My Trip to Jeju: Building Personal Connections and Enjoying Beautiful Views

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Since I arrived in Korea, many of my Korean friends have recommended that I visit Jeju Island.  There are also several UNESCO World Heritage sites there that I wanted to cross off my checklist [http://goo.gl/irDTPg].  Recently, my family and I had the chance to see this beautiful island, rich in history and stunning natural beauty. 

We had a great four days on the island.  The largest event was the Jeju Peace Forum, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and drew approximately 4,000 participants.  I had discussions on Asia-related issues with  panelists including Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul, Japanese Ambassador to Korea Bessho Goro, Representative Na Kyung-Won, and German Ambassador to Korea Rolf Mafael.  I even had a chance to visit with former U.S. Ambassadors Kathy Stephens and Don Gregg.

Great discussion at the Jeju Peace Forum

While in Jeju Robyn and I were able to visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites:  The Geomunoreum Lava Tube System and Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak.  Sejun even came with us for the Seongsan Ilchulbong peak -- these sites were truly magnificent and were a highlight of our trip.  I’m very happy that I set myself the goal of visiting all of the UNESCO sites in Korea, as each time I visit them I am impressed by the history and culture they represent and the natural beauty that is being preserved for future generations.

Geomunoreum and Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak

I encountered a lot of students with great enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity at Jeju National University.  I have often said that the future of Korea is bright, and it is precisely because of students like these, young people committed not only to economic pursuits, but also to giving back to society.  I learned a great deal from these young adults, especially about new and different areas of interest between our two countries (for example, one of the law students voiced strong support for full implementation of the KORUS-FTA provisions regarding legal services as he felt this would open up opportunities for Korean lawyers to obtain good jobs with prestigious U.S. firms).

Bright young minds at Jeju University.

I am especially grateful to the Jeju University students for the nice yellow jacket which they gave me.  I forgot to bring one from home and I wore it all over the island during my trip!  I have heard that the wind is one of the three famous things about Jeju, and this was the perfect attire for the Jeju winds – it was especially useful when I was meeting some women divers who were drying brown seaweed that they had farmed. I would also like to thank University President Huh Hyang-jin for all of his gracious hospitality.

This yellow Jeju University jacket protected me from Jeju winds.

I then took in the 9th Korea Youth Para games and was lucky enough to see the soccer championship match between Jeju and Busan.  The athletes were inspiring, skilled, and in very good physical shape – some of the runs that the strikers undertook were amazing.  I was sitting on the edge of my seat and really enjoyed the action.  I shared a pleasant conversation with President Kim Sung-il of the Korea Paralympic Committee (KPC) and learned that the KPC is doing a wonderful job promoting sports for athletes with disabilities.

The Para game championship match was really exciting!
 
The Nexon Computer Museum and Daum Kakao headquarters were great places to see the latest in high-tech development.  Both of these companies are well-known for their innovation and use of the latest technologies.  The heads of both of these companies are doing fantastic work.  I could have stayed at the Computer Museum all day.  The head of Nexon, Jay Kim, is great - innovative and fun - and his gaming and video game tastes are similar to mine, so we had a lot to talk about.  On the marketing and commercial side, he has also experienced tremendous success.  At Daum Kakao I had an enjoyable tour of their headquarters and dinner with the Co-CEO, Lee Sirgoo.  We discussed their merger, the challenges Daum Kakao faces, and their efforts to expand globally.  I found him to be insightful, interesting, and informative.  I even saw Mr. Lee at a recent opening of an Andy Warhol exhibit here in Seoul – a project in which his wife was deeply involved. I look forward to staying in touch with both of them in the future.

Had a great time at the Nexon Computer Museum and at Daum Kakao headquarters

If you read my blog postings on my trips to Andong [http://goo.gl/QXquHA] and Gyeongju [http://goo.gl/vWfA2J], you may have noticed that I like to visit local distilleries.  In Jeju, I visited Hallasan Soju.  There, the father and son team who run the distillery took me around and showed me the process for making soju.  Water is their key ingredient.  I learned that they use fresh water, retrieved from a nearby reservoir 70 meters below ground.  When it rains, the water is filtered through basalt rock for up to 40 years. As a result, the soju tastes fantastic  and is really delicious.  One of my favorites was Hoboksul which is produced using a traditional recipe.  Chairman Hyun Seung-tak gave me a good tip - it tastes great over ice with lemon.  I’ll have to try this at home.  It sounds refreshing during the hot summer weather!

Delicious local liquor

Lastly, I had a fun meeting with some of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs), young Americans who come from all over the U.S. and teach English throughout Korea.  The ETAs I met were from Maine, Virginia, and New Jersey, and they came to Korea to teach English in Jeju-do and to promote people-to-people diplomacy.  They shared their experiences with me and I was able to see that they are truly making a difference.  It was energizing to engage in conversations about all they do here and what they’ll do in the future.  I look forward to meeting more Fulbrighters!


Fulbright English Teaching Assistants in Jeju

It was a wonderful trip for my family and me. It was our first trip with Sejun, so we’ll always remember it.  There is still so much to see and do in Korea, but I can’t wait to go back to Jeju to see all of my new friends again. 


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