Our first meeting
The eleven members of the 11th team decide to have an unofficial meeting. We feel awkward, but we talk with each other in anticipation. We talk to each other about our reasons for participating in the Cross Country Walk. Il-Seung Lee says, “I have been to university for 7 terms. I thought about what I have done until now. What are my memories in this university? The conclusion was nothing. Therefore, I want to make my memories that I can’t forget.” Ho-Jung Lee says, “I want to bail out of my dull daily life. I want to create a new attitude for myself.” She certainly hopes to experience something special through the Cross Country Walk. However, some members say that they applied so that they could write down this experience on their resume cover letters later, and some say they just applied with their friends.
It’s June 25th, one hundred and sixty students start their long walk after arriving at the Sangju-reservoir by bus and finishing the opening ceremony. We write messages of encouragement and hope on balloons and then send them off into the air. One two, one two, we walk energetically, but we still feel awkward with each other. Suddenly, Ga-Young Lee tumbles and skins her knee, but she smiles at us although she is in a little pain. We walk on and on, and finally we arrive at our destination. We unpack and take showers. As soon the water turns on, everyone yells at the same time because the water is really cold like ice water. It is difficult to get comfortable, but we spread out our mattresses and sleeping bags. As we lay on the ground, our tense muscles start to relax and we close our eyes for some much needed rest.
Testing our endurance, 40km
It’s June 26th, we wake up and stretch while rubbing our sleepy eyes. We have to walk 25km this morning and 40 for the entire day. Moreover, today is the longest distance we will face on the entire journey. We begin to worry already. Our pace is so fast it feels as if we are being chased by dogs. We hear staff members shouting “Walk faster!” It seems like about 100 times! We walk on and on as we are ordered to, “Stick to the left” or “Stick to the right.” Finally, at the end of this hellish morning, we have break time! We drink some much appreciated beverages. They taste like an oasis in the desert. After the break time, we stand up and start to walk again. Some ask, “Is this a marathon or the Cross Country Walk?” Yun-Mi Byun, Eun-Ji Yun, and I try to walk fast and keep up with the others, but we lag behind over and over. We feel like we are letting our team down because we are the reason the team is moving slowly. Finally and mercifully, we finish the entire 40km course at about 7:30 p.m.! We are so tired due to the extreme distance, but we feel very satisfied as well. Today’s dinner is very nutritious; Samgyetang. Our delicate leader, Il-Seung kindly suggests deboning the chicken to the team. After eating, everyone walks on eggshells around each other because no one wants to wash the dishes. We play a game to decide who will get the dreaded duty. Sadly, Oh-Sung Kwon, Won-Seok Choi, and I lose the game and are stuck doing the dishes. After washing the dishes, everyone gathers, and we decide on our team name, slogan, and song. We link everything to “Sticking” because we are constantly being told to “Stick to the right, or stick to the left” by staff members as we walk. Eventually, we decide on the team name, “Best Eleven.” We realize we are one team. Our hearts stick to each other more and more as the time passes by.
It’s June 28th, we walk and walk continuously. One staff member says, “We are going to finish, soon.” However, the members of 11th team ask with one incredulous voice, “Well, is it for real?" After walking for an hour and a half, we get break time and it tastes like honey to us. We plop down on the ground without even taking time to lay out mats. As soon as we sit down, we take off our sneakers, and put our feet up on our backpacks. We have blisters on every toe and there is an overpowering smell of pain relief spray. However, after gulping down some much needed water, we chat about this and that again as if we are not tired at all. We are like a happy family. We finish the 25kms. Ice-cream is a treat after we finish walking, and it makes us feel cool to the bone. We cannot stay in the training center, so we set up four tents. We sit around and munch snacks together as we work on a project, “Drawing my life graph.” We work by candlelight, and we share the most important moments in our lives. The graph steers upward for the best moments and down for the worst moments. We listen carefully to each others stories. Although we are still more strangers than friends, we tell our difficult life stories like we are long lost family members. Under beautiful stars, we share our deepest thoughts, our hopes, and our dreams. There is a deep feeling of empathy for both good and bad memories. We continue to talk together after we crawl into our tents. As we drift off to sleep, the faint hum of mosquitoes can be heard at the rims of our ears. We donate quite a bit of blood to the mosquitoes. Ga-Young Lee looks like she has chickenpox because she gets bitten so many times. Even though the tents are inconvenient and colder than the training center, we are really happy because we are together.
“Same heart” and “Naengmyeon”
Four staff members are dancing and listening to the song, “Same heart” by the pop group, KARA. It’s July 1st, and every participant tries to follow their dance. The 11th team also scatters and dances with people from other teams. It is so exciting! Jung-Woo Seo says, “I was not sure why we had to do this at first, but it’s so interesting to meet people from other teams and dance with them.” Il-Seung also says, “The dance time opened my eyes” with a smile. Next day, there is a talent show put on by each team. The members of the 11th team decide to dance and sing a song called “Naengmyeon.” Eun-Ji says that she is poor at dancing. However, Ga-Young Cha who is good at dancing and Won-Seok who is a member of a dance club teach the rest of us kindly and we practice together until dinner. We are perfect as if we are possessed by Jessica and Park Myeong Soo, the singers of “Naengmyeon.” However, when it comes time to put on our show we are all too shy to perform well. Yun-Mi says, “We practiced so much, but we were weak when it was time to do the real thing. So, I’m very sorry.” Nevertheless, the positive members of the 11th team still feel content with the happy practice time.
The last day
It’s the last hike, and the rain is streaming down. We put on raincoats and depart for the final destination, Busan Eulsukdo. We try to stay dry, but eventually we realize we can have fun and make a valuable memory. There are not many occasions when we can get wet easily and not care, so we stopped trying to stay dry and soaked up the rain and the memories. Two hours later, we see a banner. It reads “Congratulations for finishing the Nakdong River Cross Country Walk!” Finally, we can see the end of the long Cross Country Walk after two weeks. All 160 participants finish without even one dropout. We were taught to“Succeed” through finishing the whole course even though it is just one of many experiences we will have in life. After we finish, we go rafting, and we have a dance party on Friday night. It is a hell of a party. Everyone dances, sings, eats, drinks, and cheers “Go team Eleven!”
In the evening on July 6th, we come back home, and have a meeting. We meet and talk with each other while spending some time catching up. After spending just 12 days together, no one is able to hide their excitement about seeing each other. We can sense each other's feeling because we went through a difficult challenge together. I think that the older we are, the more difficult it becomes to meet people. Individualism casts most of us into the role of thinking about “I” before “we.” However, we all realize that the strong bond we feel now is due to the hard time we went through together. I reflect on the beautiful memories I have from my time with these people, and I know that my former team, who are now my new family are thinking the same thing.
Things we gained through the Cross Country Walk
We learned so many things through our experience during the Cross Country Walk. There was so much more to it than simply walking a long way. Oh-Sung said, “Finally, when we finished the whole course from Sangju to Busan, we saw the banner, set off fireworks, and cheered everyone together. I think you would never understand the thrill of that moment unless you actually do it yourself.” Every member felt a sense of accomplishment because we walked more than 250km in two weeks.
In addition, there are some members that gained much needed confidence. Dong-Gi Park said, “Because I was able to finish the Cross Country Walk, I feel like I can adapt to any circumstance. Dealing with the problems and issues we faced taught me problem solving skills. Moreover, I have new confidence that I can do whatever has to be done even when I am confronted with unexpected circumstances.”
Other participants felt they learned about “Gratitude.” Although we usually take many things for granted, we should show gratitude for everything we are given, even the small things. “I can take a shower, and do laundry because there is water. And, when I have break time, I can feel the value of a sip of sweet water, and when I take a shower, I can feel the value of a pail of cool water.” Eun-Ji said cutely.
The eleven members of the 11th team made many unforgettable memories through their Cross Country Walk. At first, many felt like it was not worth it, but eventually we realized that everything we experienced from taking cold showers, the beautiful green scenery, the deep and wide Nakdong River, and everything in between, will remain as beautiful remembrances. However, the most important thing that we gained on this trip was new relationships with people we came to care about very much over two weeks. Ga-Young Cha said, "We would not have been able to accomplish this if we did not come together as one. I could overcome all the obstacles because the team came together and acted as one." When we were tired, we helped each other with our backpacks, we encouraged each other and we had fun as well. After a while, we stopped keeping track of time because we were too busy enjoying each other’s company. At the end, we were not a team any more, we became a family.