Friday, September 30, 2016


The street is busy, with cars and people, but clean, and somehow comfortable. Seoul is special in that sense, different from the other major cities in Asia that I have spent time in. It does not perpetuate the chaos I am used to surrendering myself to in Hanoi or Bangkok or Hong Kong or Delhi. It doesn’t even feel as intimidating as Manhattan, despite the lack of any language barrier there. In the week there I didn’t once feel the weight of the millions that call the city home, nor the millions of miles between my physical and mental world and that of the thousands I passed on the streets, on the bus, in the subway, markets, palaces, and temples. It was truly bizarre, how safe and comfortable I felt in a city so alien to me. I think it had to do with the details of the city, there’s always truth in the details.     

Brothers chase a rabbit around a group of trees. The boys are not much bigger than the bunny, and second guess themselves whenever he lets them close. On the grass next to them an elderly couple play badminton on the lawn. The grassy area is overlooking Seoul. From here it is impossible to tell that ten million people are moving through the streets and subways in the city below. From here the city is a skyline composed of skyscapes towering over high-rises towering over palaces towering over villages. Markets sprawl across block here and there, full of more food and clothes and physical pieces of Korean culture than anyone could ever need. The setting sun casts a golden tint over the city, trying to homogenize the cityscape but failing to compete with the contrasting architectures of heritage and progress. Looking away from the city, Namsam Mountain climbs in altitude until its summit where the N Seoul Tower reaches skyward. A cable car is slowly making its way toward the tower’s base. Travelers and locals share in the view from the top while lovers add their locks to the fences at various lookout points around the monolithic tower. I sit on the grass beside my peers, watching events close and far, caught in the magic of this place as they delve into our purpose here. I often feel this way with them, like a fly on their wall, documenting what I can, grateful all the while.  

            On one side of the street are new buildings, tall and chromatic. On the other are the walls of an old palace. Walking down the street businessmen walk hurriedly to offices or meetings, young men in police uniforms stand at regular intervals around the palace walls, women in pants suits stand at bus stops beside older women they’ll follow onto the bus when it arrives. Groups of teenager’s flock into the palace, clad in traditional gowns, at once both subtle and stunning to the eye. They take photographs together in front of the old pagodas and ponds. Inside the palace generations of locals and tourists walk through the old but not forgotten heritage of Korean culture. A soft summer rain begins to fall and umbrellas come out over the beautiful dresses and the heads of the girls, but none of the thousands of tourists flee palace grounds for shelter. The rain is inviting, and there is no need to escape it. I think there is the greatest truth to Seoul, that even the forces that so often drive out, invite me in. There is a softness, a subtlety, and so much beauty in such a place. The country’s heritage is not at odds with its progress, its culture is evolving without forgetting. The world of business and economic progress does not ignore the world of artistic expression. Perhaps I am na├»ve, but I felt harmony in Seoul, in every capacity of the city’s identity, and I think we all saw beauty in that balance. Whatever the World Folk Art Movement becomes, I think we all aspire to achieve in the spaces we create those feelings of harmony, invitation, excellence. 

Josh Lane
World Folk Art Movement

The Gift of Determination

The Gift of Determination

The day before I left to join the WFAM team on our trip to Seoul, one of my summer program classmates asked how it felt to be “going home” to South Korea. I’m of Korean heritage-- I look Korean and speak some of the language-- so I understand her misunderstanding. But I had to clarify that I had only been to Korea a couple times before and was born in the States, so I consider myself an American.

This got me thinking about identities, and the disparity can occur when the identities you choose for yourself are different than the identities the “other” imposes on you. This disparity is often caused by a simple misunderstanding, but can proliferate into larger issues if the expectations of an identity group become harmful stereotypes.

In Seoul, we experienced countless artistic spaces in the form of museums, palaces, and public parks. Art was even embedded into restaurants, skyscrapers, the airport, and train stations. My experience in Seoul, no matter how short it was, taught me to seek art in the most unlikely places.

Now that’s a piece of Seoul that I carry with me as part of my identity. Seoul isn’t simply a part of my identity because of my Korean ethnicity, but because I experienced a culture where art is so embedded in beautifying our environment. It’s fundamentally transformed how I view my world.

This also reinforced that as a professional in social enterprise, I need to allow people to voice their own identities, from my everyday interactions to the larger implications of my research.

The beauty of the World Folk Art Movement is helping others create paths to express their chosen identities through art. I’m so humbled to be part of such an amazing movement and I can’t wait to see countless identities come together through art. 

Grace Liu
World Folk Art Movement 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Some observations on Seoul and how it invited me to be there.

Some observations on Seoul and how it invited me to be there.
MJR Montoya, Faculty Advisor

Managing a trip with six students can be a massive undertaking.  It’s filled with safety and security issues, receipt gathering, and compliance to an agenda that has to be flexible and provide for an overall rewarding experience.  I’ve done several of these trips, and they have mostly gone well because of the exceptional students I have.  Sometimes, I encounter hiccups because the place we’re visiting produces challenges that can’t always be accounted for. 

But our trip to Seoul was… inviting… in all the ways that word can be met. I felt, from the moment that I left the airport, invited to take part in the way we traveled to our hotel.  The city has a way of making me believe in the seriousness of attending to my day, and after a very long flight across the Pacific, this is strangely comforting.  I felt as though the city was aware of its people and contained us, citizens and guests alike, in a way that expressed its diligence and commitment.  Architectural space contains a language in it, and I was keenly aware that the shape of the buildings, the pace of the buses (much more deliberate in order to save energy), and the posture of the natural landscapes so elegantly interwoven with the steel and glass of the city were all deliberate.  I was reminded that when someone cares for their home one is expected to respect the care and preparation when one enters a home. But more than this, I felt like the city was like a teacher, it wanted me to reflect on how I respected my own home, and although this was an intangible part of the city’s vocabulary, I was asked by the city to think of home and to feel at home all at once.  This summarizes a form of invitation that I have rarely felt in an urban landscape.  I have always been in awe of cities, but rarely have I felt the tense nostalgia for place that Seoul encouraged me to feel.

It is not uncommon for one to see a group of elderly men and women walking around unescorted at 11:30pm.  I remember thinking that had this been an American city, this would have been alarming.  But the city has such a deep respect for its most vulnerable, its children and its elderly, that at both ends of the spectrum, they are encouraged to roam as they please. In the case of children, they are encouraged to play. Every restaurant we visited and every institution we met encouraged playfulness, regardless of age.  I felt middle-aged not because I am middle-aged, but because I was young and old all at once, and those were feelings to be celebrated.  I witnessed children turning mundane activities into an opportunity for craft.  I saw older citizens laugh and joke as though the streets were their sitting rooms, and each time this occurred, I felt invited to be a part of the city – as a listener and as a voice in a cacophony of proud voices that echoed in the green, in the steel, and in the hearts of children and elders.  I felt respected... and valued.  

One afternoon, it rained on the palace grounds.  We had just concluded a set of filming for the documentary that will help capture the work we did in Seoul.  We stood on a bed of soft grass – even the rain was unobtrusive. It invited us to rest.  It was no coincidence that a small swarm of dragonfly fluttered nearby.  They were not alarmed by what we were doing, and they did their own thing.  But in the sum total of it all, we were all at home and at rest.   I’ve rarely felt a city so in tune with its past and its future, with nature and the workspace of a city. I’m glad I was invited there, and I still feel that way now that I’m home. If only all trips were like this one.  Speaking for myself I would be a much more complete thinker, and a better human being.

Sep 2016