The last weekend of October, I traveled to Busan, South Korea's second largest city. I organized this trip in order to see Aidan, Cassandra and Nasiba, the three other exchange students from Central States Rotary Youth Exchange. I also was able to stay with Hwa, who had been the inbound student in my district from South Korea last year.
On Friday morning, my host father brought me to the bus station in Gunsan. I was a little tired, but I was also very excited about going on the trip, so I couldn't sleep on the bus. The bus was also overbooked, so they brought out extra chairs to put in the aisle for people who must have bought their tickets later. I had brought things to do during the four-hour bus ride, but instead, I spent the time taking in the scenery that we were driving past. When I got to the station in Busan, I called Hwa to let him know that my bus had arrived. I was going to meet him at a subway station near his house, so I told him that I was on my way. I also bought my return ticket for going back on Monday. I had prepared a card that said which bus I needed, to give to the person at the ticket booth. That was a very good idea, because the line was a little long and I would have felt bad if I had to try to explain what I needed in Korean and held everyone up. I also wanted to be sure I had the correct ticket.
After getting the ticket, I went to the subway station to get on the train. I had planned it out and knew where I would have to switch trains. I learned my bus card for Seocheon would work on the subway, but I thought I should try getting an actual ticket. I watched how to do it over someone's shoulder and was able to get the ticket on my second try. When I got to the station, I was able to find Hwa pretty easily, then we went to his apartment so I could drop off my bags.
Hwa and I went to the Shinsegae Shopping Mall, the largest department store in the world. Instead of being horizontally spread out, it went upwards for many floors. We first went to a bookstore, where I bought two books: a Korean version of "The Da Vinci Code," by Dan Brown, which I chose because of its short chapters that I felt were more reasonable to translate, and, by Hwa's recommendation, the first volume in the Korean version of the comic series "Detective Conan" (the English version is called "Case Closed") by Gosho Aoyama, which is originally a Japanese manga. We also went to the food court and had Italian food, which was the first time I had eaten Italian food in more than two months (I don't count the Korean pizza, because it is very different).
Later in the day, we met up with Aidan and Nasiba to watch the Busan International Fireworks Festival. We watched from the Haeundae side of Gwangan Bridge, where there were fewer people, but it was still very crowded. There was a drizzle of rain, but despite that, the fireworks were absolutely amazing.
The next day, I went to church with Hwa's family. The interesting part of this was that high school students didn't go to the actual church. Instead, we went to a building next door, where they had a service for only the high school students that was divided up by grade. Afterward, we went to the U.N. Korean War Memorial Cemetery. It really brought the war into perspective for me, especially with how important the role of the United Nations was in helping Korea.
After seeing the memorial, we went to Seomyeon, an underground shopping mall, where we had lunch and met up with Aidan and Cassandra. The four of us did some shopping then went to see the movie "In Time." In Korea, English films are subtitled, so we could understand things just as well as the Koreans. Everyone in our group agreed the movie was very good. After the movie, we met up with Nasiba and one of her friends from school, then went for dinner at the American chain restaurant TGI Fridays. There, we met up with the German exchange student, Clara, and one of her friends. After dinner, I said goodbye to the other exchange students and Hwa and I went back to his house. We went to bed early, because I would have to take the subway across town to the bus station early in the morning.
The ride home was mostly easy. The real challenge came when I actually got to Gunsan, because I still had to get across the river to go home. I had planned to take the local bus, but the schedule at the bus stop by the station was very confusing. I ended up taking a taxi back, which was very expensive. It cost more than the four-hour ride to Busan, but I felt that it was worth it to know that I was going to be heading in the right direction.
Taking this trip was very good for me. I realized that although I loved my time in Busan and look forward to going back, the best place for me is in Seocheon. Hwa's mother said my Korean was much better than she expected from an exchange student after two months. I feel that it is only because I have been doing a lot of studying in class and outside of school here, which I probably wouldn't have been able to do as well in the city, because of how easily I would get distracted with all the things to do and learn about. To me, It seems as if the students in the city are getting to see more of the culture, while I am getting to do more with the language. Although I won't get to see as much as some of those students will, it just gives me an excuse to come back.
Editor's note: P.J.?Sproule is a Rotary Youth Exchange student from the Houghton Rotary Club living near Seocheon, South Korea, for a year.