As tensions between North and South Korea escalate, I am reminded of my time there (in S. Korea, of course). Despite the fact that I found teaching to be extremely draining, the kids did manage to crack me up on a daily basis. I loved how they insisted on trying to explain Korean current events. Kids being kids, of course, ‘current events’ mostly had to do with Kim Yuna (gold medal figure skater) and some actor called ‘Flower Boy’. To this day I’m still not sure who Flower Boy was, but if he’s ever successful abroad, I suggest he change his stage name to something slightly… less flowery.
However, sometimes the little ones piled in to class yelling ‘Teacher, Pyongyang!” followed by a stream of Korean. These were the days you knew that North Korea had pulled some dumbass stunt, and you were reminded of just how close to the border Seoul really is. In class discussions with the older students, they were usually able to explain what had transpired, their expressions bemused rather than frightened. I remember asking them (for the sake of prolonging my hold on their waning attention) why they thought North Korea did these things, but they just shrugged. It didn’t really matter to them, they had grown up in the shadow of the conflict. And while not immune to it, they certainly weren’t going to stop living their lives.
Anyone who has lived in Seoul will agree that for the most part you wouldn’t even know there was a country less than a 3-hour drive away bent on your destruction. It hasn’t stopped South Koreans from working hard for their families, and drinking copious amounts of soju with colleagues. If anyone deserves the ‘keep calm and carry on’ award, it’s South Korea.
Despite the fact that my students gave me the Asian death flu on more than one occasion, I sometimes miss them. I hope that perhaps there will be a peaceful end to the conflict within their lifetime.