Mercer takes foreign exchange trip to South Korea

Photo by Katie Beedle

Photo by Katie Beedle

Paul Hudachek

Senior Caroline Mercer sits down to her latest sculpture. She’s been experimenting with using wax and paper towels, an ingenious effect that slides seamlessly in with the other pieces of her concentration on the human form. Mercer agreed to talk only while putting time in on her piece, she is incredibly busy with work, AP Studio art, and a plan to go to South Korea next year, to a ceramics high school.

Mercer recently received a grant from the Rotary Club that is allowing her to spend a year after she has completed American high school in Gyeonggi-do, combining two huge passions of hers: ceramics and immersing herself in the culture and language of South Korea.

To achieve this dream, she made the most of her resources, and found out from her dad that the Rotary does foreign exchanges.

“My dad has always been really involved with the Rotary. They have this campaign that’s like, ‘Stop Polio’ and it’s all about aide to people. They work with foreign exchange students, too, and the program I am going with is just for Minnesota and Wisconsin, so it’s really small. There are all these little groups of Rotary exchanges all over the world,” said Mercer.

Mercer says her inspiration comes from a plethora of facets, but perhaps her grandfather’s efforts in the Korean war have something to do with her interest in Korean culture.

“My grandfather was in the Korean war, he was a doctor. He left with this book that was like an encyclopedia on specific ailments and stuff. It wasn’t available to Koreans, so he gave it to a doctor friend of his. Later on, he got this box in the mail, and a turtle was in it. It’s like a dead, stuffed kinda turtle. I always thought their relationship was interesting, and it did open me up to Korean culture a little bit,” said Mercer.

Senior Mackenzie Fenner, longtime best friend of Mercer, says she remembers Mercer’s interest in Korea back in junior high school.

“I can trace back her interest in Korean to when she was watching ‘Lost.’ There was this Korean couple on there, and she was always talking about them and the show,” said Fenner.

Mercer’s interest in Korea, though, did surprise her family.

“[My family] was just really confused, like they really like my interest in Korea, but when I first started learning the language, they were really confused. Now though, they are extremely supportive of all my interests,” said Mercer.

Mercer’s exchange trip is going to be a very sudden change in cultures. She hopes that she can slip in easily though, especially with her interest in Korean music.

“I started getting interested in K-pop [Korean pop music] when I watched a show that had a K-pop singer in it. It was a really bad show, but I decided to look him up. I don’t like his music anymore either, but whatever,” said Mercer.

Mercer will have to be careful about her involvement with Korean guys when exploring the culture, though. Foreign exchange companies are very serious about getting romantically involved.

“We’re not supposed to date, actually a kid was just sent home from America for getting to close with someone, he was sent back to Taiwan. They said we can date people, we just can’t get to serious, obviously because we’re only there for a year,” said Mercer. “So I’m not really looking to meet anyone. Besides, in most Korean dramas, the most romantic thing that you’ll see is a kiss, and even then, it’s like super quick. I mean, they think that we are really sexually promiscuous here,” said Mercer. “Mostly because of our television.”

While Mercer will be missed by many, it seems indisputable that she is exploring a passion she loves.

“I think it’s really brave of her, I don’t think I could go to another country for an entire year. I’m going to miss her, she’s been one of my best friends since Kindergarten. I’ll look forward to when she Skypes,” said Fenner. “She is definitely not afraid to be herself. She likes what she likes, and is not influenced by anyone else.”

Next time Mercer walks down the halls, wish her good luck, and maybe ask her to sing some K-pop music.