A great roundtable session with Andong University students

I gave them some advice which has served me well, which is: Don’t be afraid to take risks.  It’s okay not to succeed at everything all of the time.  If you -- after giving it your all -- come up short, be sure to learn key lessons and then try, try again. Moreover, attempt new things out of your comfort zone. In this way you will be sure to have an interesting life and you will constantly learn and improve yourself.

Something for all students in Korea to keep in mind are our excellent WEST and Fulbright exchange programs. (Please see some more information and links for these programs at the end of my blog.)  All Korean students in every region should investigate these programs for wonderful opportunities to study and intern in the U.S.

One of my next stops was to Youngmyung School for special needs children from elementary school through college.  This school boasts a wonderful, integrated approach involving parents, faculty, and staff.  They have excellent support programs for parents and a dedicated, committed faculty.  The faculty-to-student ratio is also terrific, affording students every chance to learn and grow in confidence.  The students were highly capable, energetic and enthusiastic.  I sampled the delicious coffee they brewed themselves and their yummy rice cakes.  Playing indoor football with them wore me out!  The kids were outstanding in their football skills.

Thanks for a warm welcome at Youngmyung School!

It was inspiring to see how well-rounded their education is, with a strong emphasis on academics, but also incorporating other elements such as sports.  One of the students made a sign with my name on it that I took home to display in my house.  It will remind me of the people I met there in the years to come.

Memorable signboards prepared by Youngmyung School students

Another wonderful memory was a painting by a local artist given to me for my baby.  I took it home to hang it on the wall in the baby’s room.

A painting by a local artist in Andong

This travel blog entry would not be complete without a mention of the food.  In Andong, I enjoyed the wonderful food provided by Head Monk Ja-hyun at Bongjeong Temple.  Sam Kass, the former White House chef, also raved about temple food when he visited Seoul last summer.  Monk Ja-hyun isn’t interested in abandoning his spiritual pursuits, but he said he has been approached by others to write a cookbook -- that's how good his food is.  He was the driving force behind the adoption of farming and food cultivation at the temple.  He believes that diet and exercise, along with being involved in developing your own food, is all a part of spiritual life.

Enjoying great temple food at Bongjeong Temple

I also visited Hahoe Village and got to sleep in the traditional Korean style ondol room (sleeping on the floor).  Some of my followers on Twitter were curious as to how I liked it.  The ondol room was comfortable and cozy.  The floor was warm and made my back feel great.  I awoke the next day well rested, reminded of how fun it is to try something new and different, and ready for new adventures in Andong.

Overall, I had a wonderful time in Andong, and Andong was a great choice for my first regional trip in Korea as Ambassador.  I look forward to visiting other parts of Korea and interacting with more people in the region.

*The WEST (Work, English Study, Travel) program is an innovative exchange program in which more than 2,000 university students and recent university graduates from the Republic of Korea have gone to the United States to study English, participate in internships, and travel.  For more information about the WEST program visit

*The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.


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