More than 30 years ago, my father set his foot on American soil for the first time in his life. Young and ambitious, he was dispatched there, along with my mother and sister. They quickly grew accustomed to the culture there; they were a happy little family.
Their experience in the US wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. When I asked my parents about whether they faced any discrimination during their stay in the US, my mother recollected a time when the gas station staff wouldn’t help her if she took a Korean car there; my father chuckled, “I’d lock my doors every time I’d see someone staring at me; they’d promptly tell me to go back to China.”
Even now, as I go through political posts on my Facebook feed, I see comments resembling the sentence that once unnerved my father on his lonely car rides back home from work. Criticism of, disapproval of, or even disagreement on socioeconomic and political issues is often met with visceral responses to leave the country if one “hates it so much”. I remember a comment telling Korean women to get out of Korea if they thought living here was that bad for them.
As a third-culture kid who is comfortable with expressing my beliefs, I sometimes wonder if I would get similar responses from my local Korean peers if they ever heard my vitriol of Korea’s problems. Even if the answer to that hypothetical situation is yes, however, that would not stop me from talking about issues that are important to me. It would only make me talk about them even more.
What many fail to see is that those comments, whether they were the prejudices of the past or are the insecurities of the present, were, are, and always will be statements of ignorance. The inherent human need to talk about issues that define who we are, alongside the natural criticism that follows when discussing things we dislike about a society that we contribute to, should not be dismissed as a betrayal of a perfect nation, as no such thing exists. Desiring changes and loudly demanding those changes are not acts of treason; on the contrary, rational criticism is infinitely more patriotic than blind nationalism.
It is with this thought in mind that society can innovate and revolutionize. That is why in this issue of The KAIST Herald, we take a more active approach in discussing the problems that matter. The merger between our Undergraduate Student Council and KAIST International Students Association has failed to take place, resulting in an organization having total control over the international student fees without any representation from the international community. On the national scale, despite the positive aspects of President Jae-in Moon’s prospective reforms that attempt to focus more on the less privileged members of Korean society, they may sound too unrealistic or shortsighted for Korea’s more skeptical citizens. And abroad, the recent Las Vegas shooting is bringing more calls for stricter gun control.
Three years ago, I got out of the taxi to look at the building that would be my home for my freshmen year at KAIST. And although I didn’t know it back then, despite my hopes, Korea isn’t the amazing place I thought it would be.
I won’t stop speaking until it is.