What Does Unification Mean to the Average Korean College Student?

Members from our overseas team with North Korean defectors and South Korean college studentsCHRISTINE OH

From August 4th-7th, our team (eight students from Wellesley College and one from Boston University) embarked on a four-day trip to visit the DMZ and drive along the 38th parallel line dividing North and South Korea. Our complete group was made up of student reporters from the Ministry of Unification, some student leaders from Kyung Won University, and a number of North Korean defector college students.  During the many hours that we spent on the bus traveling from site to site along the border, we were able to share with each other about our backgrounds, our cultures, and most importantly discuss our opinions about North Korea and unification.

During our discussion times, one important question arose. Why does the average college student in South Korea have little or no knowledge, let alone passion, about North Korea and unification? The students from Kyung Won University were shocked when they heard the testimonies of the North Korean defectors and what their lives looked like before they escaped; they had no idea that people are starving to death from famine while rice in storage for the military rots away. Several people offered their opinions regarding this issue:

One person suggested that people just live too busy lives in general and have no time to be concerned about North Korea when they need to be concerned about themselves. Another reported that, even though South Korea sends aid in the form of food to North Korea, it goes entirely to their army and the citizens are still left starving to death. These events are reported on the news, and any efforts by South Koreans made to help North Koreans seem wasted because of governmental control. My opinion was that our generation, born after the Korean War, has no reason to have any passion about uniting the North and South because we were born into a divided nation.

Moreover, I found it ironic that most our team from America had much more knowledge on the issue of North Korea and its human rights violations than any other student in the group. However, none of us had ever thought seriously about unification up until this point. This whole trip pushed me to think again and again about unification. My personal conclusion was that unification is the best solution so far for the problems happening in North Korea. Human rights violations, economic crises, death from starvation, sex trafficking, and many more issues would disappear, or at least be mitigated, if we were to become one nation again.

Aside from my personal thoughts, I also have a suggestion for the Ministry of Unification and educators in Korea who want to share the need and personal passion for unification. My friends and I did not come upon the unification issue first; rather, we stumbled upon it this summer during our community service time to help North Korean defectors. It was the horrific events that were happening in North Korea, the tragic stories of the refugees that we heard, that really influenced us and started the fire in our hearts. I believe that if our parents’ generation wants to pass on to us their passion to unite these two countries again, they need to take a different approach in educating the children of this generation. If they present the true situation inside North Korea right now, wouldn’t people be moved to help others, not even of another race but of their own heritage and blood? I firmly believe that many others will make the same conclusion that I did this summer: in order for anyone to help North Koreans—whether civilians, defectors, or refugees—the best and fastest way is through unification. One country may help another country, but with limits. Inside one country there may be states, but there is so much more we can do as one nation.

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