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2019 Textbook Seminar for Educators of Paraguay

Understanding South Korea (and better understanding Paraguay at the same time)

Carlos Gómez Florentín
Carlos Gómez Florentín
Professor, Universidad Católica de Asunción
The experience of crossing the world, traveling for about 26 hours by flight, crossing continents, seas, airports and customs to get to South Korea represents a rare journey for the residents of Paraguay. Much more common is living with the Korean community of Paraguay settled in certain strategic neighborhoods of Asuncion and other cities, also with much presence in trade and agricultural and livestock production. Therefore, regardless of the closeness we experience with the Korean community living in Paraguay, there is seldom an opportunity to see its origin. From that moment on, a deep ignorance and misunderstanding is generated, which is explained by the difficulty of bridging the two countries at the level of experiential learning trips such as the one I had the chance to live.

In this misunderstanding lies precisely the importance of making these trips, of experiencing the culture of the brothers who arrived in Paraguay more than five decades ago. From those of us who once heard stories about the country they left, the sorrow they experienced as they migrated in search of new horizons, and even the pride with which they speak from the present, rejoicing in the success of the modern and developed South Korea that everyone speaks of.

So the experience of coming to South Korea with the mission of talking about the forms of teaching the history of Paraguay represented a great challenge and a great uncertainty. I did not know what to expect from Korean scholars' knowledge of Paraguay. Nor did I have a clear understanding of the characteristics of the Korean educational model. To resolve this second deficiency, I began to read several South Korean history books in order to learn something more before arriving to the country. What's more, a good part of the 26 hours of flight and connections I spent reading these books that I hoped would better inform me about the situation of the country in historical perspective. As a historian, it is always a challenge and a pleasure to learn more about distant countries and cultures. The task, of course, with a country with so many thousands of years of history, was overwhelming.

However, the itinerary provided by the fantastic hosts that we had allowed us to travel through the deep history of China, to the peaks of modernity that it lives today, going through the different stages that with much sacrifice, work and decision made possible their time in the XXI century. The first stop of our visit consisted of a series of talks and exchanges about the teaching of the history of Paraguay and South Korea in our respective countries during our stay at the Academy of Korean Studies. This center of study for us was highlighted as a possible example of how to project the importance of our history through the creation of a research center that decisively promotes the study and revaluation of the culture, history, economy and tourism of our country. We learned sensitively from the different moments experienced by the teaching of history in South Korea. Something we found was also very similar to the Paraguayan experience and the product of the various historical moments that the country lived through. On the other hand, the commitment to the future was inspiring in terms of the changes we might promote in the teaching of our country's history.

We also had the opportunity to discuss the impressions that exist in South Korea and Paraguay of our respective histories. It turns out that ignorance leads to misunderstandings and a lack of agreement between the respective visions of each country. Just as there is a lot of ignorance in Paraguay about the history of South Korea, so it is in South Korea about the history of Paraguay. These meetings are then the ideal opportunity to experience firsthand the learning of our respective histories.

The knowledge of the deep history of South Korea is experienced through excursions to the nerve centers of the country's history. This already began with our own arrival when we had the opportunity to visit the Hawseong Haenggung World Heritage Site. This followed after the seminars of the Academy of Korean Studies (which by the way, we left with a lot of regret as we felt at home during our stay in the place, enjoying a first class academic environment in a paradise of nature with all the comforts of a first class university). So we visited the historic areas of Gyeongju I in Daereungwon (Cheonmachong). Then we continue our visit to the historical areas of Gyeongju II with stops at Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto.

The next day we left for the city of Busan, a city that we had read about on the plane as the "San Francisco of South Korea " from the western view of the Americans. The falling in love with Busan was automatic. Coming from a Mediterranean country, the port and the beach already seduced us from the start. The walks through Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, the visit to the Busan Museum with all the history of the city and the memories of the Japanese occupation, the visit to the Provisional Capital Government Building in Busan, the visit to the Provisional Capital Memorial Hall, the visit to the Gamcheon Village and having an idea of the importance of the international market of Busan really showed us a city full of life and in contact with its deep history. As a goodbye to the beautiful Busan we went to the Memorial Cemetery of the UN, Taejongdae, to understand the country's most recent history during World War II.

Finally we reached our destination, Seoul, where we visited the traditional theater of Simcheong. An encounter with the deep history of the country without the need to speak the local language. The visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, in the middle of a global megacity like Seoul, was really impressive. So much history contained in the center of a core of world modernity as is the case of Seoul. A hypermodern city, overwhelming in size for us coming from Paraguay, but equally friendly and open to the presence of visitors eager to know more about Korean culture.

Lastly, the final tour with a visit to Korea's National Museum of Contemporary History really showed us the potential of an interactive museum that allows young people to learn about stories that in some cases date back as little as a couple of decades and show a country that has been transformed as much as today's South Korea. We also visited Bukchon Village, Myeongdong Cathedral and a quick visit to Insadong. Finally, with a deep gratitude to our guides, to the authorities of the Academy of Korean Studies, to the people of the Embassy that made our presence in South Korea possible, we headed for the airport, much wiser from knowing the experience of our Korean brothers and sisters.
Photo-2019 Textbook Seminar for Educators of Paraguay

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