Last April, I joined an international program to teach English as a foreign language in South Korea. For the several months before I left the U.S., whenever anything Korean-related was mentioned, it was an unwritten rule that I should be informed about it as soon as possible. If I hear Gangnam Style one more time, I may explode.
I was often asked if I was nervous about the situation between the North and South. This discussion was only amplified when I received my placement in a city that shares a riverbed with North Korea, and I was nervous. But I figured if everyone turned down amazing opportunities just because of precarious situations that may or may not arise, the world would be much more boring. So I took my chance.
I have been here for five months now, and I’m still notified anytime someone from home learns anything about Korea. When North Korea launched the rocket in December, I got three Facebook posts and two texts that something had happened. What was I doing Feb. 12 when the North Koreans conducted an underground nuclear test? I was making coffee, eating cereal and watching television. Then I went to school, taught my students and graded papers. After work, I went home, made dinner and then went out for drinks with my friends. Why? Because it was a normal Tuesday. And when North Korea declared war just a few weeks ago, it was the same reaction. I had breakfast, went to work and taught my students. At the end of my lessons, I like to ask them if they have any questions — related to our class or anything that is on their minds. On the day war was declared, my students’ only questions were about why I don’t have a boyfriend or children. They find it hard to believe a 22-year-old girl is happily single with no plans for marriage or kids anytime soon. But they didn’t bat an eyelash when North Korea declared war.
North Korea and South Korea have been fighting for decades, long before they or their parents were born. It is only the degree to which they fight that has changed. People think that because the war was declared, South Korea is in a state of panic, that everyone is jumping on flights or holed up in their homes with cans of Spam to last them through a nuclear winter. My friends and family in the U.S. have been emailing, Facebooking, texting and maybe smoke signaling me asking, “Are you okay?” “Are you coming home?” “What’s going on?” “Do you need me to send anything?”
Yes, I am OK. I know as much as anyone in America does about what’s going on in South Korea. I don’t watch CNN, because the reporters are making everything 10 times more dramatic. When my friends and family ask me if I need anything, I tell them to send me Fluff, an Entertainment Weekly and size 10 shoes, as I cannot find these things as easily in Korea.
If you still want to worry about someone’s safety over here in Korea, worry for PSY, because if I ever meet him, I’ll give him a horsey dance he won’t be able to recover from as penance for my bleeding eardrums.
Laura Lefebvre ’12 teaches English in Gimpo, South Korea. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.