Service members, from United States Forces Korea units, sat in the cushioned seats of chartered buses. They gazed through the bus windows and watched the rolling green rice paddies lining the paved roads. Bright sun rays cascaded over the glistening water that peaked through the rows of planted rice. This was the view that greeted service members as they rolled into the beginning of a three-day cultural tour throughout southern Korea.

The tour, hosted by the Ministry of National Defense, July 10-12, took attendees throughout different locations in South Korea with the goal of enhancing cultural awareness for service members stationed in Korea. The MND has been hosting this annual tour since 1972.

"Although there are many tourist destinations and places to visit in Korea,
understanding the culture, history and traditions helps provide unique
experiences, and helps raise awareness and appreciation of the Korean culture and the Korean rural areas," said Youn Jong-Min, assistant manager from Urban-Rural Linkage Support Department, Rural Community Resources Development Institute.

More than 45 service members learned about Korean culture by traveling
through various parts of the peninsula to support of the ROK-U.S. alliance.
"You definitely get to meet different kinds of people than you would in the city," said Airman 1st Class Daniela Khikevich, a vehicle maintainer, who is new to the peninsula, from 51st Logistic Readiness Squadron, Osan Air Base, South Korea.

"It's a completely different culture."

They visited locations from villages dating back from the Choson Dynasty,
villages by the East China Sea and even a German-influenced village.

"It's unlike anything you're going to get exploring by yourself," said Khikevich.

"This experience would be hard to discover on your own and it will be unlikely for you to stumble upon it when you're wandering around the community outside of military bases."

Charter buses transported visitors to Gaesil Village, Namhae Dumo Village,
Deutschen Park, Namhae Haebari Village and Imsil Cheese Village.

"I get to see the different layouts, the traditional style houses, the different kinds of food that you eat that's less westernized and less Americanized," said Khikevich.

Participants sampled traditional Korean meals ranging from fried fish known as saengseon twigim, ginseng flavored chicken, known as samgyetang, pork cutlet known as dongas, barbequed pork, known as samgyeopsal, and sliced pork, known as sooyook. These meals were often paired with side dishes, known as banchan, which include spicy fermented vegetables, known as kimchi, white rice and an anchovy-based soup.

After mealtimes, service members learned the process of proper Korean kitchen etiquette by separating their food waste, utensils, plates and trash at designated bins in the restaurant.

"I think experiencing the rural areas in Korea where the Korean culture and traditional lifestyles are best preserved helps service members become more comfortable with living in Korea," said Youn.

At night, service members stayed in Korean family-owned homes provided by the local villagers and were given the opportunity to experience the traditional Korean lifestyle. They slept on hardwood floors on a thin mattress pad, known as a yo.

"Through various experiences and exchanges with people in rural areas, we are able to be more familiarized with Korea," said Youn.

Service members experienced activities provided by the villages such as learning how to make yogurt, sampling a citron drink, riding in kayaks and banana boats, hiking through gardens filled with animal-shaped bushes and releasing paper lanterns into the sky with written wishes on them.

"My experience has overall been really positive and enlightening," said Khikevich.

"I would say that it's meant more for people who are open-minded and open to learning the culture, people who want to learn about our host nation and experience it from another perspective."