Every man born in South Korea is, whether they like it or not, required to serve in the military anytime between the age of 20 and 30. This creates about two years of vacancy in people’s twenties. South Korea’s Military Manpower Administration has reported that the reason behind this required military service is to be fully prepared for unexpected foreign intrusions. Joining the military might be mandatory, but it’s also a symbol of commitment to the welfare and safety of South Korea.
Carleton College’s male Korean students aren’t exempt. Carleton currently has about sixteen Korean male citizens enrolled. Nine have finished their military service, four are currently in the military, and three have not yet gone.
The majority of Carleton Koreans tend to leave school for two years for their military duty after after finishing freshman year. However, that is not always the case. Some choose to join after their third year or after graduation.
Though experiencing such a dramatic change during one’s college career might seem overwhelming, most veterans view the two years off from college as a valuable time to ponder their future and appreciate Carleton even more.
Taeyoung Choi ‘16, a sophomore who returned from military service fall term of 2013, described that being surrounded by diverse people from different backgrounds, educations, and social classes, has given him a chance to contemplate “who [he] is and what [his] values [were]” from interaction with “officers [and] fellow soldiers”.
During his time in the army, he took the opportunity to read stacks of novels, something he didn’t have time for at Carleton. It “grew my desire in academics and found a way to solidify my philosophy,” he said.
InTaek Hong ‘14, who served as an English interpreter at the Korea Defense Intelligence Command, added that military experience “gave me a good glimpse into the process of applying my skills, knowledge, and thoughts to any place I would work or study.”
His time in the military was interesting, he said, because he dealt with documents about North Korean societies. He even described the day that the former leader of North Korea, Kim Jeong-Il, died: “Witnessing one of the historical moments of North Korea through the direct intelligence, receiving endless phone calls from all commands, and facing tons of documents to translate.”
One of the biggest lessons that InTaek picked up in the military was cooperating with other soldiers who translated the documents in different languages, such as Chinese, French, and German. He also enhanced his analytical thinking process in a military setting where there weren’t many chances for learning. Looking back on his experience as a translator in the military, InTaek felt that this “would be useful not only in academia but also in any workplaces in general.”
Victor Choi ’16, who returned this year, said that the military allowed him to learn about being a leader. Choi started army life as an underling but later rose to squad leader.
Though people may assume taking two years off from college for military service would hinder their academic career, these returnees, along with many others, pointed out that they actually benefited from taking two years off. They unanimously agree that serving in the military gave them a perspective about the world that could not be gained anywhere else. They also agree that learning how to live punctually with many other soldiers has left them better prepared for life at Carleton.
“We’re dying to enjoy [the] academic and social atmosphere at Carleton as much as possible after [a] two-year long isolation,” Hong said.