North Korea: Through the eyes of South Korea

Prior to 1945, North and South Korea were a unified nation. It was in 1948 when the Soviet-backed north and the U.S.-backed south separated into independent nations sparking a long unsolved conflict.

Woo Jong-il, a South Korean national who resides on the border, said in an interview to The Guardian, that after more than seven decades of living on the border, he still thinks any loud noise represents a threat to his life.

“I don’t feel safe, this is the front line,” Woo said. “It is nerve wracking. Weapons these days are so good, the front lines will be completely destroyed if war breaks out.” 

Besides the imminent threat of war, the modern cultures of North and South Korea contrast each other.

Ted Song, assistant professor of engineering at John Brown University and a South Korea native, described North Korea as an “isolated” neighbor, forced to seclusion because of the government blockage of all outside influences, including South Korean media.

Lydia Kim, senior biology major and second generation South Korean, agrees with Song’s view of an isolated North Korea.

“I think it’s almost to the point where North Korea’s so locked in that it’s falling behind–even their language and dialect is different, and the way they’re dressed” Kim said. “There might be more difference, actually, than connections”.

“It is not their [North Korean] culture that impacts us [South Korea], it’s their presence,” Song reflected.

Although Song and Kim suggest that cultural connections are weak right now, both parties affirm that deep relational connections exist between North and South Koreans.

Song recalled that before being colonized by Japan in 1910 and their separation in 1948, Korea existed as “a big family for centuries.” He noted that although younger generations do not have close relatives living in North Korea, older generations still have cousins and siblings living in the totalitarian state. He commented that older South Korean citizens likely feel love and grace toward their North Korean neighbors.

Kim believes younger South Koreans also care deeply for North Koreans.

“I see a lot of my Korean-American friends in other states who are very active about caring for the people who are still stuck in concentration camps because they have relatives who are still there [North Korea], or from there,” Kim said.

Song noted that it is a misconception to believe all South Koreans share the same political views regarding North Korea even when “the North Korean government wants to persuade more South Koreans [to accept] their ideology, but not many are buying it.”

South Korean perceptions about North Korea are diverse, and the tensions that exist between the two countries are not only politically challenging, but also relationally complex.

“I have a heart for North Koreans, because I see them as one of us, as Koreans, but also, one of us as people,” Kim closed.

JULIA BENTLEY – Staff Writer