After the grueling years of middle school and high school, many students in Korea take time out in university to catch up on sleep and resume a social life that was lost in the stress of studying for entrance exams. Although Yim Seung Jae insists he was anything but diligent during his first year at Jeju University, it’s hard to picture this studious young man who takes his girlfriend on dates to the library as a lackadaisical student, trying to sneak in an extra snooze or two. Yim credits his time in Korea’s military as the main reason for his transformation. “My life has changed so much since I first came to Jeju,” he says. “I’m now interested in English, I’ve met foreigner friends, and I have a goal.”
How long have you lived in Jeju? I’ve lived here for three years. I left my home in Incheon to study at Jeju University.
What’s your major? Tourism management. It’s been my dream since middle school to be a hotel manager.
Why did you choose to study at Jeju University? At other universities the tourism management program is very expensive, but since Jeju University is a national school, it’s cheaper.
When did you start your military service? I started in March 2008 after I finished my freshmen year at Jeju University. Usually, military service lasts a year and eight months, but I’m in the social military program, which takes two years and a month to complete.
Did you get to choose to be in social military? Before going into the military, every man’s body is scanned. When the results come back, he is ranked from one to eight. Men who are ranked from one to three, must go to normal military. My result was a four, so I was able to choose if I wanted to be in normal military or social military.
What are your duties in social military? I work at a facility and help feed, bathe and take care of the elderly or people who are disabled or sick.
Is social military different on Jeju than on the mainland? Yes, if I were on the mainland, I would have an office job somewhere like City Hall. I actually chose to do social military in Jeju because I heard I could volunteer and work with people here.
Are you happy with your decision? At first I didn’t think I could handle it. It’s hard because I work with people who have diseases like stomach cancer and Alzheimer’s. In the beginning I thought I had made a mistake and that the two years would pass by so slowly. But now, I know I made the right choice and the time has just flown by. I will actually finish my time in the military this Monday.
How does it feel to be finished? I’m very happy and proud of myself.
Are you excited to start classes again? I’m ready to study hard and focus on my goals. During my freshmen year I wasn’t a good student. In lectures I would keep my head down and sleep, but after working in the military I’ve become more mature and my mindset has changed.
What are your goals for the future? As a tourism management major, it’s very important to be fluent in English. So, I want to study English in New Zealand after I finish my junior year. Eventually, I want to go to the U.S.A.
What are you doing now to reach these goals? I study English at least three to four hours a day. My girlfriend and I have dates at the library. Two years ago we went to movies, now we study together.
How else has the military changed your perspective on life? In Korea, parents give everything to their children, but as the children get older, they feel like they don’t need their parents anymore. In middle school and high school I didn’t respect my parents, but after spending time in the social military, my attitude has changed. I’m so thankful for the military, and I will never forget the experiences I’ve had.
What do you like to do in your free time? Boxing, weight training – I’m interested in anything that has to do with exercise.
Have you made any good friends while living on the island? A few. I had to do training for one month at the beginning of my social military service. There were 200 people in the training program and we all lived together in a dormitory, so I made a few good friends there. I’ve also made some foreigner friends outside of the military.
Do you have a favorite place in Jeju? Udo Island. It’s very beautiful. I have only been a couple times, but each time was a very happy experience for me. The water was so clean and clear. I could see and play with the fish in the ocean. I feel like I am nature and nature is me when I’m there.
What’s the best thing about living in Jeju? There’s the environment – the beaches – but for me the best thing about Jeju has been meeting the foreign English teachers. It’s easier to meet foreigners here than in Incheon since Jeju is much smaller.
What’s it been like having foreigner friends? It’s been very interesting to learn about another country’s culture through my friends. Other nations’ way of thinking is very different from a Korean’s way of thinking. Also, I find that since I’ve made these friends, I’m not scared to speak English in front of them.
So, you are content with your life in Jeju? Yes, I’m very happy. My life has changed so much since I first came to Jeju. I’m now interested in English, I’ve met foreigner friends, and I have a goal.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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