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Finding Soul in Seoul...E-learning Week and Beyond
Friday, September 16, 2011
World is Open in Korea:
I am back from 10 wonderful days in Seoul. First I had to arrive and the wonderful Incheon airport is so relaxing compared to Atlanta, Newark, LAX, Riyadh, Chicago, and other airports I have flown through this year. Detroit was also fabulous. So quiet and peaceful there. I recommend it to everyone. My former student, Dr. KJ Kim, picked me up. She was the last one to see me (and for me to get a picture with) when I departed two years ago when she dropped me off at the airport. KJ is the top person I have published with. We have nearly 30 publications together if you count conference may be over 30. Not sure. She is an excellent writer and determined researcher. Later in the week she had to go to a conference in Taiwan so she volunteered to pick me up.

First Stop...Kyung Hee University:
As indicated in my previous post, during my time in Korea, I had a chance to speak at Hanyang University, Ewha Womens University, Kyung Hee University, and Sungkyunkwan (SKKU) University. First was Kyung Hee University...after fighting intense Friday afternoon traffic (and I mean intense), we arrived just a tad late. Kyung Hee is well worth the wait as it is one the most beautiful universities in Seoul and perhaps the world. Unfortunately, I usually speak in one of the first two buildings on campus and do not get to see much...especially, when we arrive late like that evening.

It was great to see so many former students and friends at Kyung Hee. Makes the 24 hours of traveling well worth it. And then come the gifts including a 600+ gig harddrive from one of Inae's students, Hyunmi Kim. She had come to my talk 2 years previously with a gift. And it is not just any harddrive; this one can fit in your shirt pocket. Cool. In addition, the cover is exquisite with an ancient Korean scene. The mother of pearl business card case from Inae and her Kyung Hee students is also most lovely.

Below are a few pictures from Kyung Hee University on Friday September 2nd. I gave a talk there just 2-3 hours after getting on my plane. Yikes! My former student, Dr. Inae Kang, is there. She is an expert in problem-based learning, constructivism, carnival pedagogy, and museum education. Always a delight to stop in there and see Inae and her students. Inae had a lovely dinner provided to all of us. I gave one short talk on wikis in elementary school and then we all sat down and ate. Next, I gave a longer talk on the use of shared online video to transform education. Inae brought up a good point about the examples that I used were not transformative enough. She is always pushing me to think and that is good, even when just arriving from a 14 hour flight.

Ewha Womens University:
Ewha has a fascinating new entrance built by an architect from France (see below...3rd picture includes many alumni of my program in Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University--Munghee Ju Kang, Young-Soo Kim, Jaesam Chung, etc.). My IST department has a partnership with Ewha so I try to speak there every time that I visit Seoul. This was the third time I spoke there or so I think (2002, 2009, and 2011). The first time I went there, my driver from Sejong University (Mooyoung) thanked me profusely for allowing to drive me there. I asked why and he said that the women at Ewha were extremely pretty and males like him were normally not allowed on campus. I smiled and found out later that he was right.

SKKU...More than 6 Centuries Old:
On Thursday morning, it was on to Sungkyunkwan (SKKU) University. This university if the oldest in Seoul, dating back to 1398. It is a private university and used by Samsung. As the pictures indicate, centuries ago, it was for Korean royalty and the wealthy. I gave two talks at SKKU, both more on the pedagogy side of the fence. All my talks in Korea can be downloaded as color PDF files from my archived talks in

Last Speaking Stop...Hanyang!
Hanyang and, its partner, Hanyang Cyber University was my final presentation (7th of the week). It was my 4th time presenting on that campus I think (twice in 2002, once in 2009, and now 2011). I guess they know my name pretty well by now at Hanyang and Hanyang Cyber U. My delightful friend, Dr. Yeonwook Im, arranged this. She has a chapter in my Handbook of Blended Learning back in 2006.

I was honored to have the Vice President of Hanyang Cyber university sitting in the front row for my talk. He even held up his hands during my talk to indicate that the world was open for learning in Korea.

The Conference:
I also spoke at E-Learning week at COEX in Seoul and was on a general panel related to the future of education and technology in the 2nd last session of the conference. Saw some good friends from the USA there like Barry Fishman and Elliot Soloway from the University of Michigan and Cathie Norris from the University of North Texas. Also there is Mohamed Alley from Athabasca University; a mobile learning expert.

I have been a fan of Elliot Soloway's work since reading about him in AI (Artifical Intelligence) Magazine back in the mid 1980s and then seeing him speak at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference a few years later. He is quite the presenter. He knows how to use facial gestures, tone, images, and new data to captivate his audiences. He used to do these solo, but now Cathie Norris joins him for a dynamic duo on most trips. They make a great presentation team. I sometimes wish I had a partner to present with.

During the 10 days in Seoul I also saw many former students and visiting scholars of mine as well as friends from graduate school long ago at the University of Wisconsin. I counted 26 people from Korea who I saw during the week who were friends, former students, or colleagues.

The conference was good. I met people not only from the USA and Korea but also from the Philippines, Russia, Finland, and Malaysia. There were many high ranking government people in attendance for the opening ceremony and ribbon cutting. I got there just as it started. The E-Learning Week conference people wanted to be sure I was there for it though I did not get to cut the ribbon (see below).

Picture with Barry Fishman (he got his master's from my department just before I started) and Kyungmee Lee (she got a fellowship last year from IU but went to the University of Toronto instead).

Picture after my invited (20 minute) talk:

From Soul to Seoul (the view):
I stayed on the 26th floor of the Intercontinental at COEX. There was artwork on display in front of COEX related to environmental awareness. I took a few pictures of it. After 10-15 minutes of this, I handed my camera to my student, Jeong-eun Oh, to take a picture of me and she accidentally dropped and broke my Canon Elph pocket camera. Ten minutes later, she bought me a new one inside COEX. How convenient...though I pleaded with her not to. It is very nice. Gone is my red one but now I have a black one. Same camera just a newer model. It was dying anyway and I told her so. I think every time I need a new camera from now on, I will go to Korea and give her my camera and accidently drop it before she can get reach out for it.

Lovely view of the Han River from my room. See view below. This picture does not do justice to it.

Each day I did a couple of early morning miles on the treadmill while listening to the best of the Who on my iPad. Then a quick shower and review of my presentation before a 5 minute breakfast with a wonderful view of a famous Buddhist temple (more pictures of this temple are provided later). Once again, see below (not my best picture of the trip...I have hundreds better. Scroll down for more).

I went to Catholic for grades 3 to 8 so I have been conditioned to eat fast and get out on the playground. Then I was typically wisked away for a talk somewhere north of the Han River. One day, however, I went to the demiliterized zone (DMZ) with Dr. Meeyong Kim and her family. Meeyong was supposed to be my visiting scholar this year but the Korean government would not approve her visa. She teaches elementary school in Daejeon which is about an hour by train south of Seoul.

The DMZ:
The DMZ was quite fascinating. Standing on the North Korea side of the bargaining table. Wow. Cool. We were told when we could take pictures and when we could not. At one observation stop, we could see a couple of North Korean towns and even make our people walking in town or riding bikes. The world seemed open in North Korea, if only for that brief moment. I did walk down to part of the 3rd tunnel which was uncovered a couple of decades back. Interesting and I managed to walk inside for a bit despite my claustrophia. The world was not open there.

Museums of Seoul:
I also got to three museums when in Seoul--The National Museum of Korea, the Kimchi Museum, and Ewha Womens University Museum. All were great explorations and informative. The Kimchi Museum took Barry Fishman and I about 15 or 20 minutes to tour. It is located inside of COEX--the area where the conference was held. So much kimchi!

The national musuem is always a delight. Okhwa Lee (an old friend from grad school days) and I saw some old scrolls (books) documenting kings and queens from Korea from the 18th century which the French government had recently returned.

A Floating Island?
We also visiting a place called the "floating island" that is being built on the Han River. It is akin to the Opera House in Sydney (to learn more, watch this video). We could get inside but there are no shops completed yet. Soon I envisioned many people gathered there to relax with a cup of coffee or tea. Looks like this will be a huge cultural draw and tourist meeting point in the very near future. My next trip to Seoul, I will certainly visit it.

Downtown Seoul...Nanta and the Cheonggyecheon Stream:
I did not just visit museums in my spare time. Last Thursday September 8th I saw a show called Nanta . Nanta is a show involving kitchen utensils and cooking akin to Blue Man Group but without the blue body paint. I guess, for me, it is best to describe it as an Asian spin-off of Blue Man Group. However, Nanta has its own spin offs throughout Asia including Bangkok, Thailand. There are many acts and performances throughout the 90 minute show.

Strolling the Cheonggyecheon:
After the Nanta show, I had a stroll down the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Cheonggyecheon used to be covered by a roadway system but the former mayor of Seoul, Myung-bak Lee (who now is President of Korea) decided to beautify Seoul. He uncovered about 8.4 kilometers of it at a cost of $900 million dollars. The funny thing is that it flows in the opposite direction of the original stream.

I walked down the Cheonggyecheon with my doctoral student, Jeong-eun Oh. Jeong-eun recently got married (June, 2011) and was starting to work on her dissertation proposal. I always like running down or walking that stream. When I was in Korea two years ago, my hotel (the President Hotel) was near very there.

Check out the pictures below. My camera sometimes takes great pictures at dusk. I think this was one of those times.

Octoberfest for Alumni Gathering:
Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris joined a group of current and former students and visiting scholars of my department on Friday night September 9th. We met at Octoberfest near Gangnam station. Gangnam is a very happening part of Seoul and not too far from my hotel (just 2 stops on the subway). This is the 3rd time I have organized an IU alumni type of event in Seoul for my IST department and 2nd time at Octoberfest. This time it was a smaller group due to the fact that Korean Thanksgiving was starting that weekend.

The Bar Scene in Seoul:
Then it was time for another Korean ritual...going to another bar for shots and other assorted drinks. Just walking the streets at night with a group can be most fun in Seoul. There are so many pubs in Seoul and especially around places like Gangnam to choose from.

The Open Air Pubs of Seoul:
After Octoberfest, Daniel Craig (IST doc student working in Seoul), Hosang Cheon (former IU master's student in Telecom who designed all my Websites 10 years ago)), and I visited an open air pub and where we grilled and than eat some clams, muscles, scallops, and other assorted seafood. It was a very interesting late night ritual there in Seoul. The beer still tasted quite good at the time. By soon it got pretty late and it was time to head back to my hotel (3 am?).

Bongeunsa...a Zen Buddhist Temple:
Across from my hotel was a marvelous place called Bongeunsa. Bongeunsa is a Buddhist temple in the Gangnam-gu area of Seoul which is near Samseong station and COEX. According to Wikimapia, "Bongeunsa was founded in 794 and was reconstructed in 1498 becoming the main temple of the Korean Seon (Zen) sect of Buddhism from 1551 through 1936. A fire in 1939 destroyed most of the buildings, and other parts of the temple were destroyed during the Korean War." I love both religious sites and historical sites, so this was quite special to me.

My colleague from graduate school days, Dr. Okhwa Lee, lives near there. She stopped by the day before I left Seoul and I finally got a chance to meander through (though I had visited the place 2 years ago). Each day and night I would look at it but it took me 8 days to finally walk across the street. Okhwa and I had a relaxing stroll through the woods behind it and later found a chance to meditate inside it. The juxtaposion between the city-scape of Seoul and the calm and peacefulness of Bongeunsa is something one remembers for a lifetime.

The Final Night and Day...
One last view from my hotel room at night is below. It was so lovely that I often never closed the curtains. The hotel desk people told me I had one of the best rooms at the Intercontinental. That is saying a lot since it is a lovely hotel. Cost me a big extra but worth it I think.

Final Morning:

Yes, it is Sunday morning September 11th...Time to head back to Indiana. Oops, not yet. My student Jeong-eun Oh shows up with her new husband.

Korean people are so tall compared to us little Americans.

Who else might show up? Well, it is Dr. SuJin Son. SuJin is a former student of Inae Kang's who was assigned to me back in 2002 to be my driver when I first visited Seoul. Since that time, she has gotten her master's in educational technology at Kyung Hee and then her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. We published 2-3 things on blended learning in corporate settings in Korea and knowledge management and intellectual capital stuff. She is still my driver...driving me back to the airport. But first a stop in Isadong for shopping.

Then it is on to Isadong. Another popular tourist as well as local destination on a Saturday morning. I get many small gifts there. Yes, they can all fit in my overstuffed suitcase. Thank goodness. Now I do not have to check any bags.

GPS comes in very handy in Seoul, though sometimes it sends you down streets that are quite narrow as I found out earlier in the week. Many of the main streets are 4 or 5 lanes wide. Amazing! SuJin relies on GPS a lot as do most of the people who drive me from place-to-place. The only time there is no GPS was when I had taxi drivers (all men). This time GPS takes us from Isadong (north of the Han River) to Building 63 (south of the Han River). Given it is Thanksgiving weekend in Korea, many people are out of town already and it is fairly clear sailing from one place to another. Everything is a relatively quick 20 or 30 minute drive. Of course, if you jump into a crazy taxicab driver in Seoul, like Okhwa Lee and I did the day before, everything is a 5 or 10 minute drive and you hold your breath the entire way. Smile.

GPS takes us to my final lunch in Korea for this trip. We take the elevator up to the 58th floor of Building 63; the tallest building in Seoul. This is a skyscraper. The restaurant was called something like "In the Clouds" and we were in the clouds for sure. A couple of pictures of the Han River.

Back to the Incheon airport for another flight home.

Boarding for home...Time to board the plane and who do I see but Santa Claus. No, it is Elliot Soloway from Michigan. Of course, he got business class all the way. I tried to sit with him, but was conveniently sent back to economy or should I say economy comfort.

Final Thoughts...So many old friends and former students and colleagues are in Korea. I count nearly 100 now. It was difficult to say goodbye to them all. But I will return. Just when is uncertain and that is why I stayed a tad longer than normal this time. I hope it is soon but you never know.

How often do you get to see two great friends from graduate school in a distant country? Not often enough! Below are Okhwa Lee and Miheon Jo who I met at the University of Wisconsin a quarter century ago. Hard to believe. We were all highly precocious elementary students when we started. Ha ha. I think it is appropriate that I end with that pic. Right? Right!

Anyway, Korea was grand! Too much fun I think. Wish my father who fought in the Korean War could have come with me as well as my son Alex who was adopted from Seoul when he was 21 months old. Alex is now 23 and approaching 24 next month. My father passed away back on July 27, 1995 when the Korean War Memorial just happened to be opened.

I still remember the pictures my dad brought home from the war (mostly from Busan). I have a few at home with me now thanks to my mother's insistence. It all looks so different now. And I remember a night while in graduate school back in 1988 I think for those of us wishing to adopt from Korea. The speaker had just returned from Seoul with some lovely slides in a slide projector. There was no PowerPoint, Blogger (or blogs), wikis, OER portals for sharing, Facebook, or Picasa back in the late 1980s and much less when my father returned from the war. Still they just as effective pictures.

Thanks everyone for the great time in Seoul. I found a piece of my soul that was missing.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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