February has been very hard on me with homesickness taking its toll, but things seem to be looking like they will be a little bit better now as I am starting school again this March after a two-month break.
Near the end of the break, I learned the lesson that life abroad is best as long as you keep busy, so I am looking forward to heading back to school. Being back at school means that I will be very busy in the months ahead, which I am looking forward to a lot.
The major highlight of February for me was the Rotary-sponsored trip for the exchange students to go to Jeju Island, which is a major vacation spot in the Southern part of Korea. On Sunday morning, we got on a plane at Gunsan airport and took the short flight to the island. Although it wasn't hot, it was significantly warmer than it was in Gunsan, which was a nice break from the winter weather.
When we arrived in Jeju Island, we piled into a taxi and made our way to Hallim Park. Here, we were able to see the many plants of the island along with some of the folk villages and the geology of the area. They also had a large bonsai garden and many animals. While we were here, we also met one of the contestants who was on the show Superstar K, which is like a Korean version of the show American Idol. We spent most of our day at the park, and then went to have Samgyeopsal at a local restaurant before making our way back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning, we started our day by going to Gimnyeong Maze, a hedge maze. We were given the challenge to see which exchange student could reach the end first. I teamed up with Josh, the Taiwanese exchange student, and we found the way there long before the rest of the students. Although we wanted to go through the course again, we were just starting on a busy schedule. On the way to the next attraction that we were going to see, we stopped at a marketplace and got a snack.
From here we went to the Haenyeo Museum, where we learned about the haenyeo women of Jeju Island that partook in the traditional style of diving in the ocean surrounding the island. This was an important stop, as we were told that Jeju was famous for its plentiful women, wind, and rocks. The island is famous for the large numbers of women, because the men in the community would be gone fishing for much of the year. The winds are caused by its location in the ocean, and the many varieties of rocks were created by its volcanic history.
The volcanic history in the area created the next place that we visited, Seongsan Ilchulbong, which is a crater over an extinct volcano composed of the porous volcanic rock that is all over the island. We climbed to the top of the mountain and could see quite a large distance from the top. From here, we went to get lunch, then made our way to a nearby area by the water that was made up of large boulders of the same volcanic rock. At this spot, I put my hand in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
After seeing this, we went to a folk village, where we got a tour and were able to try some traditional local products. One of the traditional products that I found interesting was made of a native fruit that would taste sweet or sour to different people. Afterward, we went to a museum that showed the Korean culture as it changed from the traditional to modern styles. At this museum, they created replica buildings that we made our way through, designed to appear like small villages of the time periods represented. From here, we went back to the city of Jeju, went shopping at an underground mall, and then went back to the hotel for the night.
On our last morning on the island, we went to the Jeju Folklore and Natural History Museum, which was a nice overview of Jeju Island's history to end our trip on. After visiting this museum, we went back to the airport and made our way back home. This trip to Jeju Island was a very enjoyable time for me in my year in Korea, as it really pulled me out of a hard time and allowed me to truly enjoy myself in this new country.
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.