On the morning of Sept. 12, college students at Incheon International Airport were hugging, sobbing and saying goodbye as Koreans watched their Japanese friends enter the immigration checkpoint.
The two cultures have been at odds with each other for nearly a century, dating back to Japan's colonial rule of the peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
This newly formed relationship was developed through Dongguk University's student exchange program with Sapporo Gakuin University, its sister university in Japan.
Dongguk started this week-long program in 1999, sending Korean students to Japan and welcoming Japanese students once a year in order for them to experience the culture and understand the history of each other's country.
This year, 13 students were selected from each university: the Koreans visited Japan in June and the Japanese visited Korea last month. The students were solely responsible for running the program, providing their guests with a home stay, training in the Korean and Japanese languages and local sight-seeing.
In Japan, DU students attended English classes at SGU and held small-group discussions about the past and current relationships between Korea and Japan, Korean culture, military service and political matters. After having accurate and detailed information on Korea, SGU students were motivated to take a deep interest in the country.
DU students also had a chance to learn Japanese traditional dance, music and the tea ceremony.
"Before attending this program, I had a negative attitude (towards Japan) because of the Dok Island issue and our colonial history. But after spending two weeks with Japanese students, I could feel their sincerity, and therefore, cast away my prejudice against Japanese people," said Suk Wook, a DU student.
When Japanese students visited Korea, DU professors gave special lectures about Korean history. The students visited the Independence Hall in South Chungcheong Province, at which tour guides gave detailed descriptions of Korean history, focusing on the independence movement during the Japanese colonial period.
SGU students were astonished by the atrocity of the Japanese colonial rule and some even shed tears of remorse when they saw a photo of Korean women forced to sexually serve Japanese soldiers.
"Since my dream is to become a history teacher, I thought I knew everything about our history, but after this program, I was shocked," said Fujita Takuya, an SGU student.
"When I become a history teacher, I will teach my students 'true' Korean history, especially the Japanese colonial period," he added.
While staying at Korean students' homes, SGU students had homemade kimchi and bulgogi, which are also popular dishes in Japan.
"I heard Korean food was too hot or too salty, but after eating homemade food, I think it is very delicious," said Takuya.
Through this program, Korean and Japanese students have become more interested in each other's country, leading some Japanese students to plan to study Korean language here.
Compared with studying abroad or other student exchange programs, most of which are expensive and limited to academic areas, this exchange program encourages cultural curiosity and motivates participants to study Korean or Japanese spontaneously.
Professors and participants said it will continue contributing to the deepening and expansion of mutual understanding between the young students of the two countries.
Yoon Ji-won is editor-in-chief of the Dongguk Post, the monthly English magazine of Dongguk University. - Ed.
Yoon Ji-won firstname.lastname@example.org
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