A group of Middle East high school students on an educational tour is not a common sight in South Korea, more often visited by tourists from its two neighbors China and Japan.
Fourteen students from Jordan, Palestine and Syria, all attending a prestigious Jordanian boarding school, recently got a chance to experience true Korean culture.
King’s Academy students and chaperons pose for a photo after interviews at the Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on Friday. (Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan)
Thanks to a cultural exchange program organized by Shin Joo-ho, son of a South Korean diplomat previously based in Jordan, they came to Seoul on July 23 to learn about the country.
“Walking down the streets of Jordan, I hear some people hooting ‘ni-hao’ at me. My friends in Korea often ask me what I was doing in the Middle East and say it’s all oil and bombs,” says Shin Joo-ho.
“Both sides were so ignorant of each other. So why not begin something new? Since adults already have stereotypes of each other deeply rooted in their minds, I wanted to target future leaders of the society, high school students. The best way to learn about each other is experiencing each other.”
The senior at King’s Academy of Jordan thought the program would fit the school’s mission very well, which is “working together, having respect for different cultures.”
The Arab students experienced various aspects of Korea for eight days, not just the tourism but the everyday life of Koreans. They toured many attractions in Seoul, Gyeongju and Ulsan, and also visited the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone dividing Korea into the capitalist South and communist North.
Homestays with Korean families and two days spent with Ulsan Foreign Language High school students, among others, gave them something more than sightseeing, something which they would recall to their peers back in the Middle East.
“Jordanians usually put China, Japan and Korea in one category and think them as one same thing. But through this program, I’ve learned they are not the same at all,” said Sewar Mohammad Quran.
Their visit had a positive effect on Korean friends as well.
“My parents were against learning Arabic when I first came to Ulsan Foreign Language High School, just because they thought anything related to the Middle East was dangerous, especially for women,” Park Seung-ryun, a freshman at Ulsan Foreign Language High School, majoring in Arabic language.
“But once I started to learn Arabic and met King’s academy students, I learned they are not different from us at all and Jordan is not the same as Palestine, Iraq, Israel. Also, their visit had intrigued my interest in the Arabic language and culture even more.”
The memories and experiences that the 14 Arab students gained through this program won’t just stay in their minds. They will spread out, and the right perception of Korea will take root. For a similar cultural exchange visit, Korean students will be invited to King’s academy next year.
By Kim Hee-jung, Intern reporter (email@example.com