One of the most important things about understanding Korean culture and society is the recognition that Korea is still a divided country and is still currently in a stalemate with North Korea while participating in an armistice. This relationship between the two countries is extremely important in everyday life. While normal citizens may not think about it on a day to day basis, the existence of the problem is still very prevalent. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is an infamous place to visit when going to South Korea, the DMZ is the official demarcation line that divides North and South Korea. Even though the tour to the DMZ is slightly tense and a little sad, it is one of the most fascinating and memorable experiences that I have ever encountered.
When you go on the DMZ/JSA tour the first thing that becomes obvious quickly is the absolute strict time schedule, there are a few stops on the tour including the 3rd infiltration tunnel, the Doran train station, and the Dora Observatory which only allows a very certain amount of time to look around. But the strictest of all of these is the Joint Security Area (JSA) which is the very controlled area where North and South Korean officials meet to discuss political issues. This part of the tour allows for less than 10 minutes to see the North Korean tourist center and the conference room that is officially crosses both countries. The most interesting thing about this point of the tour was the absolute quiet tension that exists in this area. There are many military officials posted and they are quite dangerous and trained to handle situations if skirmishes happen to break out.
This tour is by far the best thing that I did while I was in South Korea. Not only does it give some extensive history on the Korean War and why the country is divided, but it also informs on the current situation in Korea and some of the efforts that have been made to improve relations. The tour also has multiple stops on the agenda that better illustrate past and current situations between North and South Korea. Overall, this experience made me feel a multitude of different things including sadness for the history of both of the countries, discomfort while experiencing the actual tension of a war torn country, and excitement for seeing a piece of history that not many have had the pleasure of experiencing.
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