As many of you know, I spent two years in South Korea. After I finished graduate school in London, I felt compelled to gain more international experience and live abroad. My grandparents had been medical missionaries in South Korea during the 1970’s, and we still have family friends in Seoul. So, when I ended up moving to Seoul in October 2006, even though the country was radically different from my other travels, it was comforting to have people there who knew my family.
My two years in South Korea were a time of personal growth, challenges, and learning. I worked at Seokyeong University, teaching English to university students, and volunteered at the Jayoutuh Center for North Korean Refugees. It was truly a life-changing experience to work hard to earn the friendship and trust of such resilient individuals who had escaped from such a brutal regime. At my farewell party at the refugee center, after spending two years with those amazing people, one of my North Korean students approached me and said, in broken English, “Kim Jung Il, he lie to us. Americans, you are friends.” Needless to say, I could not hold back the tears, even though I had lived in the stoic Korean culture for awhile.
I left Korea with many friends whom I consider to be family, and we still keep in touch. I’ve been praying for them this week as news reports continue to come in about severe flooding and landslides hitting the Korean peninsula.
I remember well “monsoon season” in Korea, when the rain just never seems to stop and you’re always walking around feeling drenched and windblown. My friends in Seoul appear to be okay this week, although their schedules are completely disrupted–many of them are posting pictures on Facebook of the heavy downpours that prevent them from leaving their apartments. Seoul has been hit by landslides, according to AP reports, as well as the town of Chuncheon (about 68 miles northeast of Seoul). According to news reports, at least 32 people have died amidst the crushing weather, and many more have been injured.
South Korea is an incredible country, with a complex culture that reveals itself slowly, like the layers of an onion, and even then you’re still never quite sure if you’ve gained even a superficial understanding of it. I love the country and, even though I joke that it tried to kill me (I became very ill and ended up in a Korean emergency room, was unable to keep down solid foods, and lost about 12 pounds in one week) to make me prove my sincerity. I enjoyed my time there and will always consider a piece of my heart to belong to Seoul, and to the Korean people. I hope and pray that the pain and destruction caused by the recent landslides and flooding are soon alleviated.