Alum shares tales from tension-filled South Korea
December 9, 2010 By Leigh Cocanougher
South Korea, says that the town is currently “is swarming with
military personnel and vehicles, which makes sense seeing as
how we’re only 20 miles from the DMZ.”
Chandler (pictured here during a trip to Greece while studying
abroad as a Centre student) credits his abroad experiences with
helping him adjust to life in a foreign country. “Centre made me
a more hands-on traveler, and I don’t think I would be surviving
very well in Korea if I weren’t.”
When Sean Chandler ’08 recently moved to South Korea to begin teaching English to middle-school students, he had no idea that he would be abroad during what he terms “an important and potentially defining moment in Korean history.” Now, in the midst of an increasingly aggressive situation between North and South Korea, Chandler is experiencing a year abroad that is more extraordinary than he could have ever imagined.
Having been fascinated by the culture and history of Asia for many years, Chandler says that his dream “for as long as I can remember was to see the continent firsthand.”
“I wrote my international relations seminar paper on post-Korean War economic and political development in the region,” he says, “and after completing my M.A. in diplomacy at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School, I got in touch with a contact in Korea—Michael Douglas, a 2006 Centre grad—and decided to begin the application process with the EPIK organization, Korea’s government-sponsored native English speaker recruitment program.”
Now teaching English in a middle school, Chandler is quickly getting accustomed to the South Korean way of life, and he notes that his years at Centre have helped him adapt to life in a foreign country.
“Centre provided me with the enthusiasm and the dedication to really pursue other themes within international relations when I completed my master’s,” he says. “But my study abroad experiences in London and Nicaragua are what really jumpstarted my passion for traveling and truly experiencing new cultures.”
In South Korea, he says, this means “not just tasting kimchi (a fermented Korean dish of vegetables and seasonings) but snapping on my plastic gloves and actually learning how to make it. Since I arrived in Korea, I’ve sampled everything from chicken’s feet to grilled grubworms to mudfish soup, and let’s not forget all the kimchi that I can eat. I’ve had some of the most satisfying meals in Korea that I could imagine, and also some of the most, well, interesting. Centre made me a more hands-on traveler, and I don’t think I would be surviving very well in Korea if I weren’t.”
And living in Korea during this time of increasingly tense relations has given Chandler a depth of understanding in international relations more than perhaps any class he has taken.
“I live in a town called Ildong, which belongs to the greater metropolitan city area around Pocheon, north of Seoul,” he says. “My town was established as a place where Korean soldiers from any of the local military bases nearby can come and buy general necessities, groceries, or enjoy soju (a distilled beverage native to Korea) at any number of bars and restaurants.”
Currently, the main drag in Ildong “is swarming with military personnel and vehicles, which makes sense seeing as how we’re only 20 miles from the DMZ,” Chandler says. “The atmosphere, however, has been largely unaffected by the most recent outbreak of aggression between South Korea and the northern regime. Since the assault on Yeonpyeong, I’ve seen more frequent flyovers by helicopters and fighter jets and a negligible increase in troops, but the average citizen continues happily going about his or her business.”
He adds that he has been surprised by “how calm everyone is and, although I hear my fair share of unsubstantiated gossip about future attacks, it’s hard to be very worried when people are as cool and collected as my neighbors.”
Although he says he has no doubt that South Korea “has yet to see the end of North Korea’s belligerence, I don’t feel that I’m in any danger. I’ll be following all updates on the situation along with everyone else here for months, and if the aggression should further escalate, then I should be instructed by the U.S. embassy in Seoul what to do next.”
For now, he says, he is thrilled to be experiencing such an “important and potentially defining moment in Korean history.”