My Impressions of Dokdo

 From August 7-9, 2012, 80 members of VANK comprised of employees, middle, high school, and college students traveled to Ulleungdo and Dokdo. I was one of the lucky attendees. The only boat to Ulleungdo left from Pohang at 10am. Our group from Seoul took a bus overnight, making sure we would catch the ferry on time. After arriving in Pohang, we went directly to see the sunrise at Homigot Sunrise Square (호미곶). This area is most famous for the two sculptures of hands which stand facing one other; one on land and one in the water. The placement of these sculptures is said to symbolize harmony and coexistence.

 After arriving at Pohang Ferry terminal and eating a hearty breakfast, we took our seats on the boat to Ulleungdo. Those who were easily seasick took medicine and prepared for the 3 hour journey ahead. We had arrived! Ulleungdo was more beautiful than I had thought. The island was covered in greenery and the water was extremely clear and clean.

Strolling around the area I noticed that most of the buildings and houses were in need of repair. It was obvious that families living on Ulleungdo had resided here for many generations. Almost all of the businesses were locally owned and pride in their lifestyle was evident. Citizens of Ulleungdo also seemed to heavily support Korea’s ownership of Dokdo. Signs of support were everywhere, even written on public walls.

Our first stop after lunch was the Dokdo museum which was located near the ferry port. This museum presented the history and current situation of Dokdo to visitors, and firmly disputed claims made by the Japanese government in regards to the ownership of Dokdo. We were provided a tour guide who thoroughly discussed these issues while answering our questions. All of the displays in the museum were written in Korean and English, which was useful for us non-native Korean speakers. After visiting the museum and speaking with many citizens of Ulleungdo, I began to strongly question my position on the ownership of Dokdo.  

Connected to the museum was a cable car which shared views of the surrounding area. From the top of the mountain, on clear days Dokdo is visible from the viewing deck. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy the day we went to spot the island.

As the evening drew near we ate dinner and eventually made our way back to the hotel. The hotel provided a conference area where we listened to presentations from VANK employees and discussed important issues. My team’s topic was focused around the novel “So Far from the Bamboo Grove” written by Yoko Kawashima Watkins. We discussed the book’s claims and historical references which should support these claim, then presented our opinions to the larger group. Other topics discussed included: China’s Northeast Project, Japan’s Maritime Proliferation Policies, Overseas Promotion of Dokdo, Promotion of Korean Culture, Promotion of Korean History, and Promotion of Issues Related to Korea.

Our first day of travel was packed full of enlightening experiences and  the next day would be even more exciting. We were going to Dokdo! With a large breakfast in our bellies we headed towards the Dokdo ferry terminal. The ferry to Dokdo had to be specially chartered and could only travel when the weather was nice. Luckily that day the weather was perfect! The trip took about 2 ½ hours until we sighted  the two small rocks which form the island of Dokdo: Dongdo “동도” and Suhdo “서도”( east island and west island). Currently, two Korean citizens reside on Suhdo, therefore we were unable to travel there. Instead we made our way to the shore of Dongdo.

We took many pictures and were greeted by many friendly police officers who were stationed on the island.  Although Dokdo was isolated, something about the island felt warm and welcoming. I could only then truly understand why Koreans tried so hard to protect this precious island. It was not just out of pride for their country, but because they cared about taking care of Dokdo and protecting their home.

 After an hour of taking pictures and thanking the officers for their service so far from land, we boarded the boat back to Ulleungdo. Finishing our second day at the hotel we continued discussing the previous night’s topics by performing short skits.  We were then given post-its and asked to write down our future hope and dreams for the world, then placed them on a large map in the front of the room. It became clear to me at that instant, just how important each person in the room was. Those 80 people would one day play an important role in changing in the world, and I was proud to be part of that dream.  

The third day was comprised of an exciting bus tour around Ulleungdo. We visited many scenic places and more importantly tasted Ulleungdo’s famous pumpkin taffy “호박엿”! After a proper farewell to Ulleungdo we boarded a boat and enjoyed a nap during the ride back to Pohang.

After three full days of travel, excitement and enlightenment, it was time to go home. Through lectures, activities, and travel I can truly say this camp was one of the most insightful and interesting experiences I have ever had. If given the chance I would love travel to Ulleungdo and Dokdo again and highly recommend these destinations. I must thank VANK for giving me this opportunity. It is an experience I will never forget!

By Kyndra Love from USA,
An international intern of VANK

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