Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Dokdo with a cohort of other native English Teachers from all over Korea. The trip, sponsored by Gyeongsangbuk-do and the Dokdo foundation consisted of 3 JAM PACKED (see schedule below) days on Ulleungdo, and of course, eventually, Dokdo.
<4AM BUS —>9AM PORT –>12PM ULLEUNGDO *NEXT DAY* 2HRS–> DOKDO>
For those unfamiliar, Dokdo consists of several islands east of mainland Korea, and west of Japan. The islets have been a point of contention between Korea and Japan, as both countries claim the islands are their territory. Given the history between the two countries (think the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula) the issue brings heavy emotion here in Korea, especially in the realm of politics.
Were the foreign teachers and I used as a propaganda piece in the trip? I mean, yes, to an extent. The trip was funded by organizations with aims at promoting the claim of Korean sovereignty to the islets. And why else would we be given neck towels adorned with the words reading “Iheart Dokdo”? I mean honestly some great PR planning given the era of instagram and social media. Who knows how many people would end up googling “Dokdo”, because, well, who outside of Korea really knows about the islands (no tea, no shade, just facts on that )
But given that I have been in Korea for some time now, I felt as if this was a trip that is on my Korea travel bucket list (yes, that is a thing I have going).
Dokdo – one of the most difficult locations in Korea to visit. Often times, ferry services to the islets are cancelled due to poor weather conditions. Given that Dokdo is only accessible from Ulleungdo – A 3 hour ferry ride from extreme eastern Korea (which, if we are honest is far AF from urban Korea), the trip is risky given that you may not be able to even step foot onto the fabled land.
I had visited Ulleungdo one time before, during Korean Thanksgiving vacation. I can say hands down that Ulleungdo is the most beautiful place I have visited in Korea. Forget Jeju, the pristine waters and dramatic landscape of Ulleungdo, along with the peaceful evening calm makes it truly unlike anywhere else in Korea.
Ulleungdo also is home to some seriously bomb food. There is a hotteok joint which serves, pumpkin, pizza, and squid hotteok. Pumpkin and squid are the culinary specialties of Ulleungdo. Give it a try if you have the chance! Affordable and delicious.
Upon returning from this trip, I gave presentations at both of my schools on my experience. Students met me with the common question “How did you feel when you made it to Dokdo?” This question to me was very odd. Showing me that for them Dokdo is something that brings about true emotion and feeling. To someone like me who is a foreigner, if I am honest, I see this issue as something that is in the news rather than something that I myself have concrete connections to. In answering the question, I gave a response among the lines of “I felt appreciative” Appreciative that I was able to learn about Dokdo, but also learn this about myself. That the issues we often view as so serious and connected to are ultimately relative to someone else or people in another country. Also, nationalism is a nasty thing.
Ad astra per aspera