“Al hamdu lillah.”
As I sneezed on the bus to the Khlong Klong village in Thailand, Archita, one of my Indonesian friends, whispered something in my ear. Responding to my confused look, she explained that the expression was Muslim, used for blessing the days ahead of others. I reiterated the words, dwelling on the handful of warmth they gave in this foreign land. Yet looking back on the past 10 days, I should’ve been the one to bless her, the others on the bus that day, and everyone of the ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshop (AKYNW).
From August 1 to 10, 20 Korean Youth Ambassadors met students from ASEAN member countries. Diverse as our nationalities were, we were greeted by a plethora of unknown languages and faces from our very first day. Without a moment to be left astray, however, a face popped out of the crowd and shook my hand. “Hi, what’s your name?”—and that’s when I met my beloved group members, bringing every moment into life.
With the theme of “Marine Conservation,” the AKYNW enabled us to visit various spots ranging from Suncheon, Busan to Geojae. We would greet each other in the same blue shirt, wake up as we chatted in the bus, and get down to discover the destination of the day. In Suncheon we strolled along the vast wetland. Every step we took there was life, where the tall grass grew and crabs scurried underneath. We let out identical gasps as we discovered a mudskipper, and appreciated the beauty of the bay, all of our faces wet and red with excitement. All the tired legs were worthwhile at this very scene of marine life.
Joyful from our maritime discovery, we participated in lectures and video-making projects. While lectures in KOEM and KIOST enlightened us on our sea, the video-making projects made us practice our thoughts. By groups of 12, all students worked on videos to spread the idea of marine conservation. Putting our ideas together, frantically racing to the Songdo Beach for shooting, and staying up late for the final touch: these were all the ingredients of our friendship and success in the contest. After all, the whole hardship was simply a blessing in disguise. It was through those hardships that we gathered yet another piece of memory, and how everyone of diverse nationalities called each other “Chingus (Friends, 친구).”
AKYNW broke the ice, setting me free for new connections. Such good memories and anticipation from the Korea Program was no different in Thailand. There were even more opportunities of networking, as more students from 11 different countries gathered. Every faces greeted me with a smile, quickly narrowing the distance among us as everyone chatted about K-pop and dramas like old school friends.
Thailand program offered more dynamic events. One day we were in the university listening to a lecture on ASEAN, planting mangrove trees in the remote forest, surrounded by a group of monkeys on the next. The highlight of the program, of course, would be the visit to Ketang Sea. The emerald water sparkled under the sunlight, showing no end as we glided on the water. Sightseeing was not the end—off the deck, we entered a mangrove tree habitat to plant seedlings. All 120 students were united under one single mission, the sublime goal of marine conservation.
In Thailand, the scope of discussions expanded from Korea to ASEAN. I could talk to anyone near me, and hear all about the culture of another nation I never knew before. In return, I introduced Korea, not to mention holding a 5-minute-long intensive course on basic Korean expressions. We would laugh at each other’s funny pronunciations, and become all ears to the stories of faraway countries. The realization that all those different people were sharing the same memories sent chills down my spine.
I said we “met” at first, but there’s more to say in this word “met,” as we have shared so much of each other, mingling in every way. When we meet again, I would return my blessing to Archita: Bless those 10 days, when all nationalities became one. Bless the times when we cooperated for the united goal of marine conservation, when we sweated, enjoyed, and patted each other on the back with laughter. Our time will be fleeting, but bless those everlasting moments when we became one.
Hyejin Lee, Korea, 2016 ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshop Youth Ambassador