It has already been over half a year since I stayed in Phoenix to participate in the Humphrey Fellowship program. As I experienced a lot that I had never thought of before, the last six months were unforgettable for me, especially the fantastic adventure I had last winter break. I had a long road trip with my family from Phoenix to Vancouver to spend Christmas with a relative who lives in Vancouver, Canada.
I headed to Seattle first to go to the Canadian border. It took a full three days from Phoenix to Seattle via Las Vegas. And after looking around downtown Seattle and driving north for an hour, I arrived at the border between the United States and Canada. The picture above was taken by my wife when we came back to the United States from Canada. When we arrived at the border to enter Canada, all of our family members were so nervous that no one could dare to take a picture. It’s always stressful to meet an immigration officer and go through immigration procedures; this time, it was significantly more.
Have you ever crossed the border by land? For some people, it may not be unusual. However, crossing the border by land is very special for South Koreans. It was also my first time to undergo immigration in a car, not an airport, even though I have traveled to 15 countries.
The sea borders South Korea in three directions – east, west, and south. And to the north is North Korea. There is the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South Korea and North Korea, with more than one million soldiers on both sides checking that nobody crosses it.
Twenty years ago, when relations between South and North Korea were still good, South Koreans were able to enter the north by land and tour some areas, such as Kaesong and Geumgang Mountain. It was also discussed to rebuild the railway connecting the two Koreas and connecting it with the railways of China and Russia. But now, relations between the two Koreas have deteriorated, and everything has been suspended. And South Koreans were banned from going to North Korea. Therefore, South Korea is connected to China and Russia through North Korea, but it is actually an island country. So I had never crossed the border by land before, and I was very nervous about my first drive-through immigration. Fortunately, it was easier than I anticipated. I handed mine and my family’s passports to the officer, and he asked me a few questions, and that was it.
By the way, why was it a special experience for me to cross the border by car? Of course, it was special because it was the first time. But the long journey I took to get to the border is more valuable for me.
It took us three days to get from Phoenix to Seattle. During that trip, I felt the vast nature of America as I drove along the freeway on the endless land. On the road through Las Vegas to Oregon, I saw the “Next Gas 160 Mile” sign and searched for a gas station to fill up the gas. At a restaurant in a small town, we had freshly fried potatoes and the best hamburgers made by a 70-year-old lady. And on the mountain road to Seattle, I had to put chains on tires because of heavy snow.
After our trip to Canada, we arrived in Las Vegas on December 31 on our way to Phoenix and enjoyed New Year’s fireworks with my family among a crowd of onlookers. All these were new things I had never experienced before coming to America. And if I had chosen a flight, I could have arrived sooner, but I am sure I would have missed these precious experiences. Before going on this trip, my wife complained that it would take only three hours by plane, so why drive for three days? But when we returned to Phoenix, we fell in love with the road trip.
As a reporter specializing in Korean Peninsula issues, I have tried to contribute to improving inter-Korean relations. I’m sure that’s one of the duties of a Korean reporter. But now, once I return to Korea, I have one more reason to contribute to improving inter-Korean relations. If South and North Korea discuss peace on the Korean Peninsula and South Koreans can pass through North Korea by land again, I hope to go on a long road trip through North Korea to China and Russia.