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What Korea taught me
Indeed it was a ‘YES’ moment for me when I got the confirmation email from my college in South Korea for 2012 fall session. Never had I thought I could be one of the students to be honored with the Global Ambassador Scholarship. Recalling the moment after five years is nostalgic. All the preparations were done and I was ready to move. I realized I was going to miss my family, friends and my loved ones.
My very first day in South Korea, made me realize our—I and my friend Vishal Gupta—lifestyles were about to change. We were ready to embrace the new life but the very first thing that we had to face was miscommunication. A college representative was supposed to receive us but due to miscommunication, it took him around one hour to meet us at the airport. Then the cab we took intentionally took us around the college periphery and charged us double the amount than normal.
Besides this experience, I found most of Korean people very honest and making an effort to learn from us; always try to communicate with those from different countries to know our culture, our society and our norms. Nepali people look a lot like those from Indonesia, Thailand, India, South Korea, Vietnam and Bangladesh. We also have similar customs and traditions in some way and it made the adaptation easier for me.
Every bit of Korea left me spell-bound. College had fully-furnished class rooms, digitally incorporated, students and professors from different parts of the world and digital student card to go around citing for security reason. College policy was strict regarding academics especially for plagiarism, so every assignment went through strict digital monitoring. And if any student had classes in the evening, college would provide dinner (8 pm to 10:30 pm); very fascinating.
With time, to make us feel at home, college used to mingle us in things like ‘Happy Hour’ before and after exam with free beers and different foods; an annual international food festival where students were divided into groups and had to cook their traditional foods for display; and song and dance competitions were also a memorable part of my life there (We won second prize). Time and again, the college also organized tours to different parts of the country in collaboration with Korean Tourism Development Board, free of cost. They wanted us to adapt to South Korea, its struggle (history) and its development.
In our third semester, two Nepali students joined us. I felt very happy every time I met them there. It was a short consolation for a home sick me. I used to call home but the longing gets strong at the time of festivals. This one time, my parents forgot to pay their bill during Tihar festival and I could not talk to them. So in abroad, it’s a different feeling altogether to meet a Nepali and when they are fun loving it creates great memories. We used to gather for different programs and events organized by Nepali Embassy, for birthdays and we used to play cards whole night during holidays. I still remember this one we met,we got together to watch South Korea Vs Uzbekistan World Cup Qualifying football match.
During my stay there, one thing was very clear. South Korean are very hard workers.Native students came to hostel at around two in the morning from their house and used to start studying. Believe it or not, they used to bring all stuffnecessary in the study room on a daily basis. They were always inquisitive and in search of learning new things. Most importantly, they were so helpful, very humble and always spoke very gently, full of integrity and respect for their elders. I also learned that as per the rules, it was compulsory for every male citizento serve two years in the army, no matter whereyou are in the world.
They were also very fond of drinking especially Soju (local alcohol) and Makkoli (rice beer), local drinks of Korea.They also preserved their cultural monuments very well and the investments were high too. It made me think about Nepal, which is tremendously rich in heritage, be it cultural or natural. Watching Korean monuments, I felt sorry for our government who has not been able to manage it properly. It was also sad that while introducing our country very few knew Nepal by its name; they only knew Nepal as a country of Himalayas.I also got to clear one other thing there. I believed that Korea was the country where dog meats were common but I did not find such things in reality.
Koreansuse a phrase very often ‘PaliPali’ which means ‘hurry hurry’. About 50 years back South Korea wasin chaos and was pooreras a country than Nepal. They went through colonization by Japan, then partition and the rift between South Korea and North Korea has still not stopped. Because of their history, they are used to hard work and ‘PaliPali’ signifies their journey towards economic development. Even our 80-year-old Korean teacher used this phrase time and again during our classes.
I look at South Korea and I see our narrow leadership and sometimes ponder ‘how on earth we are so blind-folded and accept wrong leadership without any question.’ Even after five years, I still do not find much change in our country.Korea made me realize working culture is the most important factor in development. I studied agriculturefor four years and came back. Last year I opened an organic online company and hope to make what little change I can in the sector.
Gautam is a co-founder of Kathmandu Organics.