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The Two Koreas

SOUTH KOREA | Sunday, 26 February 2006 | Views [785]

I'm teaching English. I'm modelling an assignment on the board in which the students must research and present on a foreign country of their choice. I'm using Korea as an example and as I begin to write "The population of Korea is...", I'm immediately confronted with a dilemma: to include or exclude North Korea.

I know it as two distinct countries. So do South Koreans, sort of. The world has divided them into two separate countries for nearly 60 years: the South, the Republic of Korea and the North, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Two different borders, two different governments, a large 'demilitarized' zone in between them. That's what I thought... until I arrived in Korea.

One of the veteran English teacers explains it this way: "There is no South Korea. It's just Korea. One country, divided."

I don't understand.

At first, I thought that it was just a linguistic technicality, meaning that the South Koreans drop the 'South' part, since, having no contact with the North, the South is the only Korea that they know.

But upon examining the world map in my classroom, or in other places around Seoul, there is no border. No distinction. It's all Korea.

I'm not sure if this is hopefulness or defiance, or reluctance to show what they wish was not true. I don't know. Perhaps it is something that a non-Korean just can't understand.

So, I write on the board, "The population of Korea is..." and I'm stuck. I'm not sure what I should write.

I decide to write it the way I know it. "The population of South Korea is about 50 million people. The population of North Korea is about 22 million people."

Hands fly up.

"But teacher, which part is North Korea and which part is South?" asks a confused 9-year-old.

"What do you think?" I ask, not really sure what is appropriate to talk about with them.

"Are we in North Korea right now?" asks another student.

"We're in Northern South Korea" I try to explain. I'm shocked. They have no idea about the North and South. And I realize that neither do I.

Tags: Lesson Learned


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