On the Streets of Insadong

With my heart pounding, I looked apprehensively at passersby in Insadong as I stood on the street with a sign around my neck. To create a promotional video for the Public Relations department of the Ministry of Unification (MOU), Kelly, Jay, and I decided to conduct a survey on reunification and MOU to both foreigners and Koreans. However, this was easier said than done, especially because I had no such experience of approaching strangers and asking them to answer questions.

As people busily walked by, I tried to muster up the courage to approach them. It was more difficult than I thought to approach strangers who all seemed so busy. Jay was already on the other side of the street asking questions with no hesitation whatsoever, and I admired his courage. After turning to Kelly with a panic-stricken face to receive encouragement, I approached a group of ajjumas (Korean term for married ladies). However, even before my mumbled question was out of my mouth, they completely ignored me and bristled by. Although I was highly discouraged, I took a deep breath and asked my question to a young couple, who, to my relief, happily answered my questions. From then on, I found out that young couples and young people in general were more likely to respond to my questions than older people. I soon got used to the routine, and I came up with better ways to get people to respond. At the end of the day, I learned a lot from these interactions and the answers that people gave us.

One of our three questions, ‘What is the Ministry of Unification?’ was mainly targeted towards foreigners to see awareness of MOU abroad. Our answer options were ‘Harry Potter’, ‘The Church’, ‘The Government’, and ‘Other’, and they could put a sticker on their answer. Although we knew that there is not a huge awareness of MOU abroad, it was still shocking to see that 45.3% of foreigners associated MOU with the church. Only 20% associated it correctly with the government, and 18.7% even associated it with Harry Potter. This helped me become aware of a dire need of a greater awareness of MOU abroad and that I can help this process by actions as small as telling my friends about what I did at MOU over the summer.

 

Our other two questions, ‘Do you want Reunification?’ and ‘Would you marry a North Korean?’ were mainly targeted towards Koreans. 82.4% of people surveyed wanted reunification, while 17.6% did not want reunification. Although the majority of people wanted reunification, many of them said that they want it in the future, but not right now. It was interesting to see that the majority of people who said did not want reunification were young people, especially young guys. When I asked adults if they want reunification, most of them said yes without hesitation. One man even got angry that there were ‘no’ responses and started swearing while telling me to bring the person who said no so that he can smack them in the head. I realized that there is a great generational gap on the view on reunification and that it is now harder for the younger generations to see the importance of reunification.

‘Would you marry a North Korean?’ got 42.1% ‘yes’ and 57.9% ‘no’ responses. A lot of people hesitated answering this question, and many people who said ‘no’ even apologized to me. Although the answer ‘no’ was not an overwhelming majority, the fact that 57.9% of the people said that they would not marry a North Korean helped me apprehend how much of a cultural divide exists between North and South Korea. I found it saddening that although North and South Koreans are essentially of the same ethnicity and background, the gap between the two groups seems greater than one between South Koreans and foreigners. As more years go by, this gap will probably keep growing bigger. I thought that it would be crucial for reunification to occur before the differences and misunderstandings between the two groups become permanent.

Although conducting this survey on the streets was intimidating for me at first, it was a rewarding and valuable experience. It was also fun meeting a variety of people and getting to know their opinions. One more valuable lesson from the day: strangers are not as scary as they first seem once you talk to them. Approaching them is the hardest part.

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