All OK in the ROK

[This blog post will be a bit of a departure from my usual ranting and wondering about English teaching. Don’t worry #TESOLgeeks, there will hopefully be something for you as well. I wrote a much longer piece yesterday and somehow managed to lose it but I feel compelled to share this now before war comes and it is too late. Sorry. I joke, I joke.]

photo (9)

I am worried….worried these darn cherry blossoms are going to come and go when I am not paying attention.

Hi. First of all I’d like to offer a sincere thank you to those of you around the world that have recently asked how things are going in South Korea. I really appreciate. I do. It is sweet. It is nice to be cared about and I appreciate your care and concern.

I offer no such thank you or warm fuzzy feelings to the Western media. These bloodthirsty bastards seem to be intentionally blowing things out of proportion. For what? Ratings? At best. I have to chuckle when I read the desperate and frustrated reports from US media outlets who can’t seem to find enough quotes from South Koreans freaking out about the situation.

My theory has long been that I am much more likely to find a North American in a frenzy about the situation than a South Korean. In fact, I would say I am much more likely to have any sort of conversation about North Korea with a North American than a South Korean. Realizing I am painting with very broad strokes I would say that the typical North American eager to talk about North Korea is not really aware of the situation or the conditions on the ground here in South Korea but is more than ready to opine on the threat levels.  Ignoring for now the dangers of gun violence in the states, I will honestly state for the record that I am much, much more scared about traffic accidents in South Korea than I am about anything involving North Korea. I have been thinking for a long time that South Koreans don’t really pay the DPRK much attention because they have become accustomed to the threats and bluster.

I thought this week it might be interesting and good English practice to discuss North Korea related issues with my classes. Actually, one group decided that this is a topic they would like to talk about. The first group I talked discussed this with is a group of graduate students in International Studies. Although I was not worried at all about the situation before class their comments were more than re-assuring.

One guy mentioned he is not worried at all because experts like Professor Cho (his prof. for Global Politics in the grad school) is not worried. Another student said that there is no way that China would allow North Korea to actually do anything.  A third student said all the threats and such are just focused on the domestic audience in North Korea and are a chance for KJU to flex his muscles. Another student said this is nothing new and she is very familiar with this song. She asserted that the whole thing is a show from North Korea to get more aid from other countries. The group consensus was that it would be suicide for North Korea to actually start a war. They were certain South Korea and the US would destroy North Korea easily and quickly and that war would be end of the “Kim Dynasty” in North Korea. They told me there was nothing to worry about and someone said that if there is a threat the US embassy would be quick to take care of American people and since the US embassy hadn’t made any warnings this is a sign that all is well. An answer that I appreciated but does not really fit into the theme of this post was something like, “If there is nuclear war it is better to just die quickly.” Again, the overall feeling was something of threat fatigue and boredom.

The following day I collected some more thoughts from a different group of students. I offer them here for your listening pleasure. The students (future translators/interpreters) are sharing their thoughts on why my mother shouldn’t worry about the tensions on the Korean peninsula and the answers are directed towards her.

Here are their messages:

mp3 a 
mp3 b
mp3 c
mp3 d
mp3 e 

(As you can see we had a bit of fun with it. Bonus points if you can guess which expressions were new on the day)

Teaching Notes 

While the classes are quite obviously different in terms of students and goals and everything I followed a relatively similar pattern in both classes. I started with general questions like, “What is going on with North Korea?” and “What do you think about it?” and students talked to each other before sharing with the whole group. The next stage involved me pretending to know nothing about the situation. Students had about 5 minutes to prepare in pairs what they would say to someone who knows nothing about the situation. It was quite fun to pretend not to know and to ask, “You are from South Korea?  Is that the good one?” and things like that. It was nice to put students in the expert role and my feedback at this time was just asking questions if I thought an American with limited knowledge of the situation might not follow their points. I saved the more English-related feedback for later. After students told me all about the situation and answered barrage of questions and ironed out my fake confusions it sort of naturally spilled into a real conversation about our real opinions and thoughts on the issue. For the final step I asked for students’ help. I told them about my theory how people in the ROK don’t really talk or worry too much about things in relation to the North as compared to North Americans. This seemed like new and interesting information for some students. I then mentioned that lots of people back home are worried and wondered if my Ss would be willing to share some thoughts with my friends and family back home. Especially my mom. They took a few minutes and prepared their thoughts and shared. I shared the audio files from the second group and summarized the first group because the audio files from the second group were much easier to work with. I used Audacity the second time and my cell phone the first time. I wasn’t really sure if I was actually going to share what the students said but they seemed keen on it. I felt bad for fibbing a bit and creating a situation where they had to speak but not actually sharing it. So, mom, please listen and if anyone else has any comments I will pass them along to my students.

General Notes 

DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) = North Korea

ROK (Republic of Korea) = South Korea (even though the South is a actual democracy and the North is a dynastic Stalinist state)

KJU = Kim Jong-Un the son of KJI (Kim Jong-Il) and grandson of Kim Il-Sung


Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea offers his reasons for calm in a TV interview. He also shares reasons to stay calm in a New York Times editorial. 

I think the following articles pretty much sum up the attitude of many South Koreans:
When North Korea roars, South Korea yawns
As North Korea rattles sabers, South Korea yawns
In the shadow of North Korean threats, South Korea shrugs

For me the most interesting one was this piece from a South Korea college student on what the threats seem like to him.

Jeff Lebow writes about why he is not concerned about the North. (Nice Dr. Evil reference as well as a running tally of deaths from things that go bang comparison between the US and South Korea)
War with North Korea Ermagerd” by Roboseyo.

Finally, I have a motley collection of links here and some of them are related to the Korean peninsula.


Thanks to @josetteLB for nudging me to blog about this.
Thanks to @annloseva for giving me the final push to blog about it (after I lost the post from yesterday).
Thanks to @ESLbarry for supplying many of the links listed above.
Thanks again to PLN members for their care and concern.
Thanks to @mymommy for always caring so much.
Thanks to you for reading.


  1. Sophia

    Thanks for posting this Mike, and for powering through after losing a whole post, that must have been annoying 🙂 It’s just so interesting to see how much the mainstream media loves scare-mongering. Anyway, a) I am glad that you and other KELTchat friends are actually fine and not cowering in bunkers and b) I am impressed that you managed to turn this into a lesson complete with authentic speaking task considering purpose, audience and even integrating mobile technology. Awesome.

  2. Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

    I know exactly how you feel. My partner is Korean. My family and friends have asked me to ask him how he feels about things and if he’s worried about his mom. I already know the answer. This latest stuff barely even registers to Koreans.

    When I lived there, there was flooding in Seoul, but far far worse south, like Daejon, My parents called me on the phone that weekend to ask if I were alright. I said I wasn’t anywhere near it. Overreacting, of course.

    The same happens the other way around though. When SARS was reported to be highly affecting Toronto and suddenly international students were afraid to come here, some Japanese media came to show the frenzy, the panic, the facemasks to the Japanese public. They noted how calm and normal everyone seemed, mouths exposed to the air, like no epidemic was even here. In fact, SARS was completely blown out of proportion.

    Anyways, glad to hear you’re ok. 😉

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments and perspective. Also thanks for getting me all fired about SARS. I’d almost forgotten about that. What a sham that was! I was traveling in SE Asia when it was its most hysteric peaks. Not fun.
      In any case, it seems things have calmed down here. I hope that the questions from your friends and family will abate a bit. Take care!

  3. adelesoracco

    I loved being able to listen to your students talk about their thoughts on what’s going on. What a great idea! I really appreciate reading about your perspective on the situation, as I feel a bit disconnected from what’s going on. I’m getting some questions about it because of the fact that I’m in China, but it’s hard to really know what’s happening. For now, I think I’ll need to continue to read, listen, and try to understand from what others like you and your students say. Great post!

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! 🙂
      It is very nice to hear from you and I hope all is going well. Actually, just the other day (before you commented) i found myself wondering about your internet access in terms of sites and everything. I guess wordpress is possible sometimes. I am sure that you are learning a lot and I hope you are having a nice time.

      I am off to check your blog!

      • adelesoracco

        My internet access was terrible until I subscribed to a good VPN. It makes all the difference in the world! WordPress was not available and editing my blog, which is avail without a VPN, was super slow. I’d like to begin writing more on my blog, but for now I’ve set a very easy goal: to write once a month. I’m definitely having a great time in China and I feel like I’ve been learning a lot. Not using a textbook has been liberating for sure! Glad to be following your posts 🙂

    • mikecorea

      I will let them know….I was pretty happy with how things turned out, despite the bellicose rhetoric form the North. Nice to know the message is being sent around the world.

      • mikecorea

        No worries…better me than you.

        Straying off topic but enjoying it.

        I remember a few years back when there was a shooting in New Mexico a friend here in Korea (from the UK) wrote something sarcastic/poignant about being worried about the safety of people in the US, in what seemed like a response to all the comments he’d received about the safety in South Korea. I thought it was interesting, funny and sad. I don’t what Americans would have seen though. Many would have been angry about being judged from an outsider who doesn’t know how it is.

        Anyway, every time there is a tragedy in the states people get all political about it.

        *end sidetrack.

        Thanks again for commenting and sharing! Have a peaceful rest of the week.

  4. gcyama

    Hi Mike–

    I’ve been a big fan or your blog for a while (and lurker!) We met in person at the JALT conference last year–I attended Josette’s session on Experiential Learning and we were in the same group. I don’t expect you to remember me but anyways, I passed this blog post on to my parents in the States who were quite worried about the news of nuclear attacks in Asia and it helped ease their fears a bit. Thanks for posting this, because the sentiment is similar here in Japan and hard to explain to those who don’t live here…


    • mikecorea

      Hi Gretchen!
      Thanks so much for the message! I remember you! So nice to connect here and to know that you’ve been reading and lurking. 🙂
      I am also very happy that my post was useful for you and your parents. Things seemed to have died down a bit in terms of the rhetoric and all (and the media seems to have moved on to other issues as well). So nice to know that real people (that I have actually met) are reading this. Such nice motivation to post. Thanks for that! Perhaps see you at JALT in Kobe!
      (Not far from you I guess)


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  7. klloyd05

    Living in Ukraine I can completely relate to this situation. What the media portrays is not what is actually happening on the ground. While I can understand that the media is there to make money, not to tell the 100% truth, it’s difficult for friends and family to see.

  8. mikecorea

    Hi Kate, thanks very much for reading and commenting. I think you make a great point about this sort of scaremongering being good for ratings and thus money. I still think it is sad and very much a disservice. I actually spoke to my mom last night and she was more more concerned than anyone I know in Korea! I think I prefer it when Korea is largely ignored by US media.:)

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