Students React to South Korean Presidential Scandal

When students were asked about the presidential scandal in South Korea last fall, many expressed their ignorance of the subject. However, some students more familiar with the scandal were willing to share their thoughts on the mystifying turn of events in South Korea this fall.

On October 24, 2016, JTBC, a South Korean broadcaster, uncovered a tablet computer belonging to Choi Soon-sil containing confidential documents and edited speeches from President Park Geun-hye, suggesting that Choi had been exploiting her friendship with Park to influence the administration. The President’s approval rating quickly plummeted to 5%, and within two months of the uncovering of the scandal, she was impeached.

Several Korean students at Choate expressed their dismay at the scandal. Riley Choi ’18 commented, “I am quite ashamed of what has happened. It’s simply ridiculous, and I try to stay away from talking about it.”

Naomi Koo ’19 added, “Definitely a lot of my friends at Choate were asking about what was going on in Korea. I felt weird because it was such a long story that went back to the 1970s and 1980s, and because it was even more messed up than I thought it was.”

Other students believe that the scandal is a hopeful step forward in eliminating the overall corruption present in the Korean government. Veronica Song ’17 remarked, “I think the issue is a necessary step to unveil the corruption and bureaucratic problems that were present in the Korean society. Since Korea has developed so rapidly, institutions of democracy were not established correctly and transparently. Through the incident, Korea will start its way to construct a truly democratic society.”

Koo agreed. She claimed that this enhancement of the Korean democracy can be achieved through placing a bigger emphasis on the transparency of the government. She predicted, “In the next presidential election, the Korean citizens will be more sensitive to the transparency of the candidates.”

The recent Presidential scandal has encouraged some Korean students who live overseas to learn more about Korean politics. President of the Choate Friends of Korea Association (CFKA) Kurtis Yoon ’17 commented, “Prior to the presidential scandal, I was not interested in Korean politics at all. However, the scandal encouraged me to become more aware of what has been happening in Korea, or at least to become more eager to learn more about Korean history and politics. Being an informed citizen is crucial in reinforcing our democracy, which is exactly what the country needs.”

A few members of the club tried to initiate a petition among the students to send to the Department of the State of Affairs in Korea (시국선언), but this plan did not work out due to the lack of interest of some students in the scandal as well as the confirmed impeachment of the president.

Koo noted, “I have not been to the protest myself because I was not in Korea for most of them, but I did try to organize the filing of a declaration of the state of affairs as CKFA, but during the process we had to consider some of the Korean kids who didn’t want to be involved.”

Yoon commented, “As the president of CKFA, I had several ideas in my head. One of my friends who currently attends Harvard participated in the filing of a declaration of the state of affairs (시국선언), so I was thinking of organizing the Choate Korean community’s declaration of the state of affairs, but we were too late at that point. The president was already convicted so there was no reason for us to do it. Once she gets impeached by the National Assembly, there is nothing much we can do but to wait for the Constitutional Court to rule a decision.” Like Koo and Yoon, many students were interested in taking part in the protests in Korea, but were unable to do so as the president’s impeachment had already been confirmed.

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