Local Columnists

Mará Rose Williams: Avila students get a taste of cultural immersion in South Korea

Mará Rose Williams
Mará Rose Williams The Kansas City Star

Grace Stanton, 21, sees herself sitting with her grandchildren someday, talking about her college trip to Korea and what she learned about its food and culture.

By then she might have forgotten a lot of what she learned in campus classrooms, but “I’ll never forget this trip,” the Avila University nursing student said.

That’s the point of global education and cultural immersion, said Dotty Hamilton, one of the Avila professors who teaches an interdisciplinary class on food and culture.

This “destination classroom” concept is increasingly popular at universities. It’s supported by the Institute for the International Education of Students, which reports that studying abroad, no matter how long or short the experience, promises participants a lifetime of benefits. That could go a long way toward helping us all get along as technology shrinks the globe and expands community.

Stanton said she’ll never forget the taste of Korean bulgogi (thinly sliced beef and vegetables simmered in a sweet and salty broth) or bibimbap (steamed rice and vegetables served with an egg in a stone bowl).

Stanton and 21-year-old Kelsey Kattau joined six other Avila students and two professors on a weeklong trip to Seoul last month. The plan was to eat their way to a better understanding of the South Korean culture.

“The idea of the class is to use food as a lens to learn about cultures and some important world issues: trade, hunger and obesity,” Hamilton said.

She wanted her students to see how differently food is viewed in other parts of the world.

“Did you know that in Korea people never eat or drink alone? It is frowned upon,” said Kattau, who is from Bucyrus, a small community just south of the Johnson County line. “And in Korea you are not supposed to pour your own drink. It would be a sign that you have no friends. And it’s a sign of respect for a friend to pour your drink.”

How about this tidbit? “Koreans eat the same thing for breakfast that they eat for dinner,” Kattau said, a custom that goes back centuries.

“I tried to do that, but I caved in to Dunkin’ Donuts twice,” she said.

“Students learn about themselves, too,” Hamilton said.

Stanton was impressed with how much age is respected in Korea. “The oldest person is served by the youngest,” she said.

The experience is not only something she’ll always remember, Stanton said, “but it’s going to make me a better nurse, understanding other cultural norms.”

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.