8:19 PM Jmo 0 Comments

As me and my coteachers become more and more comfortable with each other, I've started to engage in more cultural and political discussions with them. The Korean election is coming up on December 19th and I was curious as to how Korean campaigning and politics compared to American. It was after a brief discussion of far too often and common similarities (not telling the truth, money has power, etc) that our conversation shifted to Korean politics in the 70's, then back to the Korean War. I love history and to hear it from a first hand perspective is even better. Documentaries can only deliver so much.

Yesterday, Mrs. Nam and I had a long break in between classes due to some rescheduling. So, we posted up in the office with some coffee and talked. The conversation was not light. We talked of war, the conflict with Japan (during and post-occupation), and how attitudes towards the North have shifted since her time in school. Like I said, the conversation was not light but, I'm not sure if it was because of cultural differences, language barriers, nerves, or maybe she was just pleased that I was interested but she spoke of everything so plainly and matter-or-factly. She spoke of extreme hardship and adversity with a smile on her face for most of it. Maybe it's because she's so proud of how far Korea has come? That I understand. It's amazing to think of how quickly things have changed here. Fifty years ago the population was starving to death. Now, you can't walk 10 feet without seeing a ten year old holding a smart phone playing Angry Birds.

Similar parallels can be drawn with the US. But here, everything has happened so fast. The US has long been a super power. Korea is the little country that could. Especially when you think of the North. Just miles away is a country housing the last true Dictatorship. It's a country frozen in time. And the people are trapped within. So our conversation turned to North Korea. I was curious how South Koreans felt about the topic. It's obvious that older generations would still have a great deal tied to the North. Some family members are still trapped and some still hope for unification. But I was curious about the younger generations. She said that many don't really think about it. But she did say that when she was growing up and going to school that they were taught to "hate" the people in the North. I said "The government, right?" and she said "No, both." That surprised me. She said it wasn't until recently that sentiment has changed. She also said that we have some students whose families have fled from the North. And the community now has organizations to help those looking to assimilate. Amazing.
She also told me stories that her grandmother told her about both WWII and the Korean War, living in famine, and the Japanese occupation. I shared some information about my grandfather during WWII to touch on the power of storytelling. It was a conversation that I will be forever grateful for having. Not only has it humbled me and given me more insight into Korean history, it's also brought me closer to Mrs. Nam.


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