One of the more interesting things about day-to-day life in Korea is its mandatory military service. After he appeared in class the first day, Sangcheol Eom remained absent for three consecutive class periods. I read his name faithfully each time until my students informed me, “He go to army.” Sangcheol Eom and boys like him are always disappearing from university, heard from only occasionally by their girlfriends and friends at Kosin, and then reappearing two years later bigger, stronger, and more responsible.
I often get questions about how the military service affects daily life. (For a thorough treatment of the subject from a much more qualified source: link) From my soccer buddy Gyu I gleaned that most boys are apprehensive about going into the army, but always happy to have done so after the fact. Girls don’t like their boyfriends leaving, but most couples think of the separation a little romantically, and those girls with boyfriends in the army are treated similarly to American girls with boyfriends at a different college.
In this week’s homework, I was delighted to read Bowen’s paragraph about his proudest accomplishment:
“I don’t have big accomplishment. I went army. It Korean man’s duty to army. I protected my country for 2 years. North Korea is very uncomfortable. When I was army, North army ship attacked our country’s ship. Our soldiers is dead (46 soldier). My feel was shocking and sad. North Korea is crazy. I proud of my country army. Without them, we are not safe.”
In this slice of homework, Bowen addressed two of the most common interests Westerners have for Koreans: North Korea and the mandatory military service. As Bowen said, serving in the army is a Korean man’s duty and something they are proud to do. Korean men love their country and they are proud of their army.
As for North Korea…it is crazy and uncomfortable.