North Korea’s recent heated tensions and repeated threats on South Korea and the United States have ignited some concern for South Korean exchange students at Oswego State.
For the past few weeks, North Korea has been threatening South Korea, the U.S. and its allies with warfare. In mid-March, North Korea nullified its 1953 armistice with South Korea, which has kept the peninsula peaceful since the Korean War. By the end of March, North Korea declared that a state of war now existed between the two countries.
Starting this spring semester, Oswego State opened its doors to more than 40 new South Korean exchange students. According to the students, the threats from their northern neighbor are nothing new.
“At first time when I heard that North Korea threatened our country and the states, I didn’t think it seriously and just thought maybe North Korea needed money and food so they threatened us to get money and food from our and the U.S. governments,” said exchange student Sangah Kim, who lives in a city near Seoul. “But I felt scared as the threats that they will go to war and fire nuclear missiles to South Korea are going on.”
Some students see the situation as a bigger and more direct threat than those in the past.
“One of my friend’s father is on a high status in Korean military,” said sophomore Yein Song. “He said it is a really urgent situation, and none of my friend’s family can even contact him now. Until now, they were very worried about it. It is not the first time that North Korea has threatened South Korea. However, this time, all of nations were really worried and my parents even told me to not come back to Korea if the war really occurs.”
Some foreign students at Oswego State said that they didn’t hear much about the tensions until they asked their parents back home about it, and are not currently taking many precautions to the affair.
“I asked my family and friends, but they are fine and don’t worry about this conflict that much actually,” said Solae Baek, who lives in Seoul. “Some of my friends in the States, they are worrying about the tension in Korea peninsula, but people in South Korea, they are going to work and enjoying the spring day as usual.”
Many citizens in both South Korea and the U.S. are still unsure as to why the North has been taking such aggressive measures lately, which include multiple underground nuclear weapon tests and threats to use them on the South and U.S. territories in the Pacific.
“North Korea has created crises like these several times in the last few years,” said Lisa Glidden of the political science department at Oswego State. “Each time it was to negotiate for money or aid. They’re certainly being provocative in new ways this time, making it hard, I imagine, for the South and the U.S. to figure out the best strategy.”
Reasons such as North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, showing off his country’s military strength, strengthening his position, or conducting ways of celebrating the first anniversary of his election to the First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, have also been considered
“North Korea often says some provocative announcement, so people are kind of getting used to this situation like ‘the boy cried wolf,’” Baek said. “People take this situation more seriously than before but some people make an object of ridicule about North Korea’s action,” Baek said.
Foreign exchange students aren’t the only ones whose safety is being considered. Oswego State offers study abroad programs in Seoul and the surrounding area.
Joseph McKeown is the director of International Education and Programs and recently returned from a trip to Seoul.
“From my recent visit to Seoul I can confirm that life there appears to be very normal,” McKeown said. “In lengthy conversations and meetings with Oswego’s key partners there, the feeling seems to be that they have seen this type of saber-rattling before from the North, and that it is nothing to worry about too much.”
McKeown said that the situation is potentially dangerous because North Korea is so heavily armed and the United States is a military ally of South Korea, therefore they would likely defend it in the event of war.
“If the U.S. State Department advises against travel to South Korea because of this, then we will advise accordingly,” said Ryan Lemon, coordinator of one of three summer study abroad programs in South Korea. “Until that happens we continue to monitor and plan, but otherwise proceed as normal.”
Like many similar series of threats North Korea has made in the last few years, many believe this crisis will likely pass with no significant military confrontation.
“I still think that North Korea’s threats like this will not stop,” Kim said. “It will go over and over again until the two countries will be unified or North Korea will self-destruct. So I think even the threat this time will pass by. South Korea and the U.S.A should establish a long-term policy against North Korea.”
Song said that she was worried about any activity occurring on April 10, the anniversary of Kim Jong Un’s election. The North Koreans are notorious for aggressive displays on such important days. Despite the date having passed with no incidents, Song said she is still worried for her family and her country.
“The thing is, the Korean War also occurred in the middle of dawn, and nobody expected,” Song said. They are still nervous because they think it can be happened just like 63 years ago.”
According to the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Seoul last week and pressed for talks with the North to ease the tension in the region. The government has been trying to find a solution to this crisis in a peaceful way.
“It’s absolutely wrong to threaten world peace,” Baek said. “However, I think it’s not okay to just appease all of North Korea’s requirements for a temporary calm down. South Korea has to open the door to dialogue with North Korea, but also has to have action based on belief and principle.”