While living here, one of the things a person becomes accustomed to is the constant stream of news regarding the North. So much so that Koreans and expats alike are rarely concerned about it, and routinely discard it on their way to work to focus on more immediate problems, such as their child’s upcoming midterm examinations or a sporting event.
However, the reaction to the recent news has been different. Shortly after hearing about the attack on the island of Yeonpyeong, and while still trying to get all of the facts myself, I received a call from my mother. She had seen on the news that North Korea had attacked the South and wondered if the government had an evacuation plan in place for foreign nationals. She then continued to politely suggest that I come home.
This is not the first phone call or email I’ve received from my family about what they’ve seen in the news, but this time my mom was obviously quite worried. For the first time I had some doubts myself over what might happen. I have heard plenty of stories from other expats that said they have received similar worried phone calls and emails from loved ones checking to make sure that they’re safe and everything is O.K.
The attack has also been a popular topic among my Korean friends and the students I teach at my university. The students, especially, feel a mix of anger, sadness and anxiety towards the North and are at a loss in terms of what to think. For them, this is not something happening on T.V. ― this is happening here and people are dying. War has suddenly become a real possibility for them.
These recent events have had people here wondering about what they would do if North Korea invaded. When I tell people I would stay, their first reaction is always to ask why. With many expats only here for a one-to-two year sojourn, many can’t understand what would make me want to fight, and it’s a fair question. But in my own way I have come to love and admire Korea.
From living here, I have felt and observed the sacrifice that the older generations have made for the new, through work, war and serving under a military dictatorship for many years.
I have come to respect and admire this struggle when I see what Koreans have accomplished in bringing their country from an impoverished post-war nation to one of the largest industrialized countries in the world in so little time.
The youth here are reminded daily of these sacrifices and what it takes to keep what they have fought for through their conscripted military service. Through this service, every Korean man contributes to building his community and the social values it lives by. This serves to reinforce Korea’s strong sense of unity and respect, which is a constant in every aspect of life here, whether it’s through the sharing of food, respect for others and their property or the way Koreans address even a stranger as “brother” or “friend.”
For me, the consideration a Korean shows for his or her neighborhood is the biggest difference I notice between their country and mine. I find it nearly impossible to walk around in Canada where I’m from and not see some form of vandalism; broken windows in bus shelters, graffiti on walls and buildings, and theft. However, the situation in Korea couldn’t be more different. The subway stations are lined with new LCD monitors, crates of goods and personal belongings are left unattended on the sidewalk and I haven’t been able to find one alleyway covered in spray paint. This attitude and behavior are just some of the ways that Koreans show appreciation for what they have.
Although I have never been asked to make a sacrifice for the betterment of my own country, I would gladly do so for Korea.
I’ve done a lot of growing here and Korea has helped shape the person I’m going to be for the rest of my life. I have loved, met new friends, traveled, and gained a new perspective on life that I never would have had in Canada.
Looking back, I can easily say that coming here was the best decision of my life. For me, this is what has been important, and what has given me a connection to Korea that is strong enough to fight for. What would it take for you?