Monday, November 19, 2012

Identity Crisis: The Narrative of South Korea


In August 2011, I spent two weeks in South Korea participating on a fully funded trip sponsored by CIEE/US-Korea Youth Network. The Korea Foundation generously puts on and funds the trip. I believe this coming August is the last trip that is going to be put on, so you guys who are still in high school or current high school seniors should definitely check it out. Just Google CIEE South Korea scholarship and you'll be sure to find it fairly quickly! 

Before I delve into this so called "identity crisis" that I witnessed while in South Korea, it'd probably be a good idea for me to give a bit of an abstract. This piece will be relatively long and relatively heavy. It'll be more of an academic piece, but I'll do my best to keep it interesting. I traveled to South Korea with 99 other students, so it would be really awesome to hear some feedback from some of you who read the blog. The post will have some pictures to keep things aesthetically pleasing. All of the pictures except for maps are shots that I took while on my trip. With all that said, I hope you enjoy. For those of you who love history and international relations, you'll probably find this post interesting. For those of you who just like taking the weekly poll, this might not be your number one post. Regardless, hopefully you all can get the most out of it. Rather than breaking this up into multiple parts, I think it'd be best to have this all in one large chunk. Bear with me, and we can all learn a thing or two!

South Korea Basics - History and Geography

Source 1
South Korea is located in a potentially problematic place. South Korea is a part of the Korean peninsula, and borders only one other country. You guessed it - North Korea. With air and boat travel the only two outlets for international migration, South Korea is, in a sense, isolated. When I was there, I definitely felt a sense of isolation. With nowhere to go but south, and south ending in roughly 4 hours by car maximum, you get a bit of "rock fever." Or at least I did.

To the left, you can see an image of the Korean peninsula. North and South Korea are split at the "38th parallel." This terminology is frequently referred to in N/S Korean conversation. The 38th parallel is simply a line of latitude. In reality, the border doesn't run even near to perfectly straight across. The border has a curve to it that runs north from west to east.
Source 2

To the right, you can see where South Korea lies in relation to the rest of Asia. Prior to traveling to SK, I often visualized it as being directly beside the SE Asian block. It wasn't until a friend traveled to Cambodia that I realized that the SE Asian block is a pretty far distance from S Korea. Now that we have a better idea of where South Korea is, it'll be somewhat easier to get a visual hold on the historical aspects of the nation.

Before the Korean War, North and South Korea did not exist - Korea simply existed as one united nation. Despite this unity, Korea's history is scattered with conquest. To keep things simple, from roughly 1910 to 1945, Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. Koreans were subjugated to the whims of the Japanese, fed Japanese culture, and taught the Japanese language. It takes no expert in the Japanese occupation of Korea to know that colonization of a nation does severe damage to national identity and national narrative. 

Source 3
After WWII, which ceased Japanese occupation, Korea was left fragmented. North and South Korean ideologies were conflicting, and war was eminent  In 1950, the Korean War broke out. The Korean War was essentially a civil war between the north and south. A very simplified version of the story puts the north in a communist sphere of influence and the south in a Western, democratic sphere of influence. 

As seen in the image on the left, Korea was split almost down the middle at the 38th parallel, with red coloring representing the communist sphere of influence (Soviet Union) and the green representing the democratic, free market influence (USA). It is important to note that at the time, China was not the communist influence in North Korea. China was undergoing domestic turmoil as well, and this period encompasses the Soviet influence in China as well. In closing, in 1953 Korea was left split; North and South Korea would now be two sovereign states, with the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) serving as a border. Another important note to consider is the fact that the Korean War never technically ended - to this day, the DMZ is on edge waiting for one side to end the cease fire of 1953. South Korea was left to pick up the pieces, and reverberations from this broken past can still be felt today, which creates, in my opinion, the identity crisis that presented itself to me during my travels in South Korea.

The Issue of Unification - A Lost Sister 

Yonsei University 
Upon sitting down in one of the classes put on by Yonsei University (연세대학교) on North Korean-South Korean relations, I was immediately surprised by the lack of taboo surrounding the words North Korea. Born and bred in the US of A, it is the easy assumption to clump North Korea, Nazis Germany, and the Soviet Union into the same mass of evil. Furthermore, it is also incredibly easy to forget about the individuals living in North Korea. I have found that many US citizens view North Koreans as dark and communist human beings. Seeing as I have never spent any extended time speaking with North Koreans, it's hard for me to speak objectively and accurately; however, many North Koreans would give the world to defect to South Korea. Unless you are favored with a spot in the North Korean capital of Pyeongyang, life as a North Korean is pretty rough Many people are unaware of just how rough being a North Korean can get. North Korea is littered with concentration camps. Work camps. We're talking about flashback to the concentration camps of Hitler in all his Nazis pride. Let's get back on track.

With all that said, it was a shock to me when I heard the professor speak of North Korea as a "lost sister." There was an overarching sentiment of pity towards the northern partner; a sense that somehow along the way the Korean resolution failed, and that modern South Korea was left longing for a sister that is only engraved in the memories of the eldest South Korean generation. It was sobering. The United States breeds a hate for North Koreans. And maybe not so much a hate, as a growing fear that manifests itself in highly personal conversation - conversations you have with your grandfather who fought against the "commies" in WWII, Vietnam, and Korea. It feels unnatural to pity North Korea. It feels like treason; it feels as if by showing even the slightest hope for domestic North Korean improvement is throwing yourself into the pits of everything it is to be "anit-American." Enough with the drama. 
My hosts - The Baek Family 

Despite this sense of North Korean longing, there was certainly a mix of sentiment among the Koreans that I spoke to. Keep in mind that all of this may seem like a diversion from the original identity crisis - it's not, we'll get there, eventually. When I walked the campus, there were student protests which I later learned demonstrated support for the unification effort. Based on the enthusiasm and immediacy that the protesters demonstrated, a foreigner could easily be tricked into thinking that unification was just around the corner. Words from the same professor that conveyed sadness for North Korea suggested that unification was a long way out, that maybe it was not possible despite desire. (Did I mention he met Kim Jung Il?) My host sister, Ji Eun, showed disinterest. North-South Korean unification didn't rival in importance with her various tests, examinations, and school requirements. Though I never met a Korean with a strong anit-unification sentiment, I am sure there are Koreans who would be opposed to a unified Korea.

An anecdote - before arriving in Korea it was my job to figure out a gift for my host family. Among other gifts, I brought a collection of mixed CD's and titled them (romanized versions to follow) Namhan. The name for Korea is Hanguk. Hanguk technically refers to a potentially unified Korea; however, when speaking of South Korea, most Koreans use Hanguk. When I looked up how to say South Korea, I came across the translation of Namhan. Yes, this does mean South Korea. But when the gift was presented to my host family, they looked surprised, confused, perplexed. Terrified that I had done something awful, I asked about the confusion. The family was honestly taken aback by seeing the written words of Namhan - South Korea. Though Namhan accurately describes the nation in which they live, Hanguk is the default name for the country. Though I would have been met with plenty of surprise by other families if I had given the same gift, as an outsider, it seemed odd that Namhan was so inaccurate. Why would Hanguk be the country's name if it refers to an entity that simply does not exist. After all, the North Korean word for a unified Korea doesn't add up - Choson. 

**Now would be a great time for an intermission. We're about halfway through and I know you're probably tired of reading at this point. Go take a snack break, eat a cookie. Just make sure you come back to read the rest of the article! Simply clink the link below to open the rest of the post! Thank goodness for pictures, right?**

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Week In Closing XI

This week was a fairly busy week for The Column...nothing too exciting, though. I'll keep the notes brief:

Earlier this week I provided some much wanted political commentary (yeah, sarcasm). It was a utter failure in terms of popularity, so I am sorry if it was offensive or just awful to read. Bad timing, on my part, probably. Either way, you can find the article here.

In addition, there was a new feature on The Column. I interviewed a friend about her Spanish learning endeavors. Yup, the one that reads "Una entrevista..." That's it! I will probably continue doing some sort of weekly or bi-weekly interview sort of thing. Not sure if it'll involve language or not. You can find the interview here.

Some notes of photography:

Yes, it would appear that all of the photos listed under the gallery about a week ago have disappeared. There is reasoning behind the maddness - the link list was simply growing too long, and I didn't want it to take over the right half of the page. ALL of the past photos are archived on a single blog post, along with an ongoing list of all of the photo essays that have been posted on the blog as well. You can find this new archived this here, or you can simply follow the link along the top of the page that says "Photo Archive." There were two new photos added in the gallery section. They are parts of a three part photo piece. They have the enthralling names of Mood 1 and Mood 2. Mood 3 will surely go up this week! Finally, this week presented a brand new photo essay, Snapshots of Arizona. Please, let me know what you think if you have any thoughts. 

This week's ultra cerebral poll was won by fall! Go fall! The new poll will be up shortly so be sure to take it!

Make sure to keep writing to The Column. I don't want it to become a dead feature.

Hope you are still enjoying the material and as always, thanks so much for stopping by. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Snapshots of Arizona

In April 2011 I took a family trip out to Arizona with the original purpose of visiting the University of Arizona (which I didn't even wind up applying to despite loving the school). My mom, dad, sister and I started our trip in Tucson and visited my grandparents at their house. We toured the city a bit and I spent a great deal of time gazing out at the magnificent view. We then took a road trip north to Flagstaff, took a train to the Grand Canyon, then drove south again and made a pitstop in Sedona to do a Pink Jeep tour. We concluded the trip back in Tucson with my grandparents. It was a beautiful trip and I cannot wait to go back out West. Here is another photo essay, but this time, not of people!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Elections, Meacham, and the Narrative of Change

I've been telling myself that I would not write a post concerning the 2012 Presidential elections. We all hear enough all the time, and I doubt any of you out there reading this will really care about who I am voting for and why. And honestly, I don't need to justify that to anyone but myself. Despite intentions, I couldn't completely ignore the current political spectrum. After hearing so much about politics over the past few weeks, I decided that it might be a good idea to get some of my ideas down. I started writing this post about a week before the election, and I'm sitting down to finish it a few days after. For various reasons I never got around to finishing it, so here it is now. With a bit of a new shape. 

The other night I went to a lecture put on by the College of Charleston. They had Jon Meacham come and speak to a large group of students, faculty, and "VIP guests" (whatever that means?) Joh Meacham is a Pulitzer winner and is the current executive editor at Random House. He was also the previous editor for Newsweek. To say the least, he is a decorated individual. Since I forgot to bring a note pad to the lecture, I will do my best to quote him accurately (and it's a stretch - I'm going for ideas, not verbatim). I am going to give a 2 quotes he said that I found to be captivating and interesting, then provide some of my own commentary, and we'll call it a day. Deal? Deal.

  • Many people want the media to be left leaning. We want the media to be liberal. I remember I saw a sticker in the stall in a bathroom during the Bush election and it said...'Want to annoy the media? Vote for Bush.' However, what I have learned is that the media just likes conflict. Whenever there is conflict the media is interested. The media also wants to see a change in motion. The media is drawn to a conflict that has a shift in direction. However, this does not mean that the media is concerned with an overarching narrative of change. That would be too complicated.
  • If we want serious and meaningful change to occur in this country we have to have enough courage to give our incumbents the reassurance that by carrying out change they will not be carrying out their final terms as well. We cannot expect any significant change without giving out politicians some room. 
So with that said, I think that we can all learn a few things. The bipartisan nature of our political system simply does not allow any politician to do anything other than seek reelection. The media, no matter how liberal they appear to be, is essentially concerned with a reaction. For a president who is so concerned with the will of the people, and a nation founded on democracy, no one other than the people seem to feel the frustrations of social and economic stagnation.  

So here's my two cents on the political system:

Having two parties has become entirely ineffective. I've heard many of my liberal friends poke fun at the Republican party, mocking their efforts to come across as "one of the guys." Many Democrats and far left liberals like to hate on the conservative side for being filthy rich. News flash - President Obama spent more money than any other incubent in history on his election campaign. For a party who is supposed to defend the lower classes, it doesn't seem too concerned with how much money is being dished out in campaigning. The president also earns a salary that is not to be ashamed of. This is not to say that it is undeserving, but it also cannot possibly be used to equate the president with the common man. (New York Times Article for more info!)

I'm not just picking on the Democratic party either. I voted for President Obama. But this does not erase the gross amount of hypocrisy on both sides of the government. We live in a society in which moderation does not exist. Moderate liberals are considered to be conservative by the far left and socialist by the far right. When most of the country is absolutely split, moderation is the only answer in attempts to satisfy everyone. When majority rules comes down to just a few percentage points, majority really becomes half. And half isn't too much in the grand scheme of things. We would never look at a group of 100 people and say "well good thing only half of them died." The concept of majority rules in the US is inane. Majority does not rule. 

Also, when a country is so evenly divided and so polar on top of that, there is clear evidence that both sides have something right. Seeing as I am a college student, I hear a lot of doomsday speech surrounding the Republican party. It's silly. This bipartisan nature of politics breeds the same ignorance in Democrats that they so hate in Republicans. It is a common assumption by far left voters that all Republicans are "fag-haters," "Bible-huggers," and "tree-killers." Though there are certainly reasons for stereotypes, this attitude is the same attitude that many liberals hate in conservative mindsets. Ignorance bred on either side is detrimental to the system, and I think many people miss this. Likewise, far right conservatives love to throw around the term communism when talking about the left. Clearly, anyone who supports abortion or gay rights is "morally bankrupt" (yes, I have heard this term used in context) and anyone who supports an improved healthcare system is a socialist. And the list goes on. Those who don't support the current welfare system are considered heartless conservatives by the left, and those on welfare are considered bums who won't get off their asses to work by the far right. By constantly defining and archetype-ing the policies in place and those who support them, this country will never move forward. Both sides (yes, this includes both!) need to equally come to the middle. Citizens of this nation love to throw around their own interpretations of what the US was founded on, what we stand for. But no one does anything but bitch. And to be frank, I am sick of it. (And I'm sure many others are too). 

I respect the President, and I surely could not do the job. And much of the issue in US politics doesn't have to do with the president. It lies on the voters. It lies on the voice of the people. Members of both political parties in the US are responsible for reading up and educating themselves. Both sides. Liberals, this means you need to understand that not all Republicans are evil human beings, and that sometimes conservative economic policy is in fact better in the long run. Conservatives, this means you need to let go of some of the social-backwardness that your party's platform hangs onto and be willing to acknowledge that the free enterprise system does have it's downfalls. With moderation comes health and happiness. Too much of any one thing is a bad thing. 

Much of this lies in the deep seeded split among voters. I could go on and on about the follies of the US political system, but I'll most likely just work myself up into a frenzy. There is simply a problem when someone refuses to vote for a candidate solely because he/she is endorsed by the "other party." When people become more concerned by definitions than reality, we have a problem. We call this racism. We call this fanaticism. We call this obsession. But in politics, we call this the rule.

Please, let's break the rule for once. Maybe we won't regret it. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Una Entrevista con una Chica que Aprende Español

¡No se preocupen! Esta entrevista va a ser escrito en inglés. Don't worry! This post is going to be written in English. 

I am interviewing a friend, Kelsey specifically, about her language leraning endeavors. I'm kind of a language nerd, so I find this fascinating. Hope you guys do too! 

Q: How long have you been learning Spanish? By what means?
A: 5 years. I've been learning Spanish through coursework at school.

Q: What spawned your interest in the language? Why did you choose the language?
A: I chose Spanish because I felt that it would be useful in daily life and potentially my career interest. My career interest is the medical field. Spanish would be useful because there are many Spanish speaking people who are in need of medical care. Also, I wanted to study abroad in Latin America.

Q: What is the hardest part of learning Spanish?
A: The hardest part of learning Spanish is finding places and situations where you can practice, if you're not actively abroad or anything. It is hard to translate the grammar you learn in class if you are not using it. Expanding vocabulary is the only specific Spanish-related difficulty.

Q: What is your favorite part of learning Spanish?
A: Hm, that's a tough one - being able to communicate and relate to people that I otherwise would not have been able to engage with.

Q: So, for all of my readers who don't speak Spanish...Kelsey is about to show off. Kelsey, can you give us a little blurb in Spanish?
A: Para las próximas vacaciones voy a ir Sumter y voy a visitar con mi familia. Viajaré con mis amigos Chris, Joseph, and Willa. Creo que el viaje va a ser lo más divertido durante las vacaciones porque mis amigos son muy interesantes. (Trans - For the upcoming vacation, I am going to Sumter and I am going to visit with my family. I will travel with my friends Chris, Joseph, and Willa. I think that the trip will be the most fun part of the vacation because my friends are very interesting.)

Q: ¿Porque los consideras tan interesantes? (Why do you consider them so interesting?)
A: Porque a ellos les gusta la música buena y a muchas veces hablamos por muchas horas y las conversaciones no se basa en nada pero todavía me divierten. (Trans - Because they like interesting music and many times we talk for many hours and the conversations have no real point.) 

What was the point of this? NOTHING. For fun and cultural exploration. Maybe you'll be motivated to learn Spanish now! 

A Week In Closing X

This week The Column was pretty slow. Between being off campus, the election, and over-advertising my Global Awareness page, I didn't have much time to write. But we have some new things coming and some new posts to start the week off! 

By now, you should all be aware of the Global Awareness project. The page can be found along the links on the top of The Column. The project was carried out by myself and three group mates for my HONS 282 ST: Intro to International Studies class. It is presented in the form of a blog post (duh) and had an accompanying poll of the week attached to it dealing with how often you keep up with international news. If you haven't already checked out the page, you can do so here

There's a good chance that the gallery portion of the blog is going to be revamped. I think I am going to archive all of the pictures that are currently up to open up space for some new photos. We'll see how that goes and it'll be a work in progress. When it is up, if ever, I'll be sure to mention it and explain the new features. 

I really need some more letters to feature under Letters to The Column. If you need more info, please check out how to send in a letter! I've had some pretty awesome letters so far but so few senders. I like to see a variety of letters, so please send them in!

The poll winner for the week was weekly, but you can find more out on that on the Global Awareness page. 

As always, if you have comments or suggestions, please leave a post! Thanks. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Week In Closing IX

Hello, all! It has been quite the busy week. I still managed to get some stuff up on The Column though, fortunately. The unfortunate news is that the poll, for one reason or another, simply does not want to cooperate. Last time the poll was working Aurora Borealis was ahead, so I went ahead and named that wonder of the world winner. This weeks poll correlates to a project I am doing for class, so I would REALLY appreciate it if you took it. Hopefully it will work this week.

Today the Global Awareness project went online. PLEASE check out the page and take the poll. Share the link with friends and family and have them take the weekly poll straight from the project page. It will help my group out tremendously when we present. We are hoping to track pageviews and use the poll as a way to compare the Charleston area to other areas around the world. Thanks for your cooperation. 

This week also aired the new "photo essay" Snapshots of Fleetwood, featuring my great friend Jocelyn. It's an easy read (if you can even call it a read), so be sure to check it out.

A follow up letter called Healing was debuted on The Column this week in response to Fall Colors. It would be great to provide some feedback for the writer. Please send in your letters to The Column. We've seen some excellent letters so far, so I don't want the momentum to stop. Send in whatever you like. I have a few lined up but am still waiting on final revisions. So please, keep sending them in. Directions for sending in a letter can be found here

Finally, a new photo was added to the gallery last week. If you haven't already seen Dark Elegance it would be awesome if you checked it out.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Leave any suggestions you might have, and be sure to take the poll (hopefully it'll work this week). I love hearing your comments so please drop me a line.