One of two HWS students currently participating in the study abroad program in Seoul, South Korea, was featured in an article in the Times Union today about the growing conflict between North and South Korea. Junior Jenna Lohre, a native of Niskayuna, N.Y., the article notes, was surprised when, “on the morning of Nov. 23, that North Korea had fired artillery shells at a South Korean island — one of the heaviest assaults on its neighbor since the Korean War.”
She is quoted, “I knew about the tension that was going on currently. But I don’t think I had such a great awareness of how deeply rooted it all was, and how far back it had been going.”
Lohre is a religious studies major and member of the William Smith rowing team.
The full article follows.
Unrest in Korea is on-the-spot lesson
Stephanie Lee Staff Writer December 10, 2010
Coming from Niskayuna, Jenna Lohre always found something that surprised her about Seoul: the crush of passersby, the relentless rise of new buildings, the abundance of cafes.
But the 20-year-old was most surprised to learn, on the morning of Nov. 23, that North Korea had fired artillery shells at a South Korean island — one of the heaviest assaults on its neighbor since the Korean War.
It served as a lesson in Korean affairs, one unlike any that Lohre, a junior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, had learned so far during her semester at Yonsei University. She talked to friends and professors, tried to decipher the news and pieced together what had happened — and what it meant.
“I knew about the tension that was going on currently,” said Lohre in an interview conducted on Skype from her dorm room, 14 hours ahead of New York time. “But I don’t think I had such a great awareness of how deeply rooted it all was, and how far back it had been going.”
As Asia gains prominence in the global economy, its countries’ affairs hold increasing personal significance for outside students who have dedicated themselves to understanding the region.
The attack on Yeonpyeong Island, which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians, put on display the escalating tensions between the South and North. South Korean officials have vowed to retaliate against the reclusive North, which is backed by China.
Korea existed as a single independent country from the seventh century onwards. But after World War II, a Republic of Korea was installed in the southern half of the peninsula while a Communist-style government took hold in the north. As a result of the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, the peninsula was split along the 38th parallel.
In the eyes of Lohre, a religious studies major who speaks basic Korean and is due back in the states before Christmas, the November attacks did not noticeably disrupt everyday life. But she said older Koreans seem to have accepted the attack with quiet frustration, “as if it’s one more chip on the block,” while the younger generation acts “much more passionate and vocal about their opinions.”
The number of U.S. students studying abroad in Korea has grown considerably in recent years. It was the 25th most popular destination in 2008-09, drawing 2,062 students from 1,597 students in 2007-08, according to a report by the Institute of International Education. The 29.1 percent jump in interest was second only to Peru, which saw a 32 percent increase of students.
One student from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is spending the academic year at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. And in the SUNY system, six students are currently attending Yonsei University, including two from the University of Albany, according to James Pasquill, UAlbany’s director of study abroad and exchanges. The program, which started in the 1980s, draws about 15 students annually, he said.
News of unrest abroad can worry the parents of globetrotters, but Pasquill said his have seemed remarkably calm.
“I carry an emergency phone,” he said. “I expected every single parent to call me and nobody called. Still nobody’s called.”
In situations that pose extreme danger, the university would allow students to return to the United States and complete their coursework, Pasquill said. In the case of South Korea, the U.S. State Department has not issued a warning for citizens to leave the country.
But the attacks might deter Soobeen Kim, a 21-year-old senior at the UAlbany. At age 2, Kim moved from a city near Seoul to New York, leaving behind virtually her entire extended family: a dozen cousins, two grandparents, two aunts and five uncles.
An older cousin is serving in the military, as mandated by law, and Kim said she is worried for his safety. And before the attacks, she also dreamed of teaching English in South Korea after graduation.
“I was so set on going,” she said. “Now I’m not too sure.”
In the photo above Lohre stands in front of the Cheonjiyeon waterfall in Jeju Island, South Korea.