From holding a live octopus in an open-air food market to participating in a mud festival in South Chungcheong, Seoul, senior Abby Kingery experienced firsthand how following a dream can lead to adventure. As a Cadet in the USF Army ROTC Nursing program, she had the chance to engage with diverse aspects of South Korean culture during a month-long stay at the Brian Allgood Army Community Hospital.
Army ROTC nursing students may participate in a national summer training program with placement worldwide, from Hawaii to Germany. Clinical field training is gained by shadowing a preceptor, an Army Officer Nurse, at an Army base hospital. Kingery maintained communication with her preceptor prior to the transition overseas for information on preparation.
“The first day I got there, I arrived Friday night and Saturday morning we took subways,” Kingery said. “We were going with one of the captains to museums and then shopping in one of the cities called Yeongdeung (District). And I was like there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to navigate these subways, like I won’t be able to figure it out and then by the end of it you’re like an expert.”
The hospital environment in South Korea exposed Kingery to medical situations she would not have encountered in the U.S. While treating military personnel, soldiers and their families, she came across instances of malaria and Seoul Fever — a disease contracted from inhaling rat droppings. According to Kingery, the experience significantly helped develop her skills and confidence as a medical professional.
“I could actually take on that role as nurse,” Kingery said. “I had a six week old patient. I had never dealt with infants or babies before so that was definitely a learning experience. You’re able to do it yourself. There’s a lot more independence. Sometimes here you get stuck in that student role it’s hard to work your way out of. The Army gave me a lot more free reign.”
Kingery spent most of her time at the training hospital located at the military outpost in Yongsan, Seoul, working 12-hour shifts. On her days off she explored the neighborhoods and various cities of Seoul with her preceptor and peers and encountered different aspects of South Korean culture.
“It was very modest, very humble,” said Kingery. “There wasn’t a lot of skin showing. Over here Americans wear a lot of leggings, but nothing like that over there. It depends on where you are, if you’re in a younger city than it’s a little more acceptable. But if you’re hiking a mountain in a more rural village, you’re definitely going to get some looks if you’re wearing spandex.”
She also learned about the perception of Americans and Europeans by South Korean civilians.
“Americans and Europeans are very popular,” Kingery said. “A lot of people want to take pictures with you everywhere you went. You feel like a celebrity. You’d be walking down the street and someone in front of you would throw up a selfie and say, ‘Can I take a photo with you?’ That was really different.”
While visiting the Demarcation Military Zone, which divides North Korea and South Korea, Kingery learned more on the war from a tourist’s perspective. She learned about the tunnels North Korea had been digging in an attempt to reach Seoul. In speaking with civilians and personnel, Kingery gained a more personal perspective of the current turmoil between the Koreas.
“From the tourist ads that they were playing,” Kingery said. “They emphasize the goal was unification and that kind of surprised me ‘cause most most people would be like, ‘Oh, they just want to be at peace, not unify.’ But a lot of Koreans that were split during the war have that desire for the unification between North and South Korea, from just a couple personal opinions I received.”
According to Kingery, she came away from her stay in South Korea more globally aware and eager to begin her nursing program upon graduation.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Kingery said. “I knew it was going to be a learning experience so I kind of opened to whatever I could experience over there. I liked getting a taste of what I was working for. You get a taste of that and you’re just like I just want to stay.”