Korean history, no longer a mystery


Minjae Chun, Design & Production Editor

Wait, so what exactly happened in the Gwangju May 18 uprising? What about the 6.25 war? 

A couple of months ago, when I asked my grandfather these questions, he was truly taken aback by my lack of knowledge of Korean history. According to him, practically every single Korean can at least recount a general summary of such significant historical episodes. Yet, despite being Korean, I failed to even identify which event came first. 

As my grandfather proudly explained all the devastating challenges Koreans endured to achieve democracy and prosperity, I felt disconnected from my Korean identity. I could effortlessly list all the preeminent American revolutionary leaders—even their notable accomplishments and tactics—and here I was, struggling to name one Korean leader that led my country to independence. 

Many SIS students share a similar concern about how little they know about Korean history. Despite taking numerous history classes throughout high school, the mostly Korean student population at SIS still remains largely detached from their cultural and historical identity as Koreans. As such, SIS should strive to implement more Korean history in the existing history courses offered. 

“When watching Korean movies I fail to recognize renowned historical figures in Korea,” Nancy Koo (11), former US history student, said. “I think it would be great if the school offered more opportunities to learn Korean history. As long as students are living in Korea, I believe students do have a responsibility to educate themselves on Korean history and culture.”

“Oftentimes, I really do not feel confident about my knowledge of Korean history since I was exposed to Anglo-American history all my life,” Lauren Kim (11), a history enthusiast, said. “In fact, the first time I learned about the Korean War was in my US History class, through the lens of Western history. I still know a lot more about US history than Korean history.” 

Among the rigorous and comprehensive SIS high school curricula, there is a deemphasis when it comes to Korean history and culture courses. While our school offers a wide variety of history courses such as AP and regular World History and US History, AP Art History, and Contemporary Asian Studies, these courses only cover Korean history briefly. 

“I think it is crucial for SIS students to have at least some background knowledge on Korean history because after all, most of our students are Korean,” Steven Nave, Contemporary Asian Studies and World History teacher, said. “I am trying to include more opportunities for my students to explore their Korean history and culture.” 

Current history teachers believe that there should be more focus on the Korean-Japanese relationship and South Korea’s “Miracle on the Han river” for students to better understand the contemporary Korean socio-political atmosphere. James Tyvand, AP World History and US history teacher, particularly expresses how adding more projects or field trips regarding the Korean War would add unique insights to the existing modern World History curriculum. 

“Considering how the majority of SIS students will be studying abroad, I do not think an exclusive Korean history class will be necessary,” Mr. Tyvand said. “However, adding more Korean history to our existing curriculum is definitely necessary since it is a responsibility as a citizen to know the history of your country.”