NOV  2008  [ Vol. 17, No. 11 ] Home | Contact Us | Korean | KF Home   
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Letter from Fellow

Fellow Essay
A Visit to the DMZ and the Image of Korea

Yaroslava Pakulova

Lecturer of Korean Language
Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
When I see my students’ indifference to Korea at times, I sincerely hope that they, as Korean language majors, will have a chance to visit Korea, if only once. I hope that they will get to know more about this beautiful and impressive country, and develop an affection for Korea.

When I was admitted to the Department of Translation at Moscow State Linguistic University in 2000, I was assigned to the Korean Class. In a way, it just happened by chance. However, I strongly believe it was my destiny to be assigned to the Korean Class, considering the fact that my relationship with Korea has continued for 12 years since then. During those years, I visited Korea to study Korean as a Korea Foundation Fellow on three occasions, and traveled everywhere to enjoy Korea more. Around this country with a long history and outstanding culture, I visited many places of note, and acquired an abundance of cherished memories. Especially, one of my unforgettable memories about Korea was a visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in 2003, while I was studying Korean at the Korean Language Center of Ajou University.
On the day of the visit, I felt excited, wondering what the famous DMZ looked like, and how the Korean soldiers would treat us – foreign students in Korea. Aboard the bus, there was a serious atmosphere, befitting the military zone. The soldier who guided us looked manly and brave, but somewhat rigid. So, I thought he might be dull and boring. However, my prejudice soon melted like snow, and I felt friendly toward him when he told us interesting stories.
Our bus ride continued until lunch time. As lunch time arrived, the Korean proverb “Geumgangsando sikhugyeong” (meaning “even Mt. Geumgang should be seen after eating,” or “A loaf of bread is better than the song of many birds”) came to mind. We enjoyed a delicious lunch. The restaurant not only served great food but also offered excellent service and a pleasant atmosphere, unlike the joking of our teacher, who accompanied us. All of us were having a good time.
After lunch, we took a group photo and headed for the museum. On the way, I noticed a soldier in front of the building and felt a twinge of homesickness, because his hat looked similar to a Russian hat. It was again a young soldier guide in the museum who was most memorable. He spoke very fast and stiffly, probably because he was nervous about guiding the unattentive foreign students, who would burst out laughing for any reason. I am not sure about the other students, but in my case, I could understand only 20 percent of what he was saying, although my listening comprehension was not that bad.
If someone asked us what was the most memorable or shocking experience of our visit to the DMZ, most would mention the tour of the infiltration tunnel. As soon as we entered the tunnel, we were surrounded by rough stone walls. It was horrible to imagine how much time and sacrifice must have been required to dig this tunnel in such rocky ground. Getting back to the surface after touring the tunnel was especially difficult. It was the second-most difficult task since October 2002, when I hiked Mt. Seorak, the first-ever mountain-hiking experience of my life. It was refreshing outside the tunnel, after working so arduously to get out. I burst out laughing when I saw the faces of my friends, covered with sweat. We just could not understand the curiosity that made us – young and not well aware of Korean history – venture underground, and why such a large number of people visited there.
Another memory was the landscape around the mined area. I saw a cat sitting on the land-mine area from the bus window. The cat looked so calm and peaceful as if knowing where all the land mines were buried. At Dora Observatory, I found it surprising and even mysterious that North Korea was located so close to the South. Looking at the DMZ that divided the Korean people, for even a Russian like me, I felt heartbroken because I could not break free from the thought that the former Soviet Union, my home country, had played a part in the division of the Korean Peninsula.

This trip was taken five years ago but I still remember it well. I always feel grateful to the teachers of the Korean Language Center at Ajou University, who arranged the visit to the DMZ, the symbol of the tragedy of the Korean Peninsula, and especially our teacher guide who created a comfortable atmosphere with his amusing jokes.
I currently teach Korean to Russian students. When I see my students’ indifference to Korea at times, I sincerely hope that they, as Korean language majors, will have a chance to visit Korea, if only once. I hope that they will get to know more about this beautiful and impressive country, and develop an affection for Korea. We should acknowledge, however, that there is a reason for such indifference on the part of students.
I am hesitant to say this, but what the Russian people know about Korea at the moment is limited to such things as “Korea produces advanced electronics” or “the Korean people eat dog meat.” As a person who has traveled to Korea several times and wants to teach the Korean language all through my career, I feel much regret about this. One of the biggest reasons that Korea is not much known to other countries is the vague image of Korea among the international community.
Sushi or unique Japanese comics come to our mind when you think of Japan, the Chinese characters in the case of China, and the Kremlin in the case of Russia. Like this, something should be visualized when you think of Korea. Things associated with Korea in people’s mind today are mobile phones or automobiles. Even those with an interest in Korea know about Korea from the films of Director Kim Ki-duk, featuring a cruel and bleak contemporary Korea. In fact, I just cannot understand why, although there are many touching and artistic Korean films these days, only Director Kim Ki-duk’sworks, or such negative movies as Old Boy and Attack the Gas Station! are always shown overseas. Such films incite prejudice of Koreans as Asians who are an ignorant, cruel, and ambitious people. These movies are an obstacle to improving Korea’s global image.
I, however, believe that Korea will make its unique culture known to the world, overcome prejudice and stereotyped ideas about Korea, and continue to develop. As a Korean language teacher, I will make efforts to contribute to enhancing exchange and mutual understanding between our two countries.

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