As tensions between North Korea and the international community continue to escalate over an increasing number of missile tests conducted by the regime, South Korean students at Texas A&M are weighing in on what it’s like to study in the U.S. during the international crisis.
North Korea has conducted 15 missile tests in 2017 so far, including one nuclear weapon test and their first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The technological sophistication of their weapons has been increasing rapidly.
However, for the majority of South Koreans in the younger generation, living under continual threat of conflict with North Korea has become a normal part of their lives.
Ryun Jung Lee is a doctoral student in the urban planning department. When Ryun Jung came to the U.S. four years ago she was surprised by the level of concern Americans had
for the North Korean issue.
“It’s been like that since I was born, and we don’t feel like there will be any real threat,” Ryun Jung said. “But then here people actually talk about the actual war. I thought, ‘Why are they talking about the war here?’”
Weonjin Shin, a third year doctoral student in bilingual education, feels similar to Ryun Jung about the North Korean threat.
“It happens a lot. Lots of times North Korea is always threatening in that way, since I was [a child],” Shin said. “We don’t feel that afraid.”
But recently Shin said she does feel worried for her parents and younger brother who are living in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, less than 40 miles from the North-South border.
“[My husband and I] are here, we still have family in South Korea, and they are all living in the capital city, and I am really worried about that,” Shin said. “They are worried about it but they didn’t have any option. They have their lives there, so they can’t leave South Korea.”
Shin’s grandmother was evacuated from the North during the Korean War, which erupted in 1950 and cemented the countries as North and South. She was never able to return or re-establish contact with her parents who had remained in the North.
“Until she died she [had] never been to North Korea,” Shin said. “She always [missed] her hometown and everything. A lot of people are separated because the war happened. My grandma, she didn’t even know whether her parents [were] alive.”
Juhno Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of civil engineering and was a research engineer in South Korea before coming to the U.S. Like Shin, Juhno also has family in Seoul, including his parents and his sister.
After studying at A&M for three years, Juhno said he noticed that the American news media pays more attention to the North Korean missile crisis than the South Korean news media does. He attributes this to the fact that South Koreans are generally more concerned with other topics, like domestic politics.
“Maybe CNN or Fox News here gets more details [about the North Korean issue], because in South Korea we are struggling with some kind of political issues,” Juhno said.
Kyungho Jeon, a doctoral student in geology, said he began to take the North Korean threat more seriously after coming to the U.S. in high school.
“While living in Seoul during my childhood, I did not have much fear or interest in the conflict,” Jeon said. “It was after I moved to the U.S. while in high school that I came to appreciate the distinctions of the fundamental values that the two Koreas have. I came to realize that the threat from the North is reality.”
Even though the threat is real, Ryun Jung said that if South Koreans were constantly thinking about each next step North Korea takes, they would not be able to lead peaceful, prosperous lives.
“I don’t want to say we don’t care or we don’t worry, I mean we do worry,” Ryun Jung said. “But we are not carrying that fear everyday.”