Spring Break in Korea

Sungwoo Chung (WG 17, organizer) – “Leading a trek to a success”

Based on my personal experience as a trek organizer this time, I learned that there are three key elements to make a trek successful.
First is to build a well-balanced travel plan; e.g. being touristic vs. being local. ‘Korean BBQ’, ‘Karaoke’, and ‘Shopping at night’ – those were the answers from Korea Trek joiners when they were asked ‘what is the most exciting thing that makes you want to visit Korea’. That became the foundation for the itinerary of the trek. Later, inspired by the India Trek during the last winter break, I wanted to strengthen the itinerary in order for Trekkies to fully experience what local people do in Korea by adding programs such as ‘Korean Sauna’ and ‘Temple Stay’.
Next, it is critical to form a great team of organizers. Eun, a former consultant, provided a great roadmap for preparing the trek. Kay, based on her professional experience in hotel business, helped the team receive the best deal for the accommodation. Jiwon contributed the team to manage overall budget efficiently with her background in banking. Having led an event marketing start-up business prior to Wharton enabled me to execute the trek effectively.
Lastly, the success of the trek heavily depends on the genuine passion of trek leaders. During my two year military service at the 8th U.S. Army base in Korea, I witnessed that understanding different cultures incredibly promoted alliance between two nations. I am truly passionate about helping my schoolmates form a quality friendship with Koreans at Wharton and I am confident that leading people to the Korea Trek is one of the most powerful way to do so.
Now, let’s deep dive into the article by Vivien, one of Korea Trek joiners, to find out what sort of activities we’ve done during the trek more in detail.

Vivien Wu (WG 16, participant) – “Korea Trek: Touching the Past, Present, and Future”

An octopus tentacle dancing on your tongue.
Sunrise meditation with a Zen master in a temple from the 5th century.
Standing on the most heavily militarized frontier in the world.

My experience on the Korea Trek ranged from the neon hyper-speed shopping of Myeong-dong to the rapt silence of listening to a North Korean defector explain why and how she left her hometown. After a week of touring this amazing peninsula, there was no other way to return to Philly but with my heart full and my suitcase stuffed with K-beauty products and salty snacks.

In Seoul, I encountered a modern city of gleaming infrastructure (and enviable public bathrooms), but also a sincere sense of community. I was tickled to see many young couples inscribing their initials onto padlocks at a love memorial, and people doing homework together at a public bathhouse. Sungwoo challenged us to sweat out the toxins at a Dongdaemun 24-hour sauna – his recommended hangover cure! For only about $18, Korea’s bathhouses give you 24-hour access to igloos, hot and dry sauna rooms, multiple hot tubs, chill and pamper zones. You can even play video games, watch K-dramas, or get full body scrubs in these spas.
To give us perspective on the pursuit of worldly pleasures, we escaped to a temple retreat in the historic capital of the Silla Kingdom: Gyeongju, the home of Korea’s most prized UNESCO heritage sites and Buddhist artifacts. We stayed overnight at Bulguksa Temple, the head temple of the Korean Buddhist order, and attended evening and morning monastic ceremonies and meals while a monk coached us on walking and seated meditation.
The most impactful part of the trek for me, though, was the visit to the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), the border between North and South Korea created by the 1953 Armistice Agreement. Unpacking the complicated legacy of foreign intervention, proxy warfare, and national identity alongside my Wharton classmates is the most important experience I had on this trek which was already full of highlights.
There are many wonderful spring break experiences to choose from at Wharton. I hope you consider the Korea Trek next year because it truly allows you to touch the past, present, and future.

Eun Ro (WG 16, organizer) – “Team and People through Korea Trek”

Leading Korea Trek was a summary note of my Wharton life. It was all about team and people.

Firstly, I learned that a team is larger than individuals. Before forming a team, I already put together my own plans for the trek by conducting a survey, compiling artifacts from previous treks in and out of Wharton. With 1st year organizers coming aboard, however, some of the original plans were modified, work style had to adapt. But it was only for the better. From Kay, Jiwon, and Sungwoo, I learned how to manage organized communications, move forward with agility, and be at ease with the unexpected. I learned the value of having a diverse, dedicated team which will shape my perspectives post-Wharton.

Second part was the joy of meeting great people. We were lucky to have 22 incredibly interesting and thoughtful participants who I couldn’t have better known without this trek. A few of my highlights include hearing Vivien sharing her personal story and talking to Abby about nurturing leadership. It was more than rewarding to find all of them enjoying Korea in such open-minded, positive lights. Also our alumni network in Korea played a big part – from alum dinner, private dinner hosted in one of our alum’s Hanok house, to most candid discussions at Samsung – who assured us of the continuing relationships of Wharton.

Last but not least, all the hard-working, ordinary people we met from companies, restaurants, and taxis, shaped our memories in the trek. When I was leaving for Wharton 1.5 years ago, there was a dismantling event – sinking of Sewol ferry* in Korea. Criticisms on the broken system aside, I felt frustrated about our community falling apart — because we were all too busy to spare a moment even to mourn for such a tragedy**. Meeting people back home after a while, however, I felt that people are still there who are diligent, honest, and capable of remedying the system and moving forward.

Wrapping up with MBA, I often feel grateful of how much I’ve gained in the past two years. People are always the biggest part. Korea Trek was a very special time for me to get reminded of the power and importance of them both in Wharton and in communities.

* The sinking of Sewol ferry, occurred in 2014, was caused by dysfunctional rescue system of the government to fail to rescue 304 casualties mainly composed of high school students
**Korea is ranked #2 in work hours among OECD countries with 2,163 hours per year on average (’14)


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