How Could They Do It? The Thriving South Korean Economy

Miracle on the Han River, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

How could they do it? That is what I and others wondered as our group of educators toured the POSCO Steel Plant in Gwangyang, South Korea. I was on an educational tour of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), sponsored by the Academy of Korean Studies and the Freeman Foundation, and we were experiencing first-hand what the world called the Korean Economic Miracle.

POSCO Steel Plant, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

POSCO is an enormous plant, dredged from the swampy lowlands next to the East Asia Sea and forged into a first-rate facility, shipping enough steel to world-wide customers to make it the 4th largest steel company in the world. In promotional videos we viewed at the Visitors’ Center, they announced that they had “reclaimed the promised land” and “POSCO is creating the tomorrow of the world.” After viewing the facilities, they have reason to be proud.

POSCO workers, photo Denise Ames

POSCO is a recent project, especially compared to the U.S. steel companies that date back to the 1800s. POSCO was born in 1968, and its father was the visionary, but autocratic, President Park-Chung-hee.  He concluded that self-sufficiency in steel was essential to economic development. It was a government run project, in which his administration arranged financing from Japan and the U.S.

POSCO CEO Park Tae-joon was quoted as saying, “You can import coal and machines, but you cannot import talent.” He realized that Korea needed a pool of well-educated youth who were proficient in science and technology to ensure that Korea would be a leader in high technology. Park founded, with government support, the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) in 1986, and it remains a top university in its field today.

A Motto at the POSCO Steel Plant, photo Denise Ames

The U.S. and global institutions, such as the World Bank, pressured South Korea to privatize POSCO, and gradually full privatization was realized in 2000. The company has since expanded its operations to countries such as India, China, Indonesia, Cameroon (Africa), Mexico, and Vietnam. With 30,000 employees earning good wages, POSCO symbolizes South Korea’s economic success and long-term planning.

Our group in front of the POSCO Visitors Center, South Korea

POSCO represents what has economically happened in Korea. Whether it is Hyundai, Samsung, or many other lesser known companies, there has been remarkable economic growth as a result of a close connection between government and industry and careful strategic planning to achieve impressive results. For example, China and Korea dominate shipbuilding today.  

Denise in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, South Korea

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Koreans Never Met a Religion They Didn’t Like: Religion in South Korea pt. 2

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

A foot bridge at the Academy of Korean Studies, photo Denise Ames

As I mentioned in the previous blog, our tour guide made the pronouncement that “Koreans never met a religion they didn’t like.” He made this assertion during my educational tour of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), sponsored by the Academy of Korean Studies and the Freeman Foundation.

I noticed Christian symbols and rising steeples throughout Korean, but still I was surprised to learn that Christianity has exploded in South Korea with 5.4 million of its 50 million people worshipping Roman Catholics and about 9 million more are Protestants of many stripes. There are two divisions in Christianity: the elite and Evangelical. Elite Koreans find the Presbyterian style most appealing but lately charismatic Evangelical churches are growing at a full clip. In fact, in recent decades I was sad to hear that the biggest enemies of shamanism have been some of Korea’s fervent Christians.

Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

The Yoido Full Gospel Church with its 1 million members forms the largest Pentecostal congregation on Earth! The noisy, emotional, form of worship at the church has led some observers to remark that it is the “shamanization” of Christianity. We drove by the church and I was astonished at its size, and the logistics of transporting so many parishioners into the colossal structure.

One of many Christian Churches throughout South Korea, photo Denise Ames

I wondered why Christianity had become so popular. Although many reasons are cited, I find that the recent explosive economic growth in Korea often accompanies the rise of Christianity. Sociologist Max Weber theorized that Protestants often believe that worldly success is an outward sign of God’s blessing. The more material goods you have, the greater sign of God’s blessings. The popularity of the Prosperity Gospel, widespread in the U.S. as well as Korea, seems to attest to the economic connection.

Buddhist Temple, photo Denise Ames

Buddhism has deep historical roots, arriving in Korea around 372 CE (common era) from China. Buddhism was/is like a great sponge, absorbing native shamanistic religions and blending them into Buddhist beliefs, a practice that continues today. Thus, the mountains that were believed to be the residence of spirits in pre-Buddhist times became the sites of Buddhist temples.

Pilgrims to a Buddhist temple, photo Denise Ames

As evidenced by the number of Koreans trekking to remote Buddhist mountain top temples, such as the beautiful Haeinsa Temple, the intermingling of mountain spirits and Buddhism continues today. Unfortunately, fundamentalist Protestant antagonism against Korean Buddhists, who make up about 23% of the population, has increased in recent years. Acts of vandalism against Buddhist temples and praying for the destruction of Buddhist temples has amplified the tension between Buddhists and Korean Protestants.

Woman participating in a Confucian ceremony, photo Denise Ames

I think it is appropriate to include Confucianism as an influential tradition that has shaped Korea today, although many do not consider Confucianism a religion per se. Neo-Confucianism, in which the older teachings of Confucius were blended with Daoism and Buddhism, became the official religion of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), offering an alternative to the influence of Buddhism.

The legacy of Confucianism remains a fundamental part of Korean society, shaping the moral system, the everyday life, social relations between old and young, and is the basis for much of the legal system. The traditional Confucian respect for education remains a vital part of Korean culture. Our Korean female tour guide mentioned that some of the Confucian family traditions were beginning to ebb. One of the reasons she stated is because women do most of the work, such as preparing food, and do not get to participate in the ceremonies. That type of gender inequality is not appealing to most modern Korean women.

Women demonstrating a tea ceremony, photo Denise Ames

Aside from the occasional fundamentalist Protestant attacks against Buddhism, South Koreans seem to respect and accept the diversity of religious beliefs and practices. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Korean ethnic group accounts for approximately 96% of the total population of the country. It may be easier to accept your neighbors’ different religious beliefs if they are practiced by members of your own ethnic group. The increase of foreign laborers, often practicing Muslims from different ethnic groups and countries, may tell a different and less tolerant story. Hopefully, the Republic of Korea can provide an inspirational ideal for the rest of the world to follow, in which a nation’s citizenry embraces and accepts a variety of religious beliefs and practices.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Koreans Never Met a Religion They Didn’t Like: Religion in South Korea pt. 1

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Entrance to a temple complex, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

“Koreans never met a religion they didn’t like.” Our tour guide made this pronouncement during my educational tour of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in November 2014, sponsored by the Academy of Korean Studies and the Freeman Foundation. Well I thought that was an interesting remark. It certainly was better in my estimation than hating all religions except your own.

I was a convert to our tour guide’s impression when I began to notice that public spaces were filled with Christian crosses, Daoist symbols, shamanistic stone settings, Buddhist temples, Confucian historic sites, and even a mosque had recently been built. Religion was and is a very important part of Korean society.

Confucian ceremony in South Korea, photo Denise Ames

First, I will define the term religion using the abbreviated version in my book Waves of Global Change: A Holistic World History. Religion is a system through which people interpret the nonhuman realm as if it were human and seek to influence it through symbolic communication. It often contains a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. I will interpret religion broadly and include the beliefs systems found in Korea such as Buddhism, Christianity (both Protestant and Catholic), and even Confucianism and shamanism. This should give us a broad representation.

Let’s start our conversation about religion with shamanism since it is the oldest tradition and people probably know the least about it. Even though there are practicing Buddhists, Christians, and atheists, about 80% of Koreans adhere to the ancient beliefs of shamanism in some form. Koreans don’t seem to see a contradiction in holding dissimilar religious beliefs. Shamanism is the basic belief that all happiness stems from harmony with nature.

Shamanic figures in South Korea, photo Denise Ames

Shamanism is linked to animism, the belief that everything has a spirit rather than the idea of a transcendent God. Koreans revere the mountain spirit, since the country is blanketed with mountains. Shamanism can take the form of simple rituals, such as a ceremony to cleanse the evil spirits from a new residence or initiate a new car. Some Koreans, especially women, visit their favorite shaman on a regular basis and ask for guidance in everyday life or have their future told.

Shamanic shrine in South Korea, photo Denise Ames

In fact, when visiting Korea, I went to a practicing fortune teller/shaman. I saw signs for shamans in every neighborhood I visited, often depicted by banners in front of their establishments. Most of the shamans are women and live in modest dwellings. Through my interpreter, she explained the lines on my palm, did a reading through tarot-like cards, and looked at the veins in my hands. I am supposed to have a long and healthy life, and enjoy good fortune. She gave me a little pouch to ward off evil spirits and keep me safe. I still carry it with me. It was fun!

There are now 55,000 practicing shamans in Korea more than the clergy of all the other religions put together. Shamanism is not carefully organized, there are no written texts, no established leaders, and most of the followers and practitioners are women. Now that is a recipe for officials to denigrate it. But it is alive and well and continues in Korea today.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Education is a Big Deal in South Korea

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

A historic Confucian academy, photo Denise Ames

Education is a big deal in South Korea. And it is very different from education in the US. South Korea students study very hard and it pays off: students consistently score the highest in the world on standardized tests. We assume that they must be doing something right. Or is that a wrong assumption?

It would not be an overstatement to say that South Korea is an education-obsessed country. You must get into the right kindergarten, so that you can attend the right elementary school, then into the right middle school and high school, and finally into the right college, which gives you a springboard in landing the right job and marrying the right spouse. I am not exaggerating!

Girl studying, South Korea

This fervor for studying is reflected in helping South Korea consistently rank at the top of the developed world in reading, math and science scores, but studies also show that Korean students come in last in a survey of student happiness at school and they also have the highest suicide rate in the developed world. The high-stress focus on education seems to have a downside.

South Korea’s what I see as unhealthy preoccupation with exam results has deep roots, in particular, Confucian roots. The legacy of Confucianism is to improve oneself through education, and the passage of the civil service examination, which has existed for over a thousand years.

Confucius statue by a school, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

During this long history of the civil service exam, the only means a male (no females took the exam) could socially advance was to pass the exam. In reality, the odds of exam-success favored those high-status families who had the means to lavish money on instructors for the intense preparation needed to pass the difficult exams. But there still remained a very slight possibility that a brilliant boy from a poor family could be mentored and pass the exam. High status and glory awaited the privileged few who passed.

After the end of the Korean War in 1953, the country had only bombed-out infrastructure, few natural resources, and one of the lowest GDP’s in the world. Once again, drawing on its Confucian heritage, the main way of getting ahead in these dire circumstances was via education. The country realized that the only true resource they had was the intellectual resources of its citizenry, and this resource had to be cultivated through education.

Confucius encouraging students to excel, photo Denise Ames

Today students are living out the legacy of the Confucian emphasis on education. Not only do students put a full day in attending normal classes, but the vast majority of teenagers do a double shift: they go to hagwons for after-hours study. A hagwon is a for-profit private institute, academy or “cram school” to help students improve scores on the standardized exams, for a fee, sometimes a very hefty fee.

Increasingly, online hagwons are replacing traditional brick-and-mortar cram schools. One instructor at a hagwon, now has about 300,000 students take his online class at any given time, paying $39 for a 20-hour course (traditional cram schools charge as much as $600 for a course). He teaches them tricks for taking the timed exams, including shortcuts that students can take to solve a problem faster. Many of the instructors at hagwon’s are making more money than teachers, and some even crack into the million dollar range! The hagwons have become a $20 billion industry.

Academy of Korean Studies, hosted my trip, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

There are critics of the Korean approach to education. Former minister of education, Lee Ju-ho, states that “All this late-night study could lead to problems in enhancing their other skills, like character, creativity and critical thinking.” “Hagwon is all about rote learning and memorization.” Lee and others cite in the Washington Post problems with the college admissions procedures, which have been slow in looking beyond test scores to other criteria such as extracurricular activities and personal essays, as is common in many Western countries. But I think it goes deeper than merely college admission procedures.

Statue of Confucius, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

From my take, the Korean educational system is a reflection of the society at large. They are a relatively small country competing in a world of big-fish economies. They have to develop and draw on their strengths in the global economy and these include a diligent and hard-working work force, preciseness, and taking an already existing product, such as the Apple i-phone, and copying and/or improving upon it, such as in the Samsung Galaxy. They have been successful on the world stage because they do not emphasize critical thinking or creativity in their education, but memorization skills, sheer endurance, and obedience to a prescribed path.

Many critics, including myself, say the country would do well to take a more creative approach to education. Perhaps there will be a change in the educational focus from rote memorization to creativity and critical thinking, but it will also mean that the standardized test, as they currently exist, would need serious revamping. I wonder what Confucius would say about that!

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that encourages travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.


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The Korean Wave: Creating a Model for the 21st Century?

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Economic Miracle on the Han River, Seoul, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

Korea is asserting itself as a major force in the world! If you don’t know much about Korea, please take notice, in more ways than one, it is a rising star on the world stage. The next several blogs are about my experiences and impressions of South Korea during a two-week educational visit.

South Korea outlined in red.

Korea has often thought of themselves as a victim, and indeed the 20th century has not been kind to the country. In 1910 it was invaded by Japan and they continued their occupation and exploitation until their defeat by the US and its allies at the end of World War II, when the Japanese were permanently expelled from the peninsula. Soon after the end of World War II, a brutal civil war broke out in 1950 between North Korea, loyal to communist Soviet Union and China, and South Korea, who sided with the United States and its allies.

Growth of the South Korean economy.

At the end of the war in 1953, the country lay in ruins with the 38th parallel line dividing the north and south, a division that continues today. The US was instrumental in helping to rebuild its ally in the south, the Republic of Korea or commonly known as South Korea, but much of the credit should be attributed to the future-looking and hard-working people of Korea.

From my brief observations, it didn’t appear that Korea is a victim anymore. They are riding high on their economic miracle that has transformed the country to the 12th largest economy in the world, an astonishing accomplishment considering it historic situation. How could this small country (South Korea is about the size of the US state of Indiana) have transformed itself from a country mired in poverty and misery to a prosperous nation in just a short 70 year time span?

Samsung Housing, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

I pondered this question as I toured the country of Korea. The more I saw of the country and met its people, the more I felt that its story needed to be told to an American and global audience. Korea’s rise, at least in the US, has remained somewhat of a secret. Its achievements have been overshadowed by its much larger and more familiar neighbors—China and Japan. Or the bizarre escapades of their Korean neighbors to the north. In fact, I told a knowledgeable friend about my trip to Korea and mentioned the global reach of the Korean Samsung Conglomerate and she responded: “Oh, I thought Samsung was from China.”

Girl’s Generation, Popular K-Pop Band, South Korea

Koreans have touted their economic miracle, and indeed it is true, but how did it happen?  How do their students consistently place at the top of academic achievement across the world? How can they export their wildly popular Korean bands – K-pop – to the rest of the world? How have they catapulted their economy from manufacturing “junk” to highly sophisticated consumer products ranging from cars to electronics? What do the Koreans think about their communist neighbors to the north? Do they live in constant fear of a nuclear attack by the unstable regime or do they merely dismiss the threat as highly improbable?

The Korean Wave, photo Denise Ames

These are just a few of the questions I want to address in a series of topical blogs on Korea. I will look at how major economic, social, political, religious, and business factors interact to produce the “Korean Miracle.” I will examine their economic system, known as the Miracle on the Han River (a river flowing through Seoul), where the country experienced rapid economic growth. But the economy has a close relationship to Korea’s tumultuous political system that has since evolved from a dictatorship in the early 1960s to a stable democracy today.

The Kia Stinger, a popular South Korean car company,

The Korean Wave, the phenomenal growth and appeal of popular Korean cultural products since the late 1990s, include K-pop music, cinema, and television dramas. All this is enhanced by the popularity of sophisticated Korean technological products and automobiles. The country’s students are ranked as the best academically in world, but this has come at a price: Korea also ranks at the top of youth suicides. The pressure to succeed in an increasingly competitive world takes its toll among those students in Korea who aren’t a match for such brutal competition.

I won’t just sing the praises of the ascent of Korea onto the world stage; I will talk about its blemishes as well. However, I hope you will follow our blog series on Korea and learn more about this fascinating country.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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My Travels to South Korea: Goodbye to Korea and Getting Home, the Hard Way

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

This blog series is about my experiences while traveling to South Korea for a two-week educational trip. If you don’t know much about Korea, please take notice, about this illusive but fascinating country. In more ways than one, it is a rising star on the world stage. Please join me on this journey.

Send off from the 5* Lotte Hotel, photo Denise Ames

I had said my final good-byes to my travel group and to South Korea and headed to the airport. I found out at the last minute that my flight had been delayed 6 hours! I was on a mission to reschedule my flight.

The bus deposited me at the American terminal where I easily found the help counter. The gracious clerk tried vainly to reschedule me to another flight but with no success. She even tried other airlines with the same results. After exhausting my options, I decided that I would wait the extra six hours, which totaled nine hours altogether since I was about 3 hours early, for my delayed flight home. Apparently, a mechanical problem had sidelined the aircraft and a crew of workers were already making repairs.

Buddha, photo Denise Ames

After seeing so many Buddhist statues and visiting so many shrines on the trip, I thought I should practice mindfulness and patience. It actually worked, and I felt relaxed during my wait. I enjoyed walking around the terminal and people watching, my favorite pastime.

I purchased a few extra gifts for family and friends to my mix that I collected during the trip. I found one small Korean ceramic doll magnet for my granddaughter. She ended up loving it and took it to show and tell at her preschool class. She called her Korea.

Toilet at the Seoul airport, photo Denise Ames

I also thought of my granddaughter when I ventured into the family restrooms where there were miniature sized toilets for youngsters. How cute and appropriate. This was a clear indication that South Koreans are very family oriented.

I also added some small ½ pint size bottles of Korean soju, an alcoholic drink with a real kick to it. We had sampled it many times during our dinners, some had it for lunch too! Perfect gift for my son and son-in-law.

After the hours finally passed, I boarded the jumbo jet. Of our educational group, I was the last to arrive and the last to leave. It was after midnight when we finally pulled away from the gate. Unfortunately, this meant that I would miss the last flight to Albuquerque from Dallas. No need to fret about it now, I would worry about it when I landed.

Lotte brand was all over South Korea, photo Denise Ames

The plane was half full, so I was able to sprawl out and get some sleep. It was about 10:00 p.m. when we finally touched down in Dallas. It was now certain that I wouldn’t be able to get to Albuquerque that night, which meant staying in a hotel near the airport. The airline dispensed vouchers for a hotel nearby and I queued for the hotel’s shuttle. I was lucky to catch the last shuttle for the evening. I did get reservations for a mid-morning flight, so I didn’t have to fret about getting to the terminal first thing in the morning. At least I had repacked my carry-on bag at the airport in Seoul knowing I would probably be spending the night in some random airport hotel, a far cry from the five start Lotte Hotel in Seoul a couple nights back.

One of my memorable views of South Korea, photo Denise Ames

The next morning was uneventful. The flight was on time and I finally arrived in Albuquerque. I was glad to be home and a feeling of joy and contentment came over me as I looked down from the plane’s window at the familiar landscape of high desert brown, rugged Sandia Mountains, and a ribbon of water running through it all, the Rio Grande. But I would never forget my two-week adventure to South Korea. It made an indelible impression on me.

__________________

Since South Korea has made such a favorable and lasting impression on me, I have decided to post some blogs on specific topics pertinent to South Korea that did not fit into the narrative flow of my daily travels in the country. The topics include the Korean Wave, education, economy, religion, pop culture and more! I hope you will join me for this intriguing blog series. DRA

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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My Travels to South Korea: Glitz and Glamour

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

This blog series is about my experiences while traveling to South Korea for a two-week educational trip. If you don’t know much about Korea, please take notice, about this illusive but fascinating country. In more ways than one, it is a rising star on the world stage. Please join me on this journey.

Plaza in Downtown Seoul, photo Denise Ames

I awoke to a sunny but cool day on my final morning in South Korea. My super comfortable bed in the luxurious five star Lotte Hotel was a real treat. I went downstairs to the buffet breakfast, and did not see one person in my group. It was actually a lonely feeling. Most of the group had already departed to the airport for early flights. I was on my own until 2:00 when a bus in front of the hotel would leave for the airport for my flight at 6:00.

Christmas decorations in Seoul, photo Denise Ames

I returned to my room and finished my final packing and lugged the suitcases down to the lobby for storage until my departure. With camera in hand and my backpack situated I was ready for some brisk walking around the city. I wanted to see the city and get some exercise before the long flight home.

Although it was mid-November, downtown Seoul had already extensively decorated for Christmas. Even though there is a heavy Christian population in Korea, I was a bit surprised to see such early and lavish Christmas displays. I guess it encouraged shopping, something Koreans like to do!

I ventured into a swank department store and browsed through the clothing and accessories sections. Koreans seem to be very fashion conscious and concerned about beauty. No surprise that it is considered the plastic surgery capital of the world. Even the young men are apt to adorn themselves with the latest fashion and make-up styles, as evident by the full-scale pictures of “boy” singing groups plastered about the area.

Huge poster of popular “boy”band, photo Denise Ames

One woman and her daughters were so excited to see an American visiting their city that I was asked to be in a picture with them. I happily complied and enjoyed a nice chat, using my refined gestures to communicate essential information along with their limited English.

Denise chats with Korean family in Seoul outside department store.

I stopped for a late lunch near the hotel and was surprised to hear my name called out. It was one of the Korean guides on the trip telling me some bad news. My flight from Seoul to Dallas on American airlines was delayed six hours, yes six hours!! I was dismayed and a little angry since my flight to Seoul from Dallas was also delayed. But, my motto is to roll with the punches as far as airlines and flights are concerned when I travel, so I tried to take it in stride. I quickly had to decide what to do: I elected to take the bus at my assigned time to the airport and then try to find other routes back to the U.S.

The bus was on time. I heaved my suitcase, which seemed to be getting heavier by the minute, to the loading section of the bus; luckily, the bus driver didn’t have any trouble tossing it into the lower luggage compartment. The drive to the airport was relaxing, I got to say my final good-bye to Seoul and South Korea. It was a fascinating trip and I enjoyed every minute of it. Now, I had to turn my attention to getting home. 

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace during her travels in Seoul, South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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My Travels to South Korea: Back to Seoul and Group Goodbyes  

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

This blog series is about my experiences while traveling to South Korea for a two-week educational trip. If you don’t know much about Korea, please take notice, about this illusive but fascinating country. In more ways than one, it is a rising star on the world stage. Please join me on this journey.


Scene from my bus window, small factories dotted the landscape, photo Denise Ames

The next morning, we had a light breakfast and loaded the bus for our trip back to Seoul. It would be nice to sit back in my seat on the bus and watch the scenery pass by. Our days had been quite packed, and it would be nice to take a breather from the intensity of the tour.

Efficient women’s bathroom at the efficient truck stop, photo Denise Ames

We stopped for gas and lunch at a truck-stop diner on a busy 4-lane highway. I was surprised at the cleanliness of the establishment and to the assortment of Korean dishes offered by the fast food style restaurant. I ordered some soup and took a seat that maximized my people-watching visibility. I love to people watch, and I do it whenever and wherever I can.

After a short while, our guide rounded us up for our final portion of our drive to Seoul. We were getting closer to the city and the congestion increased. Actually, I longed for the more relaxed and less congested city of Gyeongju that we had just visited. It seemed to operate at a more manageable pace, and we had met such interesting people.

We were left in the dark as to our hotel for the evening. We were surprised when the bus pulled up into the circular driveway of the Lotte Hotel, a five-star hotel in the heart of Seoul. What a great location, and what luxury accommodations we were treated to on our final night.

Outside our Lotte Hotel, downtown Seoul, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

We had time to settle into our rooms and do some sightseeing on our own before meeting back in the lobby at 2:30 for an afternoon traditional performance at a nearby theater.

I quickly hauled my suitcase to my lovely room and then struck out on a walk around the hotel. I explored as many nooks and crannies as I could in a couple of hours and then dashed back to the hotel for a change of clothes for the theater and our farewell dinner.

Cookin’ Nanta, our evening’s entertainment, was a comical performance about using knives as musical instruments. It was clever, energetic, nonverbal, and had great dancing. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was a great way to cap off our travels in South Korea!

Still chattering about the performance, we made our way to our farewell dinner, a lavish buffet affair at a hotel. I didn’t mind piling on the food since I was hungry and knew that tomorrow we would only be given breakfast. The  rest of the day would be spent in transit to the airport and waiting for my flight, which was scheduled to take off at 6:00 pm. 

At the conclusion of the dinner, I personally thanked my sponsors, guide, and hosts, and expressed my appreciation for the opportunity to travel to South Korea. It had been an honor for me to be selected for the trip, and it was an experience I would never forget. I had grown fond of the group, especially a professor, Marc, from a college in New York City, who was half Korean himself.  

My friend Marc in Korean dress, photo Denise Ames

With a bulging stomach and a sad heart, I made my way back to the hotel with the group. Tomorrow everyone had a different departure time for their flights back to the U.S. I said my good-bye to Marc since he had an early departure and I would probably miss him in the morning. We promised to stay in touch since he taught courses on Korean culture and music, and I had planned to do some lesson plans on the topic.

Since my flight left at 6:00 pm, I would have the whole morning and early afternoon to explore the city. I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to Korea quite yet!

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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My Travels to South Korea: Korea’s Economic Breakthrough, They Make Steel

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

This blog series is about my experiences while traveling to South Korea for a two-week educational trip. If you don’t know much about Korea, please take notice; in more ways than one, it is a rising star on the world stage Please join me on this journey.

Posco Steel Plant, Pohang, South Korea, photo Denise Ames

After lunch our bus headed to Pohang a city in the province of North Gyeongsang, South Korea, and a main seaport located by the Sea of Japan (East Sea). The built-up area of Pohang is located on the alluvial soils at the mouth of the Hyeongsan River. It was a relaxing drive and I sat back and enjoyed the scenery.

Pohang, the headquarters of the Posco Steel Company, was our destination. I was very excited about visiting the Posco Steel Company, I love to see how things are made and this would be a perfect opportunity to see the massive process of steel production.

Posco workers, photo Denise Ames

First, Posco has some impressive statistics. It had an output of 42,000,000 metric tons of crude steel in 2015, making it the world’s fourth-largest steelmaker by this measure. In 2010, it was the world’s largest steel manufacturing company by market value. 

POSCO currently operates two integrated steel mills in South Korea, in Pohang and Gwangyang. POSCO previously operated a joint venture with U.S. Steel, USS-POSCO Industries, and the U.S. Steel acquired full ownership of the facility in February 2020.

Our bus stopped at the secure entrance and we were instructed to not take pictures from the bus. Darn, I had planned to snap away. Although I didn’t take pictures from the bus, I did on the ground, since I was not instructed to refrain from doing so. There would be someone accompanying us on our tour, I guess they were paranoid about our group stealing steel secrets.

Early Posco leaders showcased, photo Denise Ames

Our first stop was a display for tourists. Although a bit hokey, I did like the way they portrayed the importance of having a steel plant in Korea’s industrial development. They thought that steel equaled patriotism. In the 1960s, the South Korean administration concluded that self-sufficiency in steel and the construction of an integrated steelworks were essential to economic development.

Many foreign and domestic businesses were skeptical of Korea investing so much money in the construction of the plant. Despite the skepticism, under the lead of Park Tae-joon, known as the Andrew Carnegie of Korea, POSCO was established and began production in production in 1972, with 39 employees.

Early corporate office at Posco, far cry from today’s lavish spreads, photo Denise Ames

Interestingly, Japan, who brutally occupied Korea from 1910-1945, financed the operation, which also included grants and loans from the US to the tune of $119 million. Nippon Steel, a Japanese firm, also provided technical assistance. This cooperation was the result of normalization of relations with Japan in 1965 and of Japan and Korea forging good relations as essential to the security of both nations.

The plant was enormous! For safety reasons, we were unable to go through any of the buildings where steel processing took place, but we were able to drive slowly while on the bus and peer into the plant. In one of the buildings I saw long trough-like chutes carrying smoldering hot steel from where the steel was smelted to a cooling room to be cast into ingots. 

My travel group in front of the Posco Steel visitor center.

We capped off our tour at the welcome center where we watched a promotional video about Posco Steel Company. I promptly nodded off. 

It was after 6:00 and time to leave. We boarded the bus and headed to the East Sea, as the Koreans prefer to call the Sea of Japan. It was a fun excursion and I enjoyed walking along the sea walk for some exercise, after our long day mostly confined to the bus. We then had our dinner and checked in to our non-descript hotel for the evening.

The next day we would be heading back to Seoul for the remainder of our trip.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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My Travels to South Korea: Ancient Buddhist Temples in Gyeongju

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

This blog series is about my experiences while traveling to South Korea for a two-week educational trip. If you don’t know much about Korea, please take notice; in more ways than one, it is a rising star on the world stage Please join me on this journey.

I got up early and had breakfast. I took an early morning walk around the area to get some fresh air before boarding the bus for another day of experiencing all the wonders of South Korea.

Trail to the Seokguram Grotto, photo Denise Ames

Our first stop was the Seokguram Grotto, a hermitage which was part of the Bulguksa temple complex. It was a bit of a climb to reach the grotto but the scenery was so incredible it was certainly worth it. The grotto overlooks the Sea of Japan and rests 750 meters above sea level. Construction of the statue began in 742. In 1962, it was designated the 24th national treasure of Korea. In 1995, Seokguram was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List together with the Bulguksa Temple. It exemplifies some of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world. The grotto is currently one of the best-known cultural destinations in South Korea. I can see why, it was an awe-inspiring statue.

Buddha sculpture at the Seokguram Grotto complex.

We next visited the trekked the short distance to the Bulguksa temple complex. The temple is considered as a masterpiece of the golden age of Buddhist art in the Silla kingdom. It is currently the head temple of the 11th district of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It encompasses six National treasures of South Korea, including the Dabotap and Seokgatap stone pagodas, Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge), and two gilt-bronze statues of Buddha. In 1995, Bulguksa was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List together with the Seokguram Grotto, which lies four kilometers to the east.

Bulguska Temple Complex, renovated, photo Denise Ames

The temple was renovated during the Goryeo Dynasty and the early Joseon Dynasty. During the Imjin wars, the wooden buildings were burned to the ground. After 1604, reconstruction and expansion of Bulguksa started, followed by about 40 renovations until 1805. After World War II and the Korean War, a partial restoration was conducted in 1966 and completed in 1973.

Ruins of the Bulguska Temple Complex before renovation in 1914

Our tour guide had one more surprise for us before we had lunch. We boarded the bus and drove a short way out of the city. The bus stopped and I gazed out at what I thought was an empty field. Our tour guide had certainly aroused my curiosity, what was his surprise. As we gathered on one of the small mounds scattered about the field, he said that it isn’t always what is visible to the eye that is interesting, but what lies below the surface. That was the case with this field.

Archeological excavations on the site we were standing on had found remains of human settlements dating back to the Paleolithic era, in fact other areas of human settlements since ancient times had been found in the Yeoju area.

Grinding stone and wheel at the archaeological site, photo Denise Ames

At the archaeological site, where we now stood, just southeast of the city proper, fragments of herringbone patterned earthenware pottery, axe heads, and other artifacts have been discovered. Further excavations from research teams and accidental findings from construction in the area have continued to reveal the continued human presence from the Paleolithic through the Neolithic era up to the beginnings of recorded history.

I found that to be fascinating! The grounds I now walked have been occupied for thousands of years; it gave me a strange feeling of connection with the past. I imagined myself as a Paleolithic gatherer or a Neolithic farmer, eking out a living in this area. A far cry from my life today.

Our lunch was a quick affair, since we had an appointment at 2:00 in Pohang for a tour of the Posco Steel Plant.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Denise at Gyeongbokgung Palace, South Korea

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for CGA.

The Center for Global Awareness has three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATE, Global Awareness for Travelers. GATE is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world.

Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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