Pushing me gently in the morning to get up, I happily awoke fully rested. A good six hours was all I needed to start my last day in South Korea. Sleeping on a cot was surprisingly sufficient for having a quality night sleep. With my worries of not being able to sleep in a room with all the guys who I worried about snoring, I was pleased to have fallen asleep with no issue. The day's adventures were to begin immediately by heading down to the Buddhist temple to begin with morning festivities. We participated at the Buddhist Hall in traditional chant and prayer. With our legs sore from the prior night's proselytizing, we still committed to taking part in the rituals. Afterwards, I took in the sunrise from the balcony outside the temple where everyone was silent as we soaked in the beautifully lush, forest background. Hunger started to creep in as the limited dinner left me feeling famished. Unfortunately for my stomach, I knew that our breakfast would be even more limited. We were going to participate in an authentic Buddhist breakfast, complete with preparing our food, learning how to set our "table", and how to eat. There were strict rules we had to follow for how to fold a napkin, which bowl to eat from, how to make sure to only eat what you plan on eating, and how to clean our bowl. Whatever we didn't finish eating, we had to essentially drink with a radish that we used to clean the bowl. Needless to say, I decided I would have a light breakfast because I didn't want to have to drink a lot my leftovers. Finishing at the temple, we met with the head monk who through the use of a translator, helped us understand what a Buddhist life as a monk entails. He was very insightful. The question that I asked elicited laughter as I wondered what the most times he bowed down and proselytized. To our shock, he said "3,000 times"! I can't even imagine. Following this, we took a tour of the grounds and learned some of the history before we left back for Seoul. Thankfully on our way back we stopped and got some much needed food. It was at the closest to American food place that we had seen, a buffet at the bottom of a posh hotel. This was the first time where I didn't mind mixing up the cuisine from traditional Korean. With our time in South Korea sadly come to an end, we were given the opportunity to venture off on our own for several hours. Deciding that I'd want to see as much of Seoul that we hadn't already seen, I joined with Henry Rehn, fellow Michigan teacher to visit two palaces; Changdeokgung and Deoksugung. Heading out in the humidity towards the temple, we saw gardens in the middle of the city. The temples were similar to the previous ones that I had seen. Due to the robotic English speaking tourist guide, it was hard to be engaged in what was being presented, so I tended to leave the path of the group to explore on my own. The Deoksugung temple was particularly interesting because it was a convergence of old and new. Modern buildings for the government were constructed right near the older buildings. Coming back to the hotel after momentarily getting lost navigating, I prepped for the final meal with everyone. Not knowing what to expect entirely with our last meal, we dressed up as we headed to our dinner spot. The restaurant looked like a traditional Korean house as we were the only occupants eating there. Later we found out that everything we were treated to was unsurprisingly extravagant. After hearing several speeches, we were given gorgeous gifts by the program. It was another example of how well taken care of were during our time in Korea. The end of the night we were treated with an amazing karaoke session by our Korean guides. Definitely we ended on a positive note.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.