July 10, 2012
By Isobel Brown
Urban modernity. That was my initial impression of the city of Seoul subsequent to leaving Incheon Airport in South Korea. Countless skyscrapers and contemporary buildings loomed over the city, with glittering neon lights serving as stark yet lovely contrasts to the raven dark night sky. The traffic on the roads was overwhelming, with cars packed tightly next to each other like pieces of sardines. The streets our bus whizzed by were vibrant and bustling, adorned with assorted vendors and restaurants selling a variety of exotic cuisines. During the entire journey to Ewha University, where our group will be staying at for the next month, I kept my eyes resolutely glued to the scenes outside my window, anticipating what sight might appear next. The city seemed so energetic and full of life that I wondered if I would be able to explore all it has to offer in the span of four weeks.
However, although at first glance Seoul seemed to be an epitome of modernity and innovation, certain prominent historical locations continue to be crucial landmarks within the city. For instance, Kyongbokgung, one of the largest royal palaces built during the Choson era, is representative of the traditional architectural style utilized during its time. It was truly quite intriguing to observe the juxtaposition between the traditional Choson architecture of the palace and the various modern skyscrapers and office buildings surrounding it. It almost felt as if the palace still belongs in the Choson period, while its surroundings continue to shift and alter with time. There were also other local sites, such as Buddhist temples and shrines, which stood out amongst all the other contemporary buildings. However, I felt as if they add another layer of depth and intrigue to the city of Seoul. It demonstrates how, despite its modernity and technological advances, the city still perceives certain traditional values to be incredibly important.
Finally, the bus arrived at Ewha University, and my first impression of the campus was of how beautiful it seemed. Various Western style architecture adorn different parts of campus, with the famous “ECC” complex situated right next to the entrance of the school. The “ECC” complex, otherwise known as the Ewha Campus Center, was designed by the French architect Dominique Perrault. The campus center possesses glass windowpanes along the sides and extends underground. Once again, I was intrigued by the contrast of this incredibly modern architecture with the other Western-influenced buildings on campus. I felt as if, in its unique way, Ewha University encompasses some of the exquisite traits of spaces within Seoul, in that both modern and traditional buildings are compacted in one particular area.
It was only the first day, and I only caught fleeting glances of Seoul, but already I was ecstatic to explore all that the city has to offer. With so many sites to visit and places to discover, this month seems almost too short. I cannot wait for this experience of a lifetime to begin and to share my enthusiasm with family and friends.