Anaya Pico, who just completed her first year at Indiana University Kokomo, experienced Korean culture, eating authentic meals in homes of South Korean hosts and attending their churches, visiting the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, and learning about eastern medicine at a local hospital.
She and six other IU Kokomo students, faculty, and staff members traveled to the Asian country as part of an annual exchange program with Jesus University, Jeonju, and Sungshin University, in Seoul. This is the 14th year for the program, which began when Linda Wallace, dean of the School of Nursing, spent a year teaching there.
Each February, IU Kokomo hosts about a dozen South Korean nursing students, then takes students from a variety of majors overseas in May.
Anaya Pico, a communication arts major, believes the experience prepared her for her career.
"I think in order to be a good journalist, you have to have a view of the world," she said. "You see how people live, and you get close to the culture, and experience their lives. You discover things about yourself. You're not the same person when you come back."
She discovered an interest in learning languages, and hopes to study Korean before she goes back. She learned English growing up in Cartagena, Colombia, so did not face a language barrier when she came to IU Kokomo.
"It was a little frustrating not being able to communicate in South Korea," she said. "People were so nice, and I wanted to get to know them. I want to go back to learn Korean. That's what you're supposed to do. You're not supposed to go to another country and expect everyone to learn English."
Lesley Connolly, a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) student, found that even with a language barrier, some things translate without words, as the group attended a Christian church service with their hosts.
"We didn't understand the language, but we understood the message," she said. "We were all worshiping in the same way, even in different languages."
She was impressed by the Korean people's knowledge about and love of their history.
"They are very in tuned with what happened to their ancestors," she said. "The country blends their ancient history, with the old palaces and temples, with the modern high rises. It was an interesting mix."
First time international traveler Patti Johnson, a nursing student, was moved by their visit to the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea. They saw a wall where South Koreans leave notes for their family members in the communist north, hoping they might visit and see them.
"The Korean people want so badly to be reunited with their families," she said. "You can feel the sadness of it there. It's touching."
Brian Arwood experienced eastern medicine firsthand, volunteering for wet cupping and acupuncture for back pain. This method involves cups and suction to draw "dead" blood out of the body.
"I volunteered for it, because I wanted the experience," Arwood, a nursing student, said. "It was a very interesting experience."
He also enjoyed the cuisine, especially the focus on eating healthy.
"I didn't want any western food the whole trip," he said. "You learn a lot about people based on their food. Korean food is very healthy, which is a good reflection of the people."
Johnson said food is a way of showing hospitality for the Korean people.
"Meals are meant to be enjoyed there, and are a social experience," she said. "You enjoy your food, and the people you are sharing it with, at a slow pace. It's different from how we hurry through out meals. Making sure you are well-fed is part of building a relationship."
They all enjoyed visiting an eastern medicine hospital, which focuses on holistic treatment, prevention, and healthy living. Wallace said people go to western medicine hospitals for acute conditions, but choose eastern medicine for treatment of chronic conditions. Many women plan to give birth in western hospitals, but then go to an eastern hospital for recovery, she said.
"They're all about the body healing itself," she said. "We are about killing a disease with antibiotics, while they are about building a strong, healthy body to resist disease."
For Connolly, a significant difference was the type of care nurses provide.
"In the hospitals, family members perform much of the care, like bathing and feeding," she said. "Nurses give medicines and treatments, and if families cannot care for the patient, they hire a private aid."
They visited with many of the Korean nursing students who had been at IU Kokomo in February, and had dinner in two of their homes. The father of one of the Korean students presented each of them with a family heirloom, and insisted on driving them back to their hotel.
"Everywhere we went, we were treated as honored guests," said Johnson. "Nobody told us to 'Speak Korean,' when we were talking in English. We were always treated with respect."
"You feel like you are family," Connolly added. "I would go back again in a heartbeat."
Wallace said experiences like the Korea trip make the world a smaller, less scary place.
"It gives a face to the world, and makes it seem like a friendly place," she said. "When you meet individual people, you realize we share many of the same values, and that there are friends to be made out there."
Dr. Se-Ung Lee, a South Korean businessman and philanthropist, has supported the exchange program for 14 years with grant funding.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.