Taking A Trip to the North


I have missed you guys! Unfortunately for me, I have all of the education getting in the way of me being able to write.

Today I wanted to talk briefly about the relationship between North and South Korea, truly the most controversial subject that you can get into! I think that foreigners (specifically Americans) have a very one sided opinion about North Korea because of the way that we receive news, history — maybe you had family in the war, maybe you just love democracy so much that the very idea of communism shakes ya to your bones — I don’t know. All this to say, EVERYONE  I talked to before coming here had some questions about North and South Korea, and mainly how I was going to stay safe, and why would I go since they’re such a huge threat.

While I totally understand these concerns, and yes it’s something that I spent brain power on (I also highly support being aware of safety), South Koreans, I have found, don’t consider the North a threat at all. The only time I talk about North Korea is when I’m in class, and outside of class it never crosses my mind that I’m an hour and a half from the border.

All this to say, I went to the DMZ! This was also the day that North Korea fired missiles in South Korea’s direction, so I thought the tour was going to be cancelled, but everyone was really happy and excited to tell me all the facts about the North without any concern that we might be in danger. I have also found that the opinion of the North is skewed because despite the fact that there’s democracy in the South, post Korean War had several painful dictatorships that turned many people’s attention toward the progress of their own country and not the threats from the North.

Younger people don’t really care since they’re living in a time where the economy is thriving, and for the most part everyone else is empathetic with the North Koreans and the way they live now. I think this is because people are taught about the history of the country as a whole and there’s quite a bit of nationalism here in Korea that contributes to their viewpoint of the North. Also it’s taught in class that the Korean War was a proxy war between the US and Soviet Union (this is a fairly consistent teaching but as I believe I mentioned, what you learn in classes here is heavily dependent on your professors personal feelings towards the subject) .

Fun fact! Conservatives here in the South care more about fighting for North Korean rights than South Korean rights!

Okay. So the DMZ.

I thought I was going to be scared but I wasn’t. It was a really sunny day, the tour guide was extremely kind, and (this is going to sound weird) but the North is so beautiful. Our second to last stop was the outlook where if you look through binoculars you can see people walking around in the North. It was a really weird experience to be people watching another country.

We also went to one of four infiltration tunnels that North Korea dug during the war to attack the South. It’s about 300 meters down, and the stone and earth has yellow and black on it — the North, when confronted about building the tunnels denied that they built them at first, blamed South Korea for building them, and then the second time they said that they were looking for charcoal (which is a weird/dumb excuse in my opinion). The story is kind of ridiculous, but the explosives made the earth yellow, and they painted the walls black to prove to the South that they weren’t intending to attack.

I don’t recommend that you go down if you are claustrophobic. I went down and was VERY stressed out that the walls were going to cave in. At the end of the tunnel though you can look through and see directly to the North. You’re 80 meters from the border at that point.

Remember when I said the North fired missiles? So the place I was most excited to visit was Happy Village, the nickname for Panmunjom, the village where the North and South come together for their summits. When you visit you can go to a room that’s half North and half South Korea and take a picture with a very rigid North Korean Guard. I was really looking forward to doing that, but when North Korea fired the missiles that was the one area that was taken off the tour so South Korean and American soldiers can prepare themselves for a potential attack.

After we went to the newest train station built off of the donations of North and South Korean citizens that donated on the promise that they will be united with their lost family members from the war (there were over 444,000 refugees from North Korea during the war and many of those families were unable to stay together). Due to the intensity of the two countries political relationships, the building hasn’t been put into use yet on the North Korean side, but you can take the train from Paju (where it’s located) to the heart of Seoul.



Saying goodbye: a letter to future students of France

It’s been three weeks since I concluded my semester in Aix and one week since I returned to the States. I have taken this time to reflect on what I learned, on how I’ve grown, and the differences and similarities between French and American culture. I wanted to take a moment before returning to you to offer my final thoughts.

If I could summarize in a sentence: time flies, so do it all. I wish I had studied in France for an entire year. I felt like I was just figuring things and tricks out and getting into the groove by the end of the semester, and I knew my French would improve so much more. That being said, I was surprised at how much my French progressed and I’m sure you will find yourself feeling the same.

If I may leave you with a few final suggestion…. Take advantage of the opportunity to have a language conversation partner. Working with French students helps not only your understanding of French language and culture, but also can lead to some meaningful friendships. When you are packing to move to France, try and cut down what you bring as much as possible. You can get all your basic items at French department stores like Monoprix. I know figuring out how to manage a phone plan abroad can be stressful, but I found getting a SIM card from the French company Free to be the easiest. It was just under 20 euros each month for basically unlimited calls (even to the US), texts and data. Many students want to use their semester in France to travel all through Europe. While this is a fun adventure, it can quickly drain your student budget. This is something to be conscious of. Besides, southern France has almost every type of geography you could desire!

I never wanted my posts to be just about my adventures, but more about lessons you could take from me. Things I learned that I felt were valuable to pass down. At the end of the day, you will find your own adventures. You will be the one that creates your own experiences. You don’t need someone to tell you how great their weekend was, you’re going to experience that very sentiment. When you study abroad you meet some very interesting people. Everyone has a different path they took to their time abroad, but we all share the value of expanding our education. What I learned from my peers was that you could either have a great time or a horrible time, it’s up to you. I met people who had the privilege to study abroad in a breathtaking place with wonderful educational opportunities, who chose to squander it by staying focused on what was back home. Don’t do that to yourself. You left to come to France for a reason. Find that reason and hold on to it.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me,

Elin J.

Aix en Provence, France

Spring 2019

Highlighting Student Art
End of semester art show for IAU’s art students.
Sunset Over the Art Show
Another gorgeous sunset over Aix.
Cat Cafe Celebs
During finals week my friends and I visited the local cat cafe to enjoy petting sweet cats and drinking tea.
Elin, Paul and Mary
My two close friends Paul (center) and Mary (right) on the day of graduation.
Plaza in the Sun
One of the defining fountains of Aix.
Gold Stole
My graduation stole hanging in the window of my host room.