In South Korea, military service is a mandatory rite of passage for each and every able-bodied, male citizen. Conscription is strictly enforced and public opinion has very little tolerance for draft dodgers.
Our guest for this episode, Young Chun, learned this the hard way. Born the son of Korean immigrants in Champaign, Illinois, and raised in Chicago and Seattle, he traveled to Korea at the end of 2002. He soon discovered that he was listed as a Korean citizen, despite his parents acquiring U.S. citizenship. The Korean Army wasted no time to draft him, and with his little command of Korean, Young had to start his service in January 2004. He served both in Korea and Afghanistan.
Young wrote about his tough experience in his first book, “The Accidental Citizen-Soldier“, which sheds a unique light, from an outsider’s perspective, on life in the Korean military, its hardships, and sometimes its absurdity.
Young Chun holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Visual Art from the University of Washington and an MA in International Studies from Seoul National University (SNU). He currently resides in South Korea and teaches English at SNU.
At the end [of the physical examination] there is this big room with different sections, and there’s a doctor […] I said I can’t speak Korean, and the guy said OK […] I went up to the ticket counter […] it said ‘active duty’.
The interview was conducted on April 23rd in Seoul.