When it came time for USC Leonard Davis students to learn some of the latest pop music line dances, a group of older adults at a Seoul community center were their unexpected teachers.
“The students were having difficulty following the fancy moves,” said Min-Kyoung Rhee, an instructional assistant professor who led a study abroad course focused on aging in South Korea. “It was a nice ‘a-ha’ moment that allowed us to see older adults as proactive members of a society who can contribute to younger generations.”
Rhee and Program Manager Jeannie Wakamatsu took students from bustling Seoul to rural Andong to help them gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the world’s fastest-aging nation. Low fertility rates and longer life expectancies are projected to make South Korea the world’s oldest country by 2060, overtaking neighboring Japan.
Students met tech-savvy seniors aging in good health, visited a nursing home to get end-of-life insights, and heard from gerontology experts about their current projects. They also experienced local food and culture through several sightseeing excursions led by an energetic guide who was in her mid-70’s. Kelly Vuong, a Master of Science in Gerontology and Master of Social Work student, said she learned a valuable lesson just trying to keep up with her.
“She was able to walk faster than all of us,” she said. “As someone who lives in LA and hardly goes anywhere without a car, I definitely came home motivated to get more movement in my days.”
Andrew Kim, a health promotion and disease prevention major, said the trip inspired him to translate Korean insights into practical solutions in the United States.
“It has been instrumental in shaping my path towards a future in medical studies with a focus on serving older adults,” he said.
From mastering difficult dances to taking fast-paced walking tours, this course included steps to get students moving in the right direction.