Going to the DMZ was one of the top attractions I wanted to see whilst being in Korea. I had been debating on signing up with Adventure Korea to do a visit through them but on the very day I had planned to sign up, the email came through from the POE that the DMZ would be our destination for our cultural trip. It couldn’t have been  better !

I have tried to explain how I feel about the border and the separation of Korea a few times and each time it is difficult. The simple answer is that the division is horrible and a tragic end to an already devastating situation. That, however, does not explain why, with all the beautiful, positive, and photogenic places that Korea has to offer, I would be most interested in a place that could easily be described as the complete opposite.

Growing up in the United States, the world and its history, as viewed through textbooks, tends to be somewhat of an illusion. We all know the world is not flat anymore but until you have actually observed another place and seen how having a completely different history can shape a culture, you haven’t seen the world in all its depth of diversity. Seeing nothing more than pictures in history class or video clips on CNN is viewing the world from behind an objective lens.  I wanted to see the border because it is a constant reminder of something horrible but something real. This selfishness and greed that has caused a society to be divided has been a thorn in the side of eastern Asia for the past fifty years. However, the border also speaks very well for the citizens of South Korea as they were able to accomplish what has now been coined as “The Miracle On The Hahn River”. This shows what determination and perseverance can accomplish when a group of people have a unified interest and know that their survival depends solely on their success.

Another reason that I was so interested in seeing the border is because, as I also believe, people are drawn to things that are foreign to them. There is a sense of interest in something that you’re not an expert on. I know that this does not apply to all areas (I do not know anything about, nor have any particular interest in, underwater basket weaving). Because I have experienced no real suppression from my government, or been denied of any generic simple human freedoms or liberties, being able to observe a culture who has, is interesting and intriguing. Explaining this fascination is difficult: it shouldn’t be interpreted as someone wanting to go to a circus show to see a five-legged dog or two-headed monkey. It is far from this kind of objective “gaze upon a specimen”. Rather, I find a draw to the conflict within North Korea because it is so difficult for me to grasp how, with the world that it is now in 2011, a place like that still exists. Thus, on a very personal level, it challenges my worldview as built through school textbooks. It is as close to time travel as one might be able to find. Coming from first-world America, being able to experience countries of a vastly different state of affairs, such as Cuba which is still very old-world, China which is communist by name only and North Korea which is more of a fascist dictatorship than communist, is enlightening and eye-opening to better understand the world. I hurt for the citizens of North Korea and wish that they could be allowed to excel to their full potential. Looking at what South Korea has accomplished I can’t help but think of what could be done with more land, more resources and a reunification of a family.

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