How cafeteria courage got me a passport to Korea…Well, almost

Posted on Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

You know that feeling, walking into the cafeteria  without knowing anyone? It can be tough. I had just gotten my food from the Wilson Center’s café and it dawned on me I didn’t have anyone to sit with. I quickly looked around the seating area; every single table was taken. I walked up to two girls sitting at a table and asked to sit with the. Of course they said yes. I mean, realistically speaking, who’s going to say no? Come to find out, both the girls are interning in Washington, D.C. from South Korea. Just like all of us Aggies up here in D.C., the Asan Academy in South Korea sent about 30 interns to the capital city as well. As our conversation progressed one of the girls mentioned she was helping coordinate a traditional Korean photo shoot featuring traditional Hanbok. Hanbok is the term referring to ancient Korean garments usually worn by royalty. Hanbok had been on display at the Wilson Center for several weeks, so I had a general idea of what she was talking about.
Fast forward a couple weeks and I had made friends with several of the Korean students. We went to the movies, talked about music (FYI, K-Pop is not actually cool in Korea), and shared our favorite foods. Later, the students hosted a mixer. I got to taste even more Korean food, play games, practice using chopsticks, and watch a traditional performance of Korean drums—and a gong, can’t forget the gong.

 Korean rice cakes, sushi, and patties Baduk, similar to checkers

When the time came for the photo shoot we were all well acquainted and had a lot of fun with it. I got to wear the modern version of the traditional wear called “fusion Hanbok”. We took the pictures at the Lincoln and Korean War Memorials. The Korean President was in town that day so we had a bit of a crowd.  

Me in Fusion Hanbok at the Lincoln Memorial
Befriending a group of amazing people from a different and ancient culture really challenged me to analyze American society. What does it mean to be an American? Is it something we’re born into? Something we learn? I’d encourage everyone travelling to D.C. to take advantage of the rich global aspects of the city and its people.
My two cents:
  • Don’t be afraid to sit with people you don’t know at lunch time
  • Be curious about other cultures and people (including your own!)
  • Eat lots of food and listen to music from around the world 
Jessica Wiggins
Hosting Office: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Washington, D.C. - Fall 2015

Tags: Cafeteria, Center, Culture, DC, Korea, Wilson