Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I want to teach in South Korea, BUT I'm worried about North Korea. Any advice?

Here's the (increasingly common) question:

I'm leaving to teach in South Korea in mid-July, but my family is becoming worried about the situation with North Korea and is pretty much demanding me to stay in the US. I really want to go, but I am also getting worried. What should I tell them?


I have gotten so many questions about North Korea recently which doesn't really come as much of a surprise considering the recent tests and subsequent tension, but offering advice on this issue is not an easy one.

There's nothing I can tell you that will really calm a concerned family down. There is no key phrase or unknown facts that I can present to you here. Rather, I can only point you to where I get my information, so you can have a better understanding of what's going on. In the end, it is you and only you who can make the decision on whether to come to Korea or not.

Let me start by recommending a few solid resources. As usual, I'll send you to one of my personal favorites, ROKDrop. He has a very solid, clear and realistic grasp on North Korean issues. Being a career military man, he offers more than the posturing pundits and politicians who are way too visible when it comes to something many of them know little about.

While GI Korea over at ROKDrop has his shit together, he doesn't exclusively cover North Korean issues. One Free Korea, on the other hand, does. He has several updates everyday and once you start reading, you know he's been around and knows what he's talking about.

DPRK Studies is another excellent one. The main author has a long relationship with Korea and has spent years observing and studying the inner-workings of North Korean politics, history, security and society. It's a must-read in my opinion.

To get a fuller picture of the entire situation in the North, you must know everything and that's where North Korean Economy Watch steps in. This is an excellent resource for some of the information that you might not see posted on the other three. On top of that, they have been doing some amazing mapping work with Google Earth on North Korea. ROK Drop mentioned that it was featured on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Those four blogs kind of work in conjunction with each other. They all support the other and if you spent a few days reading them, then you would have a much better understanding of what's going on with North Korea.
For a solid news resource, check out Asia Times.
That's the information I can offer, but that doesn't really explain how I feel or how the average Korean feels about the north. Of course, there are fringe groups on both sides that remain vocal. Some are out protesting Kim Jong-il's provocations while others are protesting South Korean policy. That's what you see in the news, however, the average Korean suffers from North Korea Fatigue. That fatigue can manifest itself in a few different ways.

Many Koreans are like this man:
“We sent them food, fertilizer, factories, more than we give our own poor people,” said the South Korean, Lee Soon-hwan, a 30-year-old office worker. “And all they pay us back with is this nuclear test.”

He's like many Koreans who always had hoped that a peaceful reunification could be reached through economic aid and mutual development and while that may still be a very viable option, many are losing patience.
“The nuclear test has made people feel that North Korea has gone too far, and it’s high time for us to be tough on North Korea.”

There is no reason for me to go on and on about what could or should happen with North Korea as the bloggers above are world's more qualified and versed on the subject, but I can say that like many Koreans, seasoned expats have also reached a certain level of complacency. We have become immune to the weekly (and now daily) reports of North Korean discontent and aggression, so concern of an attack or serious emergency has been seriously dwindled.

I have been telling my family about these patterns with North Korea for years now and although they understand how North Korea acts, they still show genuine concern for my safety. That's what a family is supposed to do. So, my advice would be to read up on as much North Korean information as you can for yourself. You will not be able to magically calm your family, but you can calm yourself a bit.

On a side note, there are evacuation plans in the case of such an emergency.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

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