It is always a pleasure to travel, and even more so to someplace new. Recently, this place was South Korea. Places you have been before may be easier, more relaxing, more comfortable but they don’t quicken your senses and lighten any burden you may have. It sounds peculiar, but when you’re in a new country you feel every aware that you look like a tourist and are likely to be preyed on by potential thieves, and this keeps you on your toes and forces your eyes to scan and pick up every minute detail. It’s something akinto an adrenalin boost for the mind.
Thankfully, Korea has perhaps one thief, and he wasn’t around, far as I could tell. This country is perhaps the safest in the world and it was here that I came to teach English for a month and take in all I could of the people, their culture, and the surroundings. I snapped some very average photos but the point was journalistic, not award-winning. Speaking of awards, I won one for an essay I wrote there, and you can find it below this post. The contest title was to “Write a letter to North Korea” – essentially a message you wanted to convey from the South (the two countries essentially still being at war with each other since they spilt 60 odd years ago; they’re technically on a ceasefire).
Here you go…
Dear “North Korea”,
I have been living in South Korea for the past month teaching English to a class of 14-year- old boys and girls and return home to South Africa near the end of August. I have found the time quite challenging but also extremely rewarding. There were so many barriers to effective communication, most notably the language barrier but also smaller ones like different cultures, different ages and a difference in our way of upbringing and understanding one another.
Born in 1984, I grew up in a country that had just emerged from the horrors of apartheid and had a lot of healing to go through. The avoidance of civil war in the late 1980’s and the ensuing peace that has remained has been a blessing from God that I will most likely never fully grasp or appreciate. We still have our problems, like economic inequality, massive unemployment, poverty, AIDS, corruption, crime and political turmoil but we are by and large a happy nation with a bright future. Probably one of the best things happening in our country is that there seems to be this unspoken ‘spirit’ amongst the whole nation – regardless of race, religion or background – that we all need to forget the past and work hard to improve our country. It’s really interesting that this is happening because along with the problems mentioned earlier we speak many different languages, have many established ethnic groups, a dark history, millions of refugees and illegal immigrants from further north in Africa and essentially a lot of hearts that need healing. The incredible thing is that somehow we are pulling together to transform our country from the ruins of the past into the prophetic “rainbow nation” that we are striving towards. I am convinced that one day we will be a living example of peace and prosperity to the world and the beautiful thing about it will be that no one would have ever guessed it was possible to overcome such adversity in a country with so much diversity.
I guess as a teacher my ‘lesson for today’ is that Korea as a nation divided can look to South Africa and take heart from their example. We have far more problems in terms of disunity, and a hundred other things, but somehow we have learnt to work together. With 11 official languages, and several unofficial, sometimes we can barely communicate with each other but thankfully the most important things in this life transcend words. They’re called actions. We smile at each other in the street, we wave to people across the road, we walk with confidence and pride, we fill our stadiums and support sports teams at all times, we build homes for people we’ve never met, we produce some of the finest foods and goods in the world, we share, we laugh, we cry, we worship, we dance, we sing and we love it. Our country looked like it had no hope in the 1980’s. We came within inches of a long and bloody civil war but due to the daily decisions of millions of people we are slowly taking back lost ground and rebuilding a great nation.
In my time here I’ve fallen in love with Korea, primarily with its people who have been so friendly, gentle and warm. I have been amazed at this country’s history but I am probably more astounded with how incredible its future is going to be. With one official language, an abundance of talented and hard working people and such a positive spirit of nationalism at work, there is nothing stopping you from achieving anything. Although I have not been to what is called North Korea today, I choose to believe (in a prophetic statement of my own) that when I do go it shall just be called Korea again.
There is a curious verse in Genesis Chapter 11 where God says “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” and I trust that these two “countries”, speaking a common language can plan towards a common goal of reunification and reform. If we could do it, then so can you!