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Behind the scenes of becoming a “reality TV star” - 한국으로 수학여행 School trip to Korea


Little did I know what I signed up for. It all started as an invitational

Wilma-message regarding a South Korean TV show. They were searching for talented students from Finland to take part in a reality TV program called “School Trip Korea”. Why Finland? Not exactly sure, but presumably the purpose was to invite students from radically different countries. K-pop was the driving force of this whole program. The point was to present the “real” South Korea beyond the music business. Eventually after a tedious application video, a creative art presentation, a face-to-face interview, and answers provided for hundreds of questions I somehow managed to get chosen alongside two KSYK students and two students from outside Helsinki. 


“It was terrifying and even surreal. – I just had to pretend I was on track even though I hardly knew what was going on.”

I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t really know where I was going, and what I was going to do. Everything happened very quickly. All of a sudden the camera crew was behind our door, and I was in pyjamas. Suddenly our living room was full of professional tv cameras, 6 crew members, my cousin who I invited to join the filming, and one other participant who I had never seen before in my life. It was terrifying and even surreal. Some furniture had been moved and posters removed from the walls. I just had to pretend I was on track even though I hardly knew what was going on. Not only did they film at my home (kind of without permission), I was also ordered to participate in group filming at our school. But don’t get me wrong. After all, it was very exciting and I felt lucky and grateful to be offered such an opportunity.


The departure date came sooner than I had anticipated. After a sleepless night at home, I had to survive the longest flight of my life. Almost 13 hours. It honestly wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I even managed to get some sleep onboard and get to know my group better. Kalevi, the brave teacher who volunteered to be our supervisor, kept up a good spirit among our team. 


As Kalevi himself commented when asked about his role:

“The trip and the whole experience was an honor and a privilege. Our KSYK students and the other students were extremely well behaved and outstanding actors given it was a reality TV show in which nearly every minute of their lives was filmed. As a supervisor, there was more work and difficulties when it came to negotiating the contract between the TV station, the students, and I. 


As our students were so well behaved and all of that went off without a hitch, I felt my role as a supervisor was more focused on communicating with the TV production crew about the wishes and needs of the students. Nearly every evening it seemed like I had to remind the production crew that the students are human and they need to rest. The working days were very long, and although we were treated to VIP red carpet experiences everywhere we went, it was very demanding to always have a microphone on and at least 6 cameras pointed at you.”


Why am I here and what am I supposed to do?


After our arrival at the Seoul Airport, without even having the chance to take a look around, we were immediately greeted with cameras already recording. There was no going back, I just had to do my best from this point on. It was made clear that we were supposed to have a good attitude, be curious, and react to everything we see. Eventually, I decided to just smile when I didn’t have anything logical to say. On the bus on our way to a restaurant to have our first authentic Korean meal, we were supposed to talk and comment on everything we saw and thought of. If this was going to be the norm, it would definitely be a tedious and demanding adventure, I quietly thought to myself.


“At this point I still didn't have a clue that lack of sleep would be a continuing theme throughout the whole trip.”

All in all, the first day was without a doubt the most exhausting day. After eating an absolutely delicious but tragically expensive meal (which I realized only when the episodes were released), we headed off to a huge amusement park, Lotte World to be exact. Even with a full stomach all of the rides and attractions were a lot of fun. I already partially forgot about the camera crew and started to feel at least a bit relaxed. Well, as relaxing as roller coasters may sound.


At our airbnb, at midnight we still were instructed to order dessert. We all wanted to sleep, but I didn’t want to complain and give an ungrateful image of myself on the first day. Finally around 1AM the filming day was over. At this point, I still didn’t have a clue that lack of sleep would be a continuing theme throughout the whole trip. Day after day we would progressively sleep less and less. I knew Koreans were hard workers but I didn’t expect anything like this kind of insane dedication, but honestly, what the hell. 


In my opinion, One of the highlights and the best things about the trip was the airbnb place we stayed at: a stunning old traditional Korean wooden housing estate, Hanok village. 


Korean wooden housing estate, Hanok village.

Day 2 was a day of rest and exploration without the filming crew. One highlight was the traditional Korean food market where people were selling all kinds of food products, some of which I had never seen before. There were definitely some very, very weird products. I didn’t want to try any seafood there just to stay safe, so I ended up buying a smoothie instead. Nonetheless, this was the first time a culture shock had hit me.



Local food market, terrifying seafood products
Urbanistic city doesn’t cover the history, like this Christian church


Cinematic Seoul

An American baseball match – LG Twins vs Samsung Lions (Kalevi’s dream)

I was genuinely surprised how Americanized everything in South-Korea was. Lots and lots of American food chains and stores, even the most popular sport was American baseball, which we got to experience! The fanbase was on a totally different level when compared to European sports. There were all kinds of theme songs for both teams, and the crowd knew by heart. No violence or anger, just lots of people enjoying a game night together - neat!



A busy shopping street in Anyang (most logos are text based unlike here, where an image usually defines a logo)

The streets were busy but the order remained. This was one of the main shopping streets in Anyang, a suburban city next to Seoul. So called “PC-rooms” are a popular evening activity in Korea, even our group of four boys had the chance to check one out. (And the internet speed was the fastest I had experienced!)



Me, Eun-Woo, Min-Woo, Frey  

For the last two days we were divided into groups of boys and girls. We spent one sleepover at Unu’s (in the picture) place, which in itself was eye-opening to see how the local people really live. The only thing distracting building our friendship was the language barrier. Neither of the Korean boys spoke much English so we had to rely on translators + hand and body gestures. Frey’s and my English language skills definitely worsened since we had to speak with simple words instead of sentences. “Is food, is sleep, is good”! 



Our school group


The school group was very welcoming, friendly, and happy to see us. The school felt so different of course, and that was mostly thanks to the positive and caring atmosphere the students and teachers formed together. Everyone seemed to care for each other. Even during recess time, all students took part in different types of games together. There was almost no grouping at all, every student could work with anyone. In addition, it was very clear that the teachers were highly respected. 


Surprisingly, the atmosphere in the classroom was relaxed and open. Undeniably everyone was really excited for our visit, especially since the Koreans didn’t seem to have traveled really anywhere other than in Japan and China. It is also quite incredible how you can make new friends even if you don’t share a common language together. Additionally, it was interesting to notice how almost all of the students were extroverts, or at least it seemed like it. As a reference point, Japanese people are usually seen as shy and introverted. Maybe the admiration of American culture has had an effect on people’s personalities, who knows.



The Seoul History Museum - one of my personal favorites from the trip. Learning about the history gave new perspectives and insights on why this country has become what it is today

Korean sauna/spa + camping spots

We got to experience a Korean version of saunas, without a doubt the weirdest yet most interesting destinations we encountered on our journey. There were little Roman bath -type small caves placed next to an oven burning the fire of hell, all with different temperatures ranging from 60 degrees to over a hundred! In addition, there was a cold room, a room filled with salt rocks, and even a little shop for drinks and snacks. Unlike in Finland, we were wearing pyjama-like clothes and Princess Leia-type head towels. Very absurd but cool nonetheless.



Me and my bestie Frey at Eunpyeong Hanok Village




Juliana, Frey, and me Behind the scenes
KSYK goes Korea

The whole group!




Ja nyt loppuun suomeksi muiden ryhmäläisten ajatuksia ja mietteitä:


Millä mielin lähdit matkalle?


Onnia: 

Jännittyneenä ja hyvin innokkaana. Ajattelin, ettei kaikki tämä tunnu vielä todelta, ja odotin, että todellisuus iskee sitten perillä. Tuumin, että aion tehdä parhaani tv-ohjelmassa, mutta toisaalta tavoitteenani oli myös muistaa nauttia ja rentoutua.


Ella: 

Tavallaan innoissaan mut toisaalta aika neutraaleilla fiiliksillä koska en osannu odottaa mitää tiettyä. Olin myös töissä aika paljon just ennen tätä matkaa nii en ollu oikein ehtiny sisäistää sitä ennen ku oikeesti olin jo menossa 😅


Juliana: 

Olin innostunut, mutta minua myös vähän pelotti. Olin matkustamassa maahan, jossa en ole koskaan käynyt ennen, ja mä vielä siin vaihees tuskin tunsin ketään. Eniten kuitenkin pelotti TV-ohjelman asetetut odotukset. Mä en tiennyt mitään Koreasta, kun hain sinne; mä luulin, että haastatteluni meni huonosti, ja mä silti pääsin sinne. Ne ei koskaan kertonu, miks ne valitsi mut, mikä sai mut miettimään heidän odotuksiaan vielä enemmän.


Frey: 

Lähdin Koreaan tosi innostuneena ja iloisilla mielin!


Mikä yllätti eniten ja täyttyivätkö odotukset?


Onnia: 

Kuumuus sekä ihmisten tuttavallisuus yllättivät. Olin jo muutaman vuoden nauttinut korealaisten katuruokavideoiden katselusta kotisohvalla. Kun itse astelin marketilla, järkytyin kuumuudesta ja vaikutuin katukokkien reippaudesta.


Ella: 

Eniten yllätti Soulin koko! Ihan valtava kaupunki johon mun suomalaiset aivot ei olleet tottuneet ollenkaan.

Mun odotukset matkalle oli aika alhaiset ainakin sen suhteen mitä ite haluisin tehä siellä koska tiesin että tuun menemään sinne uudestaan kohtapuolin. Toisaalta odotukset esim. uusiin ihmisiin liittyen ylittyi! En osannut odottaa, että olisin oikeasti vieläkin kontaktissa useamman ihmisen kanssa kehen tutustuin matkalla.



Juliana: 

Yllätti erityisesti se, miten minua kohdeltiin. Vaikka oli paljon vaatimuksia, en stressannut kuvauksia melkein ollenkaan ensimmäisen päivän jälkeen. Kaikki ihmiset olivat ystävällisiä ja heidän kanssaan oli mukava olla.

Ennen lähtöä siis ajattelin myös, että korealaiset olisivat jotenkin vakavia. Olin aika väärässä, sillä he olivat avoimia, puheliaita ja ihania ihmisiä.


Frey: 

Eniten yllätti se et kuinka hiton hauskaa siel oli ja et kuinka erilaista kulttuuri voi olla, ja se et kuinka läheinen voi olla vaik ei ymmärrä toisen kieltä.


Minä:

Eniten yllätti ruoka. Suurin osa ruoasta oli todella hyvää mutta myös todella tulista. Tulisuudelta ei voinut myöskään välttyä, sillä jopa koulussa lounaalla tarjottiin melko tulinen ateria. Eikä sen kanssa saanut ruokajuomaa, joka oli yllättävää. Jos ei tykännyt tulisesta ruoasta, joutui kärsimään. Aamupalaksi ei ollut oikeastaan mitään erityistä, samoja ruokia syötiin sekä aamupalalla että lounaalla. Kasvisruoan määrä oli hyvin vähäistä ja korealaiset söivät hyvin paljon lihaa. 


Vessat olivat myös mielenkiintoinen kokemus. Useimpiin niistä ei saanut heittää paperia sillä tarkoituksena oli käyttää bideesuihkua. Ongelmana oli tietenkin se, etten ymmärtänyt ohjeista yhtään mitään. Suihkuun mennessä meille annettiin käsipyyhkeiden kokoiset pyyhkeet, joilla hädin tuskin sai hiukset kuivattua. Sain yhdeltä luokkalaisista tietää, että eurooppalaisissa talouksissa normaaleja suurikokoisia pyyhkeitä käytetään kotieläinten, kuten koirien kuivaamiseen…


Muita mielenkiintoisia huomioita: uunien ja astianpesukoneiden puute kotitalouksissa; tavallisten hammasharjojen käyttö, sillä sähköisten uskottiin pilaavan ikenet; paikallisten huono englannin kielen taito Amerikan vaikutusvallasta huolimatta sekä työmoraali, ihmiset eivät todellakaan nukkuneet paljoakaan. Monilla koulun päätteeksi jatkui iltakoulu, joka saattoi jatkua yömyöhään asti, peräti yhteen. Katsellessani oppimateriaaleja, kuten matematiikan kirjoja, en kuitenkaan huomannut suurta eroa vaikeustasossa Suomeen verrattuna. Edistymiseen nähden työmäärä on mielestäni aivan liian suuri, mutta se ei näyttänyt montaa edes haittaavan.


Mikä oli parasta?


Onnia:

Pääsimme kokemaan käsittämättömän määrän asioita viikossa. Yöpyminen Hanok Villagessa oli ihmeellistä, etenkin koska eräs harrastukseni kotona oli katsella videoita perinteisistä rakennuksista ja kuvitella niissä asumista.

Yllättävästi kameroiden läsnäolo ei edes tuntunut omituiselta. Nauhalle saatiin eräs hauska hetki ensimmäiseltä illalta ollessamme väsyneitä, kun löysimme talosta erään toiminnon, nappulan, joka nostaa esille uusia pistorasioita.


Ella:

Ehottomasti uusiin ihmisiin tutustuminen<3 Tähän kuuluu siis produktiotiimin kanssa vietetty aika, jutteleminen, kuvauksiin valmistautuminen sekä korealaisessa high schoolissa vierailu! Kaikki sellasia kokemuksia, joita en muuten olisi voinut kokea ilman tätä mahdollisuutta vaikka olisin tulevaisuudessa halunnutkin.


Juliana: 

Ihmiset! Mä rakastan korealaisia nykyään. Pidin tietenkin myös korealaisesta ruoasta, se oli niin maukasta ja mul on ikävä sitä. Mut ihmiset olivat kyl aivan parhaita. En tule koskaan unohtamaan heitä.


Frey: 

Parasta oli kaikki ihmiset siellä ja Korean kaverit


Suhtautuminen ennen matkaa vs jälkeen, osoittautuivatko ennakkokäsitykset todeksi?


Onnia: 

Ennakkokäsitykseni ennen matkaa sain pääosin viihteen, kuten kpopin ja k-dramojen kautta. Huomasin paikan päällä, miten tarkasti korealaiset panostavat juuri estetiikkaan ja mediatuotantoon. Työmäärää ei huomaa samalla tavalla viihteen kuluttajapuolella. Korealaiset ovat hyvin trenditietoisia.


Ella:

Pääosin joo. Ehkä siksi pystyinkin tuntemaan oloni kotoisaksi, vaikka en Koreassa ollutkaan aiemmin käynyt :)


Juliana: 

Jos ennen matkaa suhtauduin Koreaan skeptisesti, niin sen jälkeen olin ehdottomasti ihastunut siihen. Toki aikataulu oli kiireinen, mitä oletinkin, mutta se ei ollut stressaavaa. Ja olin tietenkin myös väärässä, kun ajattelin, et korealaiset eivät olisi mukamas puheliaita ja hauskoja.


Nimeä yksi mieleenpainuva tapahtuma ja kerro miksi juuri se!


Onnia: 

Oli mieleenpainuvaa, kun menimme kouluun ja olimme siellä kuin julkkiksia kamerajoukkoinemme. Monesta ikkunasta työntyi päitä moikkaamaan meitä innokkaasti ja osa kehui meitä rohkeasti. Tuntui ihanalta, että hekin olivat innoissaan.


Ella:

Eka koulupäivä Koreassa ja se fiilis mikä tuli kun koki ittensä kuuluvaksi siihen porukkaan ja yhteisöön! Jotain mitä Suomessa harvemmin tuntee.


Juliana: 

Baseball match oli kyl siisti. Mä en oo ennen ollu sellaisilla otteluilla, ja mä en myöskään tiennyt mitään baseballista, sehän eroaa suomalaisesta pesäpallosta. Kiitos Kaleville, et hän selitti sit pelin aikana. Mut siis en olisi koskaan noussut tanssimaan huutosakin johtajien kanssa, ellei koko yleisö tanssis myös. Ja Koreassa yleisö tanssi, toisin kuin Suomessa. Tämän takia pidin ottelusta ja kokemus jäin hyvin mieleeni.


Frey: 

Mieleenpainuvin tapahtuma oli ku mentiin Eun-Woolle yöks ja se toivotti kaikilla sen esineillä ja tavaroilla meidät tervettulleeks.


Kalevi’s thoughts: 

 

What surprised you the most and did the trip meet your expectations? Was there room for improvement?

 

I was surprised about how much work, time and resources are put into a TV reality show. There must have been 2 dozen camera people, sound crew, production personnel always surrounding the students and I throughout the entire process. Every day was extremely long and a lot of work. The mornings started well before 6 am, and every evening lasted until nearly midnight.


 I think there was room for improvement when it came to the contract between the students and I and the TV station. The Koreans 1st presented us with a contract that was not in favor of the students. The Koreans were very open to changing the contract, but that involved online meetings with the production and legal team in Korea and then making many changes at the last minute. There was a lot of work that went into the project well before we left to Korea, but I believe all that work made the trip to Korea smoother.

 

It would have been nicer if we were in Korea for a longer time. Every day was extremely long, and the schedule was packed with a lot of tasks. If we could have stayed in Korea longer, maybe we could have more relaxing days and would have been able to see Korea a little more. Our schedule in Korea made it only possible for us to experience the sites that were pre-planned to attend. I would have liked to visit, for example, the DMZ border area between South and North Korea.

 

Also, a major room for improvement would have been if my 4 star hotel lodging could have been upgraded to a place as cool and epic as where the students were staying. They had multimillion euro AirBnB accommodations in the historical district – I was jealous.

 

What was the best?

 

By far the greatest experience was going to the baseball game featured in episode 2 of the series. All my life I have dreamt of attending a baseball game in Japan or Korea. So attending the game was a highlight of my life.

 

Also, the fact that everywhere we went it was clear that we had VIP treatment. The TV production team had a lot of consideration that we were treated well wherever we went. Seoul is such a large city that it was critical that we had transportation arranged and team translators and assistants to help us. Wherever we went the TV production team offered a lot of food, and money for souvenirs.

 

Has your opinion changed on the country after the trip and was it different before?

 

I wish we had seen more of the country and culture. Growing up in the States we are always told how close South Korea and the States are, so I was looking forward to seeing the people and culture. I guess though, someone could spend months there and would still need more time to experience it all. I think my opinion did not really change besides the fact that I could understand better how South Korea and the States and Europe are so close. I have had the privilege to work and live in Southeast Asia, and I could see a clear difference in say for example Thailand and Korea.

 

For as many people live in Korea, it was very well organized, very clean, and the people and cars flowed well.


Name one event that you will remember for sure! 

 

If I had to name only 1 event, that is actually difficult to narrow it down. Everything that happened in Korea was epic and equally cool. So I would have to say the one stand out event that I will remember would be the flights to Korea and back. On the way there, one of the students was turning 18 years old at the exact moment we were flying from Germany to Korea. The pilot made a special announcement over the speakers and the flight attendants had a special gift for the student. Then on the way back from Korea to Germany, Frey turned 18 years old on the flight and again the flight attendants made a big deal about it. I thought that was a cool way to turn 18 years old, on a long haul international flight.


All the clips of the whole episodes can be found on E-Channel’s Youtube channel for anyone who is interested:


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(The videos are marked with pink outlines, released roughly 4 months ago) 


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