Maria Tirnovanu, '20, Harvard Summer School in Seoul Program, Summer 2017

September 1, 2017
Maria Tirnovanu
Maria Tirnovanu, on right
For me, one of the main factors in choosing the South Korean summer program was the academics, and more specifically how they would take me out of my comfort zone and teach me how to see my field through another perspective. As a social sciences person, focused on studying culture through politics or economics, looking at events through the perspective of film and art was a completely new experience. However, I found very quickly that going out of my comfort zone did not make me uncomfortable, but studying South Korean film gave me a unique and very thorough insight on a new culture and on myself.

Our class was focused on studying post-war Korea and its development, topic which falls right into my academic interest of conflict resolution and post-war development. However, if before I was intent on studying the economic and political aspects of it only and its applications, taking this film course brought one massive realization for me, that I would love to instead work with people and those affected by these changes directly and continue my academic experience through a more sociological and people-oriented point of view.

In addition, even if languages are a familiar topic for me as I studied several through the years, Korean was one that I absolutely fell in love with. Being in Korea influenced the learning process as I got the chance to constantly use what I learned, and the modernity of it and the course, studying it with examples of music or TV dramas is something new and extremely useful and attractive, and it made me want to pursue Korean further.

What made the program amazing was the fact that we got to live and interact with many Korean students and experience Korea through the eyes of people who live in it. Thus, in addition to the many fantastic field trips and cultural activities organized by the program, we got to experience Korea like people who live in it. Even if I lived in several countries in my life, I do believe Korea was the one where I felt most quickly at home in, and experiencing it felt most natural in quaint flower cafes, small bookstores, picturesque alleyways in the weirdest of neighborhoods, or listening to Korean traditional or modern music in the streets in places where tourists would not know to go, but our Korean friends knew to take us.

The entire program itself was very focused on making us acquainted with Korean culture through learning its language, its history and arts, but mostly through putting an emphasis on going out, talking to the people, experiencing and learning by doing. The field trips taught us culture through experiencing, and it is beyond words to express how amazing it is to be able to see in real life the places where movies on our screen were filmed. The final project made sure we went and interviewed people outside of our program, and the language partner field trips with our Korean friends made sure we experienced amazing things and reflected on them in Korean. Thus, even if we only spent two months in South Korea, I feel incredibly attached to it, its culture, people and lifestyle, and the most difficult thing I experienced was leaving.

Before embarking on my Korean adventure, I believed I had my future career plans very settled and this was simply a time to experience another culture. However, after the program, it feels that my career plans were turned around on their heads, and I took a decision to study Korea and East Asian culture at Harvard and return one day, sooner or later. Besides continuing Korean, I plan to include East Asia as my regional focus in my Social Studies concentration or at least get a secondary in East Asian Studies, as I believe there is a lot of work to be done in my field in Korea. I would like to explore more of what development means through the framework of the separation, study refugees and their situation, and explore ways to turn the current tension brewing in the region to a peaceful resolution.

Finally, I would like to give my immense thanks to everyone at the Korea Institute for making this possible and giving me the experience of a lifetime. This program had a very deep impact on me, one that cannot be conveyed in words, as is my appreciation. I really hope that other people who will choose to participate will manage to enjoy themselves as much as I did, and appreciate South Korea to its fullest.