Just before heading back to the United States, I took a detour to London for three weeks to meet family and friends. Among my friends who are currently studying in London, one of them is currently enrolled at the school of economics in Regent University. It had been two years since I had last seen her; however, unfortunately, I had arrived in London while she was still in the middle of her dissertation and finals. I decided to stay over for a couple of nights and spend some time at her university so that I could be with her for a few days before I left for America.
Regent University – sits quietly in the middle of Regent Park – no sign announces its presence. My friend tells me that everyone knows it hides in the middle of the trees abreast the lakes of Regent Park. I did not know anything about the university or its students, but I could tell as soon as I walked passed the front gates and into its halls that the students were not from average families. There was a scent about them that suggested the elite.
As my friend gave me a tour of the school, I met a couple of students from Italy, France, Zimbabwe, Germany, and Japan. We ate lunch at a restaurant within the university. After we ate lunch, I decided to walk around the park since my friend had class to attend. However, before I exited the gates, we ran into a Korean classmate of my friend. Having just arrived from South Korea only two weeks beforehand, I wanted to get to know him and his international experience since many of the Korean students I knew at my own university had at one point studied in the United Kingdom during their childhoods. I thought I would even try out some of my broken Korean so that he could at least know that I was genuinely interested in his story.
First, I introduced myself to him and told him that I had just studied Korean language at Sogang University. Then I asked him what part of Korea he had come from – if he had come from Seoul or not since most of the Korean students that I know who have had the opportunity to study internationally had come from Seoul.
However, he said laughingly, “No, I actually come from North Korea although most people always mistakenly think that I come from South Korea.”
In surprise, my friend had asked him if he was serious. He responded in the negative. I found that I was a bit upset with his choice of humor, especially since I had met several motivated and intelligent students while I volunteered at Hangyeore. His attitude is a representation of the distance that many South Korean young adults associate with North Korea and the North Korean people. His flippant remark shows that he does not consider the situation in North Korea very personally. I think that his education abroad probably further increased the distance he may feel from North Korea since he most likely left South Korea from at least the age of eighteen if not younger to pursue an education abroad during high school.
Before we parted, I at least wanted him to know a little bit about such hardworking students from North Korea as those at Hangyeore. So, after he told his joke, I told him about my short little experience at the boarding school – that I had been able to meet students who had escaped from North Korea to start new lives in South Korea – that maybe one day they would also be able to study internationally like him. However, for North Korean students to have the chance at such a future, the support of South Koreans for unification is essential.
Although I am no longer in South Korea or able to speak to people in South Korea about North Korea and unification directly at my convenience, I am able to get in touch with the South Korean community at my university now that I have returned to the United States. Like my friend’s classmate, they are South Koreans who have left South Korea at a young age for their education. As they are likely to become future leaders of South Korea, they will play a role in the unification of the peninsula.
I have heard from some of my under classmates that they are also involved in the Yale charter of THiNK, There’s Hope in North Korea, a group that works to increase awareness of North Korea’s violations of human rights as well as to implement change to protect religious and political freedom and human rights. When I return to Yale for the spring semester, I intend to involve myself more thoroughly in THiNK and help to spread their message on the Ministry of Unification blog because of our shared hope for the peace of the whole Korean peninsula.