Being a Korean citizen has always been a great source of pride for me. I consider South Korea as my mother nation, even after having lived in the United States for more than ten years. Yet over the last few weeks, I have watched a scandal unfold in the country: Choi Sun Shil, a mere citizen not previously known by the public, secretly took control of the Korean government and even influenced the president. Even worse, the bureaucrats and officials who did know of Choi’s sway — who were entrusted to serve the people — turned a blind eye to the corruption. Even now, as public outcry and disapproval of the government reaches levels unseen since the democratization of South Korea in the 1980s, the people’s representatives care more about political advantages than in seeing the president removed for her crimes. As more dirty deeds and underhanded deals are revealed, I, with my compatriots in Korea and in Princeton, feel keenly the impact of this monstrous betrayal of public trust.
But when the Korean community had a chance to digest the news in late October, I saw — and still do see — unity among Korean and Korean-American students I have never seen before. I hear discussion about the scandal and how it came to affect our lives; I see new bonds form between people who had never spoken to each other. The collective love and concern we have for Korea spur us to band closer together as international students to speak out against the perpetrators of the scandal, as we did on Nov. 18 when a group of Korean students in the Korean American Student Association held a public demonstration in front of Nassau Hall to decry the heinous political crimes being committed in Korea.
As I live alongside other Princetonians, I realize that this feeling of treachery from the government is not unique to Korean students. Many of our more than 1,800 international students come from nations that are not politically upright. There are scandals and corruptions that can make these students feel disconnected from and even ashamed of their mother nations. But we international students cannot abandon our homes simply because of what our governments or peoples may do. We must remain proud of our nations even while living here in Princeton.
We as Koreans are able to unite in concern for Korea, because we are proud, and because we know our families and our friends still residing in Korea. We realize that they are the ones suffering the most from this scandal, and we strive to support them and their efforts to rid themselves of corruption. We accept that this disgrace will affect us, because we acknowledge that we will always be connected to the land of our forefathers.
These feelings of empathy and love for fellow international students are not unique to Korean students or to this scandal alone. As international students, we all have a bond to our home nations. Whether we are Korean, Turkish, Chinese, or any other nationality, we share pride in our countries, because they are full of people we know and love. That is why our hearts break when we hear of disasters back at home — like when a friend from Haiti cried when Hurricane Matthew destroyed the island country only two months ago. But even as our hearts break — even as we wonder how disasters could have occurred — we perennially move forward, hoping that our small actions can better our motherlands. We learn, we connect, and we band together to improve ourselves and our friends and families back home.
Daehee Lee is a freshman from Palisades Park, NJ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.