How Nationality Affects the Eyes
Sue Park, 12
I still remember the day my teacher introduced me to the project. It was a cloudy day in April 2019, and the whiteboard had consisted of three bloody-red words that frightened most of the children: North-Korean Interview. I did love projects and adventurous trips at that time, but I knew this trip would be different, and somewhat spectacular. I had planned the new unit, different countries and cultures, to be about the ‘normal’ countries, not the countries that were known for their militaries and strict dictatorships, like North Korea. To make matters worse, I had always thought negatively about North Korea and its citizens. From school and TV shows, I naturally had a lot of prejudice about the place as it was planted in my mind as a brutal and unstable country with violent people. Additionally, I grew up watching the immense tension between the two countries in practically every political or social issue. It was incredibly easy to find news articles about the unbelievable actions of the North-Korean government officials, primarily Kim Jong-Un.
I stood in the middle of the hallway, frightened. I took a deep, slow breath as I took a giant step through the whooshing crowd of children. I quickly scanned the group of kids next to me; they looked like 3rd-graders that were enjoying the trip. I was blankly staring at them for a while when I heard someone calling me. My homeroom teacher motioned me to come, then smiled at me. At first, I thought she was waving at the playful boy behind me, but as I stuttered, she came up to me and told me that it was my turn for the interview. At that moment, I screamed, inwardly, “I don’t want to do this!” As my teacher carefully held my wrist and took me to the man from North Korea, I did not practice my script but rather practiced the karate skills that I had learned in kindergarten, fearing sudden violence. When I finally reached the door to the interview room, which looked like a torture chamber, my teacher nudged me calmly. At that moment, my teacher appeared to be a frightful green monster pushing me to the town of hell. Recognizing my fate, I trudged to the chair and quietly sat on the corner of it, ready to leave at any moment.
Surprisingly, the man didn’t look any different from a normal South Korean man. He had a warm smile and he did not wear the military clothes that I had pictured in my head. As I quickly scanned him and looked into his plain black eyes, there was an awkward silence. And it felt like a millennium.
When I couldn’t stand the silence much longer, I blurted out my first question: “What is the main obstacle you have faced in South Korea?” and as he answered accordingly, my stomach rumbled with guilt and fear. The man calmly listed out the prejudices and perceptions South Koreans had of him, and how difficult it was for him to find a job due to the people neglecting him after listening to his North Korean accent. As he listed out these examples, my guilt increased more and more due to the fact that I could relate to all of them. As if he noticed my pain, he asked, “Is something wrong?” and I replied, “No, I’m fine!” But, I knew this was a lie.
As the interview went on, and I watched others interact with him, it became clear that this North Korean man was a complete contradiction from the picture I had drawn in my head. He was completely different from the military that was portrayed on the news. He was amiable, friendly, and loved making new friends. He was not violent nor rude, but was careful with his actions and was very gentle toward all the students. He bowed respectively to any newcomer that agreed to take the interview and was more than welcoming to anyone that came across his way.
I slowly started to realize that it might be an unkind mistake to overgeneralize North Koreans as the "antagonists." I learned that without meeting them, we should not criticize a certain group of people just because of their nationality. This is because even though their nationality might have a rough background, their citizens might be different as they might not be influenced by these experiences. This is why the interview provided me with the lesson that we should not judge a person by their nationality. This experience definitely encouraged me to recognize problems related to prejudice in society that still exist today.