South Koreans at Michigan Tech Hold on to Hope for their Homeland
By Jennifer Donovan | Published
Recent saber-rattling by North Korea has the world on edge. But for South Koreans living and working in the US, it’s causing particular concerns.
Chang Kyoung Choi is a young engineering faculty member at Michigan Technological University and faculty advisor to the Korean Student Association. He’s been in the US since 2002, first in Texas, then in Tennessee and now on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but his mother and other relatives still live in South Korea.
Choi calls his mother almost every day, just to check on her and the situation there.
North Korea has threatened South Korea as far back as Choi can remember, “but this is different,” he says. “It is much stranger.”
Dong Hwan Shin, a PhD student and visiting scholar from South Korea who is working with Choi and Associate Professor Jeff Allen at Michigan Tech, agrees. “The new leader (of North Korea) is too young,” Shin says. “I don’t think he can control the army.”
China used to control North Korea, Shin says, “but China has backed off. North Korea is totally isolated now.”
On the other hand, Shin—who is scheduled to return to South Korea in May—says he and his friends don’t spend a lot of time or energy worrying about North Korea or what its leaders might do. “Most South Koreans have to work too hard to spend time worrying about North Korea. We can’t change the situation.”
Besides, says Shin, “This is normal. We have always lived under this threat.”
Choi agrees. But he harbors hope that things might improve, even that South and North Korea could be united once again.
“The world is very small now,” he points out. “Technology is so well developed that, using a satellite, we can monitor and detect any abnormal activity before anything happens. I believe South Korea and the US can take protective action in time.”
Technology also is changing the way people in North Korea live and think, Choi suggests. “The young generation there, everyone is using the Internet. They know what is going on in the world. And in North Korea, people love to watch the South Korean soap operas on TV. That is absolutely forbidden, but they are doing it. They have found ways around the prohibition.”
Choi believes that South and North Korea could be united within 20 years. “We are one people culturally,” he says. “It’s a purely political division.”
How could one Korea come about? “Bring North Korea into the conversation,” Choi says. “South Korea has just proposed a conversation with North Korea. We are waiting for North Korea’s response.”
Choi finally adds, “This tight and stressful situation will be naturally resolved by conversation, without any military collision or any complicated political sanction.”
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.