How Korean Slang Words Discourage Individuality and Voice

Do some words we use every day somehow contribute to a harmful culture, without anyone knowing or intending it? Follow writer Hope Yoon as she discusses Korean culture and language.

The English-only policy at KIS does little more than to make students quiet down a little when they pass a teacher in the hallway. Understandable, given how deeply rooted most students are in their native culture. You can take a child to the States for a few years, take away the school uniform, and take away the Korean curriculum, but ultimately, you can’t take the Korean away from the kid. So for the majority of the school, the dictionary of Korean slang terms is a necessity for surviving the trials of social life. It seems pretty harmless, even when used as lighthearted insults— after all, if it gets the whole class to laugh, how bad could it be?

But there is a pattern here. While Korean culture has both its charms and chains, the teen lingo in particular seems to enforce only the harmful byproducts of a society based on Confucianism. The prime example is “나대다”, which loosely means “to act up”. But there is a specific nuance here not captured by the English translation— one of putting people down if they speak out or express themselves in a way separate from the masses. A student who asks four questions in a row in class, simply to satisfy their curiosity. A student who cheers unusually vigorously at a pep rally. A student with flashy clothing. All could be put down in a single strike with the label “나댄다”.

A slightly more crass and somewhat outdated synonym is “깝치다”, which is, incidentally, often used to criticize an underclassman who opposes an upperclassman in any way. Yes, even Korea’s age-old emphasis on seniority status bleeds its way into slang usage.

One insult hugely popularized in the last couple years is “관종”, or attention-seeker. This word teaches teenagers that it is not okay to garner too much attention; that one should strive to be soft-spoken, to blend into the crowd without disturbing the established fluidity of conformity. Not only do people call each other a “관종” for going against the status quo, this also makes people doubt themselves. One often observes a fellow student wondering if they should say something in the group chat or post something on social media for fear of coming across as a so-called attention seeker. This subconsciously oppresses willingness to be different, or to be true to one’s identity and expression. And besides, why should people take this as a criticism anyway? Don’t we all seek some form of attention from other people? Isn’t that just human nature?

The list goes on and on. Someone who goes out of their way to help another, even when genuinely acting out of altruism, could be criticized for their “오지랖”. Someone who takes a subject seriously during conversation, or poses a heavy question could be called a “진지충”, which is a term for someone who is “too serious”. A literal translation is “serious bug”. Consider an example— if you hear a passively sexist remark and decide to address it seriously by pointing out the offensiveness of that comment, you are suddenly reduced to an “insect”.

Everything boils down to an all-encompassing term. “눈치”, or the ability to tactfully pick up others’ unspoken opinions and feelings. We are supposed to always be hyper-alert of what other people think of how we act and what we say. We are supposed to be careful. Of course, we need some 눈치 in the sense that we need to be sensitive of how others feel, and it is practical to be able to tactfully steer a conversation. But sometimes, our culture places too large an emphasis on being someone that has 눈치— but how will we live our lives the way we want to live it if we are forever thinking about how other people live theirs?

Slang words may seem harmless. After all, they are only names to label existing patterns of behavior. But names are never just names— words carry a world of magic, dirt, and history, accumulated from every situation that word has been used in. Language is a shifting, palpable manifestation of culture. Once you create a name for something, that concept becomes a real and concrete presence in that society. And a powerful, catchy name combined with a harmful connotation is a dangerous concoction. It then permeates throughout society to silently shift people’s viewpoints. I am not arguing this is a uniquely Korean thing— consider the term “pussy”, which at once promotes hyper-masculinity and misogyny. The existence of that word wrongfully connects femininity to cowardice and shame, and this exercises an influence on society, no doubt.

Language is a powerful tool, and perhaps we should take more care in choosing when and how we use it. Once in a while, I believe we should feel free to throw away our 눈치. To be unafraid of being someone that acts out, someone that gets attention, someone that knows how to be serious, or just plain different.

다르다고 손가락질받지 않는 사회가 되었으면 하는 바램입니다.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (‘19)

Special thanks to the members of Project Echo, whose discussion largely inspired this article.

Review of the Top 5 Ski Resorts in Korea

Wondering where to ski? Click and read to find the solution to your dilemma!

Although winter break is over and school is in session, a trip to a ski resort with family and friends over the weekend can be a great refresher from all the work!  But when there are so many top-rated resorts across Korea, all accessible with a one to two-hour drive from Seoul, it can be a dilemma to decide which one to spend your weekend at.

As someone who has been to over ten different ski resorts in Korea, let me guide you through the perks and downsides of the top 5 ski resorts.  

5th: Alpensia

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 The Good:

  • The ski resort itself is very large, with a variety of slopes for different skill levels
  • It is a five-minute drive from Yongpyong so you can spend a Saturday in Alpensia and a Sunday in Yongpyong

 The Bad:

  • The food is mediocre and quite expensive
  • It is far from Seoul, taking about 2 hours.

“I’ve skied here multiple times and although it’s smaller than its neighbor resort, Yongpyong, there are so many dynamic slopes.  My favorite is the longest slope, where the steepness of the slope continues to change!” – Sihun Choi (‘19)

4th: Vivaldi

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The Good:

  • There is good lodging, with condominium style places to stay at a relatively cheap price  
  • A variety of slopes to fit your skill level

The Bad:

  • There tends to be a lot of people, especially on the weekends
  • The steepest slope is not very challenging, especially compared to other resorts

Our family’s go-to resort is Vivaldi and I always feel comfortable with skiing on the slopes as none of them are too steep or intense.  Although there are a lot of people on the weekends, there are multiple slopes ready for all the people!” – Julie Kim (‘20)

3rd: Welli Hilli  

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The Good:

  • It is a good resort for people of advanced skill levels, as there are many exciting, long, and steep slopes
  • Not only are do they have an abundance of slopes, they have moguls and half pipes

The Bad:

  • It is quite far from Seoul, being about two hours away
  • The parking is not convenient, especially during weekends when there are a lot of people

“As a competitive skier, I feel like Welli Hilli is the most suited for my cravings of challenging and steep slopes!  At the same time, there is a slope for everyone, even if you’re a beginner.” – Jason Kim (‘20)

2nd: Konjiam

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The Good:

  • It’s only 40 minutes from Gangnam
  • There is affordable but delicious food ranked the best out of all the ski resorts in Korea

The Bad:

  • It is very packed on the weekends and even on the nights of weekdays
  • The resort itself is quite small, with no steep slopes for advanced skiers/boarders

“Konjiam is the definition of short but sweet!  It’s definitely not very big but it has many slopes for many different skill levels.  It’s a great resort if it’s your first time boarding or skiing.  Oh yeah, the food is also the best!” – Claire Min (‘21)

1st: Yongpyong

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The Good:

  • It’s the largest resort in Korea, with over 24 km of slopes!
  • There are slopes to fit every skill level, whether you are a beginner or extremely advanced.

The Bad:

  • It is 2 hours away from Seoul, comparatively farther away than other resorts
  • As it is the most renowned ski resort in Korea, there are always a lot of people

“There’s a reason why the 2018 Olympics are going to be held here!  It’s so big with the slopes being long and wide.  But don’t be intimidated because there are easy slopes as well.” – JJ Yang (‘21)

– Michelle Shin (’21)

Graphics by Crescentia Jung (’19)

K-Drama Maniac

Are you ever bored of T.V. shows that lack romance? Then try these memorable K-dramas loved by people around the world!

In Korea, there are four things that get the most attention: the cosmetics, the plastic surgery, K-pop, and finally the Korean dramas. Hands down, out of all the Asian based dramas, it is safe to say that Korea has dominated the category. With the rise of the cliche but thrilling plot lines, people are intrigued to start from one drama to another. Although sometimes very predictable, the affectionate romance behind the scenes and the breathtaking cliffhangers after every episode keep the viewers on the hook. Every drama has its unique plot and character. If a drama with a good plot doesn’t match up to its expectations, the majority of the viewers automatically blame the actors; therefore, it takes precision and heated discussions on selecting the building of each individual character for the drama. Every single actor has an exclusive aurora that the directors take note of in order to find the perfect fit.

Korean dramas do have the reputation of being unrealistic, having the plot line of “poor Cinderella” waiting for her “Prince Charming.” In fact, the plot lines with this vibe take up most of the hits. Despite the numerous hits, here are some of the narrowed down hits of Korean dramas since 2013!

2013

The Heirs

The cliche poor Cinderella with her Prince Charming plotline, but this drama earned very high ratings. The actors of this drama, Park ShinHye, Kim WooBin, and Lee Min Ho, successfully started to rise in fame after the air of this drama.

Summary: Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho) and Cha Eun Sang (Park ShinHye) meet in the States for various reasons; and Kim Tan, although an “heir” of a chaebol family, falls in love with EunSang. They meet back in Korea where their love blossoms through the difficulty of the typical lunatic parents and barriers of the rich and poor.

My Love from the Star

With the superb acting of Kim Soo-Hyun and Jun Ji-Hyun, the drama sprouted popularity across the world. Even China has made multiple adaptations of this very drama.

Summary: A romantic fantasy story about an alien (Kim Soo-Hyun) who comes to Earth. When Cheon Song Yi, a top actress in Korea in the drama, starts to fall down in her fame, the alien helps boost her confidence.

Master’s Sun

This drama gained popularity for the unique arrangement of romance and horror combined together. Many famous lines were said in this drama and are still used today.

Summary: A girl who is involved in an accident gains the ability to see ghosts. Due to this, her life is abnormal until she finds a man who is able to stop her from seeing these ghosts by a single touch. But, the man, an owner of a shopping mall named Kingdom, is very arrogant. Will she be able to approach him to get rid of these ghosts?

2014

It’s Okay, That’s love

This drama was highly rated due to its realistic plot line which builds upon the relationship between a doctor and a novelist. In fact, their selection of actors was praised as D.O. , an Exo member, was involved in the casting. Exo is a very famous Korean boy band, known for their KPOP.

Summary:   The novelist who has a mental disease due to his abusive past seeks help from the doctor who also has the fear of getting into relationships. The doctor and a novelist fall in love while trying to help each other overcome obstacles.

Healer

Ji Chang Wook finally got his fame due to this action drama that incorporated very settling romance. Due to this drama, he started acting in more action dramas.

Summary: A boy with the codename “Healer”  seeks revenge on the ones that hurt the economy and the people.  Yet without the name, Healer, he lives a normal life where he falls in love with a girl. The girl doesn’t know about the boy’s second identify.  The problem is the girl is in love with Healer, not the normal everyday boy.

2015

Kill Me, Heal Me

With splendid actors and a unique plotline, this drama rose to fame immediately.

Summary: The protagonist has a rare disease of five personalities, and the issue is that he is in a workforce where many eyes are on him. A woman is hired by the company only to find out that she evolved a relationship with all five different personalities.

Reply 1988

Although most dramas are directed more towards women with cliche romance, this drama was known for its unique family nostalgic atmosphere. The realistic scenes of the days back in 1988 grabbed a lot of attention from the ones who lived during that time frame as well.

Summary: Duksun, the main character, in 1988 goes through entangling conflicts of family, friendship, and romance. A lot of cliffhangers are seen in this drama as the setting shifts from present to past often. There are love triangles formed between the friends in order to confuse the viewers as the past and present scenes are portrayed to answer one question :“who is Duksun’s husband?”

2016

Love in the Moonlight

A historical drama where the actor Park Bo-Gum gained a lot of fame for his excellent acting. The drama satisfied the eyes of many, picturing beautiful scenery from 19th century Korea.

Summary: The woman protagonist, Kim Yoo Jung,  tries to hide her identity of a woman throughout the story for a mystery reason. Park Bo-Gum, the king, finds “him” very reliable, and as they spend more time together, the truth unravels itself.

Descendants of the Sun

One of the reasons this drama came to fame was the beautiful scenery as the drama was filmed in Greece and South Korea. Using Greece’s beautiful geographies, the directors were able to depict realistic situations of wars.

Summary: A sergeant and captain of the Special Army force is on vacation in Korea where they catch a thief. The doctor mistakes them for hurting the thief instead and files a report; that’s when they first meet. The captain and the doctor continuously meet through fated and purposeful actions. Their real love story begins when  the doctor sent to Greece as a  special work force team where they meet again.

2017

Missing 9

Although there were American TV shows that were similar to this drama, this was a new genre for the Koreans.  

Summary: A suspenseful mystery where 9 kpop stars are stranded in an island in the middle of nowhere due to a plane crash. In that island, there were actions of savagery such as murder.  But ironically, more trouble occurs when they seek help and arrive to Korea. The murderer gets to Korea first where he brainwashes the community to think he’s innocent from murdering. Will the 8 other victims be able to prove themselves innocent?

Tomorrow With You

With Lee Jae Hoon’s successful works from the past, people are anticipating for this new drama especially with his chemistry Shin Min-ah.

Summary: A man (Lee Jae-Hoon) and woman (Shin Min-ah) barely survive a train crash by getting into a heated argument and leaving the train. Ever since then, the man becomes a time slipper and is able to travel to the future from the present. Soon he finds out that his future isn’t bright and tries to change it. In the process, he gets involved with a woman who he deliberately marries for the sake of his future.

These were brief summaries and reviews, so it’s your time to find out what truly happens inside each drama. Even after binge watching dramas for many years, I am still always ready for new releases; each one has its own suspense and enchantment.

Prepare some hot cocoa and popcorn, snuggle up in a blanket, and be prepared to cry, laugh, and smile all at the same time.  

-Tae-Young Uhm (’18)

Featured Image: Umaria Tariq Malik

Korea’s Stance on Refugees

Amidst growing sentiments against increasing border restrictions around the world, is it finally time to examine Korea’s persisting stance against immigrants and refugees?

Over the last few days, news of immigration bans and Muslim watch-lists has filled the news cycle in what has become a very bizarre turn of events in the US. President Trump, on January 28th, decreed an executive order that called for the halting of all immigrants coming from 7 countries: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, all of which are Muslim majority nations. Even individuals who held green-cards or visas were barricaded from the country, and foreigners who held dual citizenship with one of those countries were denied access.

In response to this seemingly xenophobic public policy, thousands of protesters rallied to airports in order to call for the repeal of the act. Protesters, along with judges from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, camped in airports and adjacent regions in order to signal their disagreement with the Trump Administration’s order. Thankfully, the order has been deemed unconstitutional by federal judges, with immigrants previously detained now being allowed entry into the country.

Although this story may seem like a far-off issue, it is much closer to home than it may appear. In fact, Korea has been criticized by the international community for its strict policies on refugee entrances. South Korea has enabled some refugees from countries such as Syria to reside in Korea under so-called humanitarian visas, annually renewable documents that limit refugees’ from finding work. Essentially, it allows such refugees to live in the country without financial support, housing, or health care.

Since the 1990’s, Korea has only accepted 600 non-Korean refugees out of 18,800 asylum applicants. If we look at Syria, a war-torn country that is at the headlines whenever news related to refugees is released, Korea has only accepted 3 refugees among the thousands who have tried to find a safe haven. The number has remained stagnant even after former President Park Geun Hye announced in 2014 that Korea would “pitch in to help resettle millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War.”

The Korean government’s stance on the issue has been one of shifting the responsibility.

“The point of the policy is to ensure that these Syrians will return home once the civil war is over, so not to make their life here too comfortable,” said Kim Sung In, secretary general of Nancen, a refugee advocacy group in Seoul. “It essentially leaves them to fend for themselves.”

What Korea’s restrictive refugee policies has created is a limbo state in which refugees are not sure if they will be able to find protection if they take the risk of journeying to Korea’s borders. In June 2016, CNN reported that Syrian refugees who had fled the al-Assad regime’s violence and terror were stuck at the Incheon airport, not sure of whether they would be given safe passage into the country, or whether they would be flung out to find another country that would take them in. The conditions they were left in were no better, as those refugees had to get by without a bed, without sufficient hygienic care, and with just bread, as the only food they were given were burgers, something forbidden under Islamic Law.

It is unsure when Korea will re-examine its stance on refugees, or even if it can. But while refugees and immigrants are being banned on live TV in the US, refugees back at home are being discreetly turned away.

Written by Ye Chan Song

Featured Image by CNN

Russia Partially Decriminalizes Domestic Violence

“If he beats you, it means he loves you.” In Russia, where old proverbs and traditions are still relevant today, the parliament voted to decriminalize domestic violence. Read on to find out what this means for the victims and the aggressors.

Late January, the Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma, voted 380-3 to decriminalize domestic violence unless it causes serious damage to the victim or happens more than once a year.  The bill will punish violations with a $500 fine or a 15-day arrest except in the cases of domestic abuse not subject to this law. If this bill takes effect, first-time offenders that do not cause harm severe enough to send the victims to the hospital will receive no penalties.

If this bill is approved by the upper house, the Federation Council, and signed by President Putin, Russia will become one of only three countries in Central Asia and Europe that does not have any laws specifically targeting domestic abuse. No or minimal opposition is expected in the Federation Council, and President Putin has already expressed his support for the bill.

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PC: yahoo.com

The amendment will overrule a ruling by the Russian Supreme Court that took effect last July that eliminated criminal liability for domestic violence that results in no physical harm but kept criminal charges for battery against family members. As soon as it began to be enforced, the law faced fervent opposition; Russian lawmaker Yelena Mizulina described it as “anti-family” and “undermining the parents’ ‘right’ to beat their children.”

Human rights activists argue that the government should be protecting the victims from more domestic violence; however, the Russian parliament has chosen “protecting the family unit as an institution” over protecting the women and children whose rights are violated every time they are assaulted by their own family. Other critics of the amendment claim that the passing of this bill will send a message to the Russians that domestic violence is not a crime and will fuel the rate of battery against family members, which is already high in the country.

According to the Russian government, 36,000 wives are beaten by their spouses every day, while 26,000 children are abused by their parents every year. In order to escape domestic violence, 2,000 adolescents commit suicide and 10,000 run away every year. However, 60-70% of victims do not seek help, so 97% of domestic abuse cases never appear in court.

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PC: domestic-violence-law.com

Archaic ideologies have been gaining traction in not only Western Europe but Russia as well recently. Specific laws criminalizing domestic abuse and other “private affairs” are increasingly perceived as nosy meddling in household matters by the government. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, stated that family conflicts are “not always equivalent to domestic abuse,” and a state-run survey in January found that 19% of Russians believed that it can be acceptable to beat a wife or child in “certain circumstances.” Even some Russian police officers are reluctant to get involved in domestic violence cases, which they view as meddling in family affairs.

The Russian cultural and political establishment has always upheld traditional values, but they have become increasingly conservative in the past few years, especially under President Putin. New restrictions on protests and political liberal opponents have already been passed, so the Russian government’s backtracking on their domestic violence policy has not proved to be a surprise although it has worried human rights activists.

Domestic violence, however, is not an unfamiliar problem to us as well. According to South Korea’s Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, 60% of all domestic violence cases were dropped from prosecution charges in 2015, while only 15.6% went through the indictment proceedings. A total of 118,178 cases were reported, but only 8762 arrests were made. In our country, domestic abuse is also widely perceived as a private matter that law enforcement should not pry into, and the perseverance of the family unit is often valued more than the victims of “family conflicts.”

How many more pleas from the victims of domestic abuse will convince societies with deep patriarchal roots that domestic violence is unclear, but it is clear that it is a severe issue that must be tackled by the government. The safety and quality of the lives of the citizens should be prioritized over the set ideals of political parties. So far, many conservative governments have not fulfilled their own duty by not taking enough action or actually backtracking in their efforts to progress towards social justice; however, governments must start listening to their own people before the voices of victims are completely silenced by their aggressors.

– Kristin Kim (’20)

Featured Image: headstuff.org

Sources:

 

Sewol Ferry: We Do Not Forget

Sewol Ferry, a tragedy of hundreds. Why does it remain an issue in 2016, and why should you care? Read on for what you don’t know about the issue.

On April 6th, 2014, a ferry of 426 passengers capsized on its trip from Incheon to Jeju island. This marks the Sewol Ferry incident that ceaselessly continues to haunt the nation after more than 2 and a half years. Recently, it is especially garnering more attention in the context of the Park Geun-hye scandal. What makes it so significant, how is it still relevant, and most importantly, why shouldn’t we forget?

For those who are unaware of the details of the original incident, the following is a summary of the facts. On the ferry were 325 students from Danwon high school, taking their annual school trip, along with 14 teachers, other passengers and crew members. When the ferry crashed that morning and began to tilt 45 degrees, the ferry notified the police. For around two hours, it was broadcasted within the boat that the passengers should stay put, emphasizing for the students not to come out to the deck, in a situation where they should have been escaping the boat for rescue. In the end, the captain escaped and survived, along with students and passengers that managed to exit the boat. Those who obeyed the broadcast make up the 295 irretrievable victims. A nationwide broadcast soon after the incident reported that all were rescued, and parents miles away sighed in relief; only to be notified a few hours later that this was far from the truth.

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“My son is starving too. My child is crying too…” -Sewol Parent

If the incident was simply a tragic accident, why is it still an issue today? While it was reported that the government made rescue attempts to the best of its ability, no one who was trapped in the boat was successfully rescued. There is definitely much room for suspicion. The parents were refused the ride to approach the scene during the rescue operations, and eventually paid for a boat to see the scene for themselves. An interview with a mother revealed that civilian rescuers were stopped from helping out until the parents and the rescuers put up a fierce argument. It was reported on television that the government had allowed it from the beginning.

The 3 media giants of Korea (SBS, KBS, MBC) broadcasted with a positive outlook, much inconsistent with what the actual scene was like: frantic, unorganized, and disheartening. While the nation was told that rescue teams had advanced to the ship’s dining hall, they had not even actually entered the boat; the media claimed that air was being pumped in, when the pumping equipment had not even arrived on scene.

“I was watching a live video of the scene and TV reports at the same time when I realized that all the important parts were missing from TV. Sometimes, I would see the news blatantly contradict what I was seeing with my own eyes. That’s when I realized something wasn’t right.” -Korean blogger

Rescue specialists from the navy and the Seoul City Rescue Team, equipped with years of experience and cutting-edge technology, were refused entry to the scene. The police continued to curiously turn down and block offers of help by other parties, while making multiple blunders and showing extreme inefficiency. Multiple eyewitnesses testified that contrary to the media’s reports of grand rescue operations, nothing was actually happeningPresident Park’s claim was that “the government is utilizing all resources and manpower possible for the search and rescue”, while parents cried foul: “no one is doing anything. Anything! Are we standing around so we can take out the dead bodies?” No one knew who was in charge, and no one would answer the parents’ questions. Besides the few mentioned, there are innumerable points of suspicion. There are too many to list in a single article, but all of them point to a single allegation: it wasn’t that they couldn’t rescue the passengers. It was that they wouldn’t.

“Everything going on the TV right now is a lie. They’re all lies. What’s the use of news reports when they’re all lies?” -Parent interviewed on scene

A mysterious lack of transparency and communication is what is keeping the issue above the water. To this day, parents continue to gather in front of the Sejong statue at Gwanghwamun in a vehement cry for the government to investigate who is to blame and what actually happened.

The main point of inquiry that links the issue to president Park is that no one knows what she was doing for 7 critical hours when the incident first occurred. As the president, it was her most basic duty to be on the job, being alert and putting her full attention into commanding the urgent situation. It was recently revealed that Park spent 90 minutes of that time getting her hair styled, galvanizing even more fury among citizens, and the government still refuses to disclose Park’s whereabouts for the remainder of the 7 hours. Strong allegations include one that claims Park was meeting a shamanist during the time, and another that claims Park was undergoing plastic surgery, each theory backed with a collection of inconclusive evidence. While the truth is still unclear, an undeniable fact is that Park’s actions that day are being concealed by the government.

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Families of Sewol victims protest for the truth

This is why the Sewol Ferry issue has a significant place in the tsunami of protests against Park’s presidency. During the most recent weekly protest, Saturday, December 3rd, a Sewol victim’s parent gave a speech calling for the truth, moving many to tears. She appealed that “the last name my Eun-hwa called for was probably ‘mother’. Sewol Ferry is still underwater, and so are the 9 unrecovered children. They want to come back to their families.” Our nation’s ranking in media freedom has, since the Sewol incident, dropped to the 30th place out of 34 OECD countries. The ship is still under the surface, and so is the truth. We refuse to forget until it is brought into the light.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Cover Illustration: Hannah Kim (’19)

Sources:

 

A Leader Led Astray, People in Disarray: Choi Sun-Sil Scandal

A recent political scandal has left Korea in shambles. Read for a summery of the issue, along with a personal take on the individual’s attitude in the midst of such a crisis.

*Cover Image: Students gather in protest against the Park regime.

The leader of a state is secretly under heavy influence of a person who is not affiliated with the government in any way, who has become a mysterious figure with immense amounts of power and affluence under her fingertips. This falsely bestowed power reaches specific decisions handled through the puppet “leader” and even classified national documents. Does this sound like a post-apocalyptic novel to you? Perhaps a chapter in a history book, or a far-fetched conspiracy theory?

Shame on this nation: it is a current reality.

When Park Geun-hye was first elected as President of the Republic of Korea on December 19, 2012, the post-election sentiments were nothing out of the ordinary. She had won 51.6% of the vote [1], and the results left some of the populace disappointed, some indifferent, and some hopeful. In other words, her presidency started out like any other. Many Koreans looked out into a new era, hoping for the daughter of ex-president Park Chung-hee, and the first female president to be serving in Korea, to be a source of deliverance from the country’s societal problems. President Park’s career then saw many twists and turns, including election-meddling scandals, labour policy criticism, and heavy protest relating to government-created history textbooks. But the recent scandal, involving the aforementioned power figure, has led her approval ratings to drop to an all-time low of 5% [2].

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Flags wave above the crowd as citizens protest against the Park regime.

The crux of the scandal is that president Park has been under the counsel of a personal acquaintance, a woman named Choi Sun-sil. The nature of this relationship is still being investigated, with Park only describing Choi as an “old friend”, but it has been strongly speculated that spiritual or shamanic guidance is at the core, especially with Choi’s father being a religious cult leader. This has provided even more of a sensationalist twist for conspiracy theorists and has given rise to the metaphor of a “Korean Rasputin”. Abundant rumours and first-hand accounts relate to Choi’s father having, at one point, completely held control over Park’s soul in her early life. The scandal is extremely complex and multi-faceted, and many narratives have yet to be confirmed, many questions yet to be answered.

Evidence, including some 200 computer files found in Choi’s office by journalists, exposed that Choi has advised president Park on matters big and small. Choi’s influence reached presidential speeches, important policy statements, and even wardrobe choices. From there, a string of investigations led to a mass of evidence on Choi’s corruption, allegations including manipulation of her daughter’s university admittance and connections with mass corporations. Increasing confirmation of the Choi family’s massive wealth has done much to continue spurning the nation’s anger. Choi Sun-sil has since returned to Korea and is awaiting trial for criminal charges.

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One of the many flyers found near protest areas

Park’s reputation is now irrecoverable. Her feeble public apologies have done nothing to alleviate the public’s outrage, if not fueled it even more. She has discharged multiple officials in an attempt to regain some of the lost trust, but the citizens continue to cry out for resignation and even impeachment, while masses of people continue to gather in front of Gwanghwamun for protest, and in other local areas apart from Seoul. The population is no longer divided on evaluating Park as they were when she was first elected; the people are now in almost complete unity, rallying against the atrocious deception and complete disregard for democracy that the scandal has shown in president Park.

And what happens to women’s places in the government? While the conservative and heavily gender-biased nation of Korea seemed to have made some progress by electing a female president, some of the blame of this scandal is shifting towards “the inability of women to govern with rational thought”. Does it seem likely that Korea will be open to electing another female leader soon? What happens to international relations? What happens to North Korea, seeing that even Kim Jong-Un recently questioned the nature of Park’s foreign policies? The scandal permeates across every field of concern.

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The issue goes much further than a simple corruption scandal. Many students of KIS are unaware of the magnitude of this problem, perhaps being masked by another riot of the U.S. presidential elections. But even while Koreans watch and mock the U.S. elections as if it were a circus, they forget that their own government has been one all along. Park’s entire presidency has been a farce. A puppet-master has been behind it all along: a leader that the people did not know they were voting for when they voted for Park in 2012. While some argument persists that the nation must seek stability while allowing Park to finish her presidency, this is difficult for the average civilian to accept when they feel that the government is not in their hands anymore. Indeed, one of the many slogans being cried across the country is “Korea is no longer a democracy”.

As individuals in a large, troubled population, we must shift our focus to being aware of the big picture. The single scandal is leading to greater attention in other areas of society with a lack of transparency. Korea needs to wake up to the reality that the scandal is only a centerpiece to a feast of corruption that has been continuing for decades. Awareness is crucial- the issue evolves daily and information becomes outdated within days. This article covers only the tip of the iceberg. With the limited writing capabilities of a high-schooler to capture such a hefty topic, readers are urged to follow the issue with other sources. It is also crucial not to be caught up in the popular fury, but to retain the ability to discern what information is relevant and credible, while genuinely understanding the implication of the issue. It is so easy to be angry, but so hard to be truly angry.

I attended a mass protest on November 12, 2016, where an estimated maximum of a million citizens gathered near Gwanghwamun, Cheongwadae (Blue House), and the Seoul City Hall. The number million can be hard to fathom- picture street after street as oceans of people, the economic and political center of the city overrun with anger. The demonstration held its heat well into the night, symbolic of how much personal passion this event had galvanized. The chants were deafening, the fury overwhelming.

As I stood holding a candle, staring into the crowd with my father, he told me, “shouting and making yourself heard is important, but just by being here, you are voting with your feet. You are expressing with your feet.” Perhaps it is difficult to see how we, as individuals, can change so massive of an issue. But taking a stance means something bigger than this scandal. We, too, can make a difference in each of our small worlds. Whether that means being an honest president, citizen, student, or school club officer, everyone has a place in making this country a better one. We stand at a crossroads in history- may we stand, ideologies united, in the belief that we have the power to change something.

– Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Sources:

[1]: http://www.gallup.co.kr/gallupdb/reportContent.asp?seqNo=449

[2]:http://www.gallup.co.kr/gallupdb/reportContent.asp?seqNo=787&pagePos=1&selectYear=&search=&searchKeyword=

Image credits: Jong-ha Yoon

The Impact of Anti-Graft Law on Jeong (情) in Korea

Anti-Graft Law stirs up wariness all around Korea as it strives to curtail collusion between businesses, stemmed from the public concern.

Wining and dining, gift giving, and personal solicitation have long been part of an everyday regimen in achieving successful social life in Korea. At what point does bringing gifts to show gratitude turn into a sign of illicit solicitation? In the midst of the sparking controversy over Kim Young-ran Act (an anti-graft law drafted to address rampant bribery and corruption issues), this question helps understand many reasons for public confusion that came from the clash between a notion of gift giving as a tradition and a call for generating a more just society.   

According to the ruling of the Constitutional Court, public officials, school teachers, and any civic individuals are capable of being arrested, should they receive gifts in any form that exceeds 1 million won. Also, persons convicted of accepting such endowment or the equivalent monetary value will be sentenced to up to three years in prison—a legislation that sets KRW 30,000 as the maximum value of one meal in work-related environments, KRW 50,000 for gifts of any kind, and KRW 100,000 for gifts dealt with personal events such as weddings.   

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Students providing handmade snacks for the teachers and other students during last year’s KIStival (PC: Joey Park)

Many ordinary individuals in Korea are experiencing sweeping changes in their day-to-day lives. Students and teachers are no exception. As anti-graft law affects a small student community in the Korea International School, the entire relationship between the faculty and students are experiencing drastic alterations. Even stricter regulations are enforced in KIS, meaning gifts of the lowest value such as a KRW 1,000 worth cup of coffee are prohibited on school grounds. Expressing their personal concerns, teachers and students alike broached their opinions on the anti-corruption law coming into effect from October 2016.

“Bribery is constantly taking place in Korea. Teachers were frequently solicited by parents to write good recommendations for their children. They are exposed to opportunities for being bribed. This unjust social practice must be reformed. So the anti-graft law is an appropriate measure for the country. This should be welcome in KIS as well.” Minoo Yun, a fellow junior noted.

Mr. Reschke, who is an AP Economics teacher, stated that the school community should be exempted from the act. “As one who coaches a sports team and writes letters of recommendation, I understand the students’ passion to lead and succeed. Small gifts should be allowed as a token of gratitude. We teachers are professionals after all and clearly use discretion when receiving gifts at a reasonable price. Therefore, I don’t believe bribery is a serious issue here in KIS.”

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Students enjoying each other’s company in Chinese class (PC: Joey Park)

 According to the students, the main point that many are struggling to adapt to is expressing jeong (: a strong sense of emotional attachment). Korean society is characteristically relationship-oriented. With its long history within the psyche of the Korean people, a prominent sense of compassion and empathy (온정주의, 溫情主義), which underlines showing reciprocal appreciation and gratitude in creating a strong attachment bond, lies at the heart of the senior-junior relationship. In this manner, swapping gifts, sharing food, and cooperating with one another have regularly been viewed as a natural component of any relationship building even among young students in Korea.

Jeong is extremely difficult to be completely removed from Korean society because it is engraved in the hearts of the people as a vital element of their traditional culture. Thus Korean society has but a single solution: becoming adapted to the new situation that the new act brought about, but never forgetting the essence of its customs that teaches us how to appreciate one another.

– Ashley Kim (’18)

Featured Image: Joey Park (’18)

What to Address for our Electricity Bill

The current taxation policy on household electricity in South Korea became an issue over the summer. Just like any progressive tax system, with this policy implemented, the tax rate increases when the person spends more. It is a fair system because it grants financial margin for low income population in exchange for a little more burden for the upper middle class.

Also, it creates an incentive for people to save more energy, which comes from resources that Koreans usually cannot internalize. In fact, when the policy was first introduced in South Korea back in 1973, President Park advocated for this policy for the exact same reason. Due to the 1973 Oil Crisis (the global oil price rose due to turmoil in the Middle East), there was a desperate need for moderation in electricity output then. Over time, the system evolved through renewals in Korean Congress every time the new administration was elected. However, the people are not so happy about it at this moment.

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Designed by: Hannah Kim (’19)

As the graph describes, the electricity bill increases every 100 kilowatt. The second hour of air conditioning costs 2.1 times more than the first and for the sixth hour, the number goes up as high as 11.7. The minimum fee would make the electricity bill in South Korea one of the cheapest in the world, but the level 6 fee makes it as twice as expensive compared to that of other countries.

The heat wave of 2016 was quite unprecedented in South Korea. This led to a steeper demand for air conditioning in every household. This made more households to be prone to costly electricity bill. Every media outlet including social networks and portal sites was rushed with complaints on the unreasonable tax policy. Meanwhile, the government claims (2) that raising the minimum fee to balance out the system would ultimately benefit the high income population. This might be true. For example, Chairman Lee of Samsung paid 24,000,000 won (approximately 22 thousand dollars) in one month. The elimination of the current system might reduce this number by half.

Nevertheless, the advocates for reform claim injustice in burdening the working class people with weighty energy tax in the midst of radical climate change. As the electricity bill for July started to arrive, hundreds of people on the internet and social media reported on how their bill rose from 80,000 won to 520,000 won just from using twice as much air conditioning due to the progressive billing.

In the end, the politicians did respond. Quite a few congressmen announced that they are working towards a new legislation to take down the current model (1).

Yet, the summer is already coming to an end and the legislation is not developed any further than a future tense. Even when the lack of attention created a national outcry, a tardy reaction is all people get. Get a grip, Congress!

 

-Paul Jeon (’17)

Featured Image: http://inuri.soaworld.com/

Rio Olympics in a Nutshell: South Korea’s Achievements

From archery to golf, South Korea earns some of the biggest successes of Olympic history during the 17-day span.

The once-buzzing two week session of the summer Olympics has finally come to a close, and South Korea was not an exception for bringing a wide array of national sports heroes into the country’s frontier. Standing proudly in front of the podium facing hundreds of journalists and fans, the athletes attended the press conference on August 24th, celebrating the end of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and South Korea’s outstanding accomplishments overall.

Placed eighth out of 206 countries, South Korea managed to stay rooted in the grounds of Top 10 for four years straight, all the way back from Athens 2004 to Beijing 2008, London 2012, and today at Rio 2016. Also, out of 28 sports categories with the two recent additions of golf and rugby, South Korea was able to bring home 9 gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 9 bronze medals overall. Their solid effort clearly evident, the athletes never ceased to amaze the audience with their hard-earned achievements shining brightly on a string of green around their necks.

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Athletes rendering respect to South Korea’s national anthem

First off, South Korea danced all over their rivals to complete a clean sweep of all four titles in the Olympic archery event yet again in Men’s Team/Individual and Women’s Team/Individual.

Continuing their effortless domination in the venue, the female team has now won the event every time since its introduction in 1988 Seoul, proving themselves a cut above all other opponents. The trio of Bobae Ki, Misun Choi and Hye-Jin Chang came in by unstoppable storm, shooting brilliantly to ease to a 5-1 victory over Russia in the final round and sent the crowd into euphoric hurrah. In addition, the seamless threesome of Woo-Jin Kim, Bon-Chan Ku and Seung-Yun Lee roared to a 6-0 win to garner South Korea’s fifth team title and fourth in the last five Olympics, which also paid back for the grief of their failure to make it to the final in 2012. These consecutive medals definitely served as a notable evidence that archery is the country’s most successful event ever in the summer Olympics.

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Republic of Korea’s archers broaden their Olympic reign

Unprecedented success followed too, however. The audience failed to hide their amazement when fencing newbie Sang-Young Park reeled off five consecutive points to claim the unlikely comeback of South Korea’s third gold medal, just on the verge of defeat by 14-10 against Geza Imre of Hungary. It only took a matter of seconds to crush the seemingly insurmountable match for Park to secure his 15th point of his miraculous victory. After his remarkable performance, Park is officially the second South Korean man to win an individual Olympic gold in fencing, and the very first in the Men’s Individual Epee.

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Park cries out in glee after his first gold in the Olympics

Another round of medals was brought in by star shooter Jong-Oh Jin, when an unexpected miscue was not enough to hinder his goal for a third straight gold in Men’s 50-meter Pistol competition. Also, Korean Taekwondo players revved up their game by winning 5 medals for all 5 participants, with 2 proud golds attained by Hye-Ri Oh and So-Hee Kim as well as 3 bronze medals to top it all off.

More legendary Olympic records were engraved into history in Rio, including the return of golf back into the Games for one of its 28 programmes. This time, LPGA star In-bee Park won gold in women’s golf and defeated world’s No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, marking the very first medal in history after 112 years of non-inclusion. Park has won 7 majors, including the career Grand Slam, and earlier this year became the youngest golfer in history to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Now she has the first gold medal awarded in women’s golf since Paris 1900, the only time women previously competed in golf before at the Olympics.

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Park smiles standing on top of her first ever Olympic podium

Amidst the flurry of outstanding accomplishments and world records, several disappointments were inevitable as well. South Korea had to face a devastating defeat against Honduras by 1-0, failing to advance to the semifinals of the men’s soccer tournament. Furthermore, South Korea bowed out of the quarterfinals in women’s volleyball, unable to pursue its first Olympic volleyball medal since the team’s bronze in 1976 in Montreal 40 years ago. Rhythmic gymnast Yeon-Jae Son also failed to seize her dream of earning a medal by finishing fourth in the individual all-around final by merely 0.685 points apart from third place Ganna Rizatdinova of Ukraine. However, among the traditionally strong Russian competitors, Son’s Olympics record was by far the best out of all the other Asian gymnasts.

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Son is unable to hide her tears when landing just below third place

Now it comes to question what significance these accomplishments actually carries to the medalists themselves and the nation. The Olympics urges athletes to get higher, faster, and stronger, pushing them to reach the peak and even beyond the human potential accompanied by their intense training and hardcore dedication. However, one needs to realize that the Games is not all about earning a gold, let alone any color of the medal. For an athlete, the Olympics is everything, four years of his or her life to prepare for a tiny hole, and once it closes, there is not much time for re-qualification. Despite the media frenzy motivating the contestants to perform at their best, the chances are that they might not be so lucky this year round. This brings to a conclusion that the Olympics is really all about trying your best, creating memories, building new experiences, and most of all – having fun.

– Ashley Kim (’18)