Marquette students in South Korea. Courtesy photo.

When Professor Darren Wheelock toured Hwaseong Prison and Correctional Facility near Seoul, South Korea, he walked into a small room where 15 prisoners in green jumpsuits sat silently behind a table of cakes and pastries. The inmates were waiting for Wheelock and his 22 students to arrive, sample the pastries they had baked, and provide feedback.

“There is no comparable prison in the United States,” Wheelock said.

The rehabilitative prison teaches job skills like baking to some of South Korea’s most violent offenders. The differences between the criminal justice systems of South Korea and the United States are stark, which is exactly why Wheelock chose the country as the location for his faculty-led study abroad trip titled Comparative Crime and Punishment. The three-week course brought together nine students from Marquette University and 15 students from Sogang University. Students lived in Seoul while attending the course co-taught by Wheelock and Yong-Chul Park, a professor of law at Sogang.

“There are a lot of different ways students can learn about the world,” Wheelock said. “Lecture, discussions, films—all of these things can be effective tools in teaching, but there is nothing quite like learning through experience. That tends to provide lessons that can stick with a person for decades, maybe their life.”

The course material covered international criminology, criminal justice, and the criminal justice systems in the United States and South Korea, with a focus on comparing the countries. The group took field trips to the South Korean Supreme Court, legislature and criminal trials.

“We talked about how South Korea has a really small crime rate and all the factors that make that the case, and compared that to the U.S. and other places to see what leads one country to have crime and another not to,” said Joe Cullum, a sophomore at Marquette majoring in chemistry.

Isha Varshney, a senior at Marquette majoring in psychology, found the course especially relevant to her work at the Benedict Center helping women that are or have been incarcerated. The Milwaukee-based nonprofit agency focuses on criminal justice reform and provides alternatives to jail time.

“It was cool to be able to learn more about the criminal justice system itself considering a lot of the women I work with have dealt with it on a first-hand basis,” Varshney said.

The demilitarized zone in South Korea. Courtesy photo.

The class also visited the demilitarized zone, the buffer zone between North and South Korea known as the DMZ. The group walked through underground tunnels carved out of granite with dynamite, thought to be the work of North Koreans in an attempt to reach Seoul. These tunnels were discovered by South Korea in the 1990s and blocked with cement barricades. Now it is a popular tourist destination where visitors are given hard hats to wear as they crouch and walk through the cold, dark tunnels that extend into North Korean land.

The program schedule also included time for students to experience the city on their own.

“A lot of us would go out and explore the city and try new foods and things we don’t have here, and gain a better grasp of the city and the culture,” Cullum said, listing foods like raw, still-moving octopus and sea cucumber.

By studying with Korean students, Marquette students learned about day-to-day life in the country. Students exchanged contact information and continue to communicate through Facebook and the Korean messaging app KakaoTalk.

Marquette students in South Korea. Courtesy photo.

“I would say without a doubt it is the most fun and impactful thing I have done in my life,” Cullum said. “Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger and do something, because an opportunity to do this and go somewhere and immerse yourself in the culture is not an opportunity you will have again in your life.”

Wheelock plans to offer the trip again in summer 2018.

“There are so many things that I can’t do in a classroom that we were able to do in that class,” Wheelock said. “The benefits that I saw from that study abroad class were well beyond the benefits and the growth that I see in in the classroom.”

Learn more about upcoming study abroad opportunities at Marquette.