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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Going international

Life has certainly taken a quantum leap in the last month. I have been invited to be a member of the Society of Professional Journalists delegation to Seoul, South Korea for the second East Asia Journalists Forum Nov. 14-21.

While there, my colleagues and I will be participating in a three-day exchange with journalists from that part of the globe, led by our counterparts in the Journalism Association of Korea. We've been asked to provide speakers for panels and I'll be speaking on a panel covering trends in the new media industry.

One of today's tasks was to turn in my passport application (which I had to pay out the nose to have expedited). As I pulled out of the Westlake post office parking lot it hit me: I'm finally going to see another part of the world. I'm thrilled and scared and trying my hardest to keep cool but inside my stomach is doing a little jig.

It was a trip that almost wasn't. I received the e-mail notice and nearly dismissed it out of hand. I mentioned it casually to my neighbor who looked horrified when I said I hadn't really thought about going. "I know you're not thinking about NOT going," she said.

I set about getting more information about the trip and discovered that I nearly passed up an incredible professional opportunity. I talked to my family about going and met with some resistance. It's not exactly the most stable part of the world and it's right before Thanksgiving and my oldest son's birthday. But I'll be home in time for all the festivities and, in the end, it was just too good an opportunity.

Our trip will take us across the U.S. and the Pacific to Tokyo and then on to Seoul. It's about a 20-hour flight across the international date line. In Seoul, we'll have lunch with the mayor of Seoul, visit the DMZ, talk about war and the role of journalists, hear from Christopher Warren (president of the International Federation of Journalists), dine with government ministers, visit historic Gyeongju and the Bulguk Temple.

My head is spinning. I've been asking everyone if they've ever been. Turns out two of my brothers-in-law have, and I've been duly warned about kimchi, a common delicacy of beef and cabbage in which the beef is slow-cooked in a clay crock buried in the ground amid manure. Yuk! Think I'll pass.

I've also been warned by one of the women who attended last year that the members of the JAK love their rice-based liquor and apparently imbibe with gusto at karaoke bars.

Warnings aside, everyone I talked to said it's an amazing experience, one not to be missed. And so, as my son Ryan told me, "Screw the terrorists." I'm going to Korea.

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