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Expat Fear: the Situation in Korea

17 April, 2013 15:53  Erin Erin

Happy familySince mid-February, the rumblings of danger from Democratic People's Republic of Korea have grown from the usual wariness to all-out panic by some media sources.

The panic is not all that surprising considering North Korea's own statements and ultimatum. Via the state media service Korean Central News Agency,

"The world is in a festive mood on the auspicious Day of the Sun. It is only the south Korean puppet forces who hurled a group of anti-communist gangsters into a rally against the DPRK in the heart of Seoul in broad daylight at which they set fire to the portraits, the symbols of its supreme dignity."

Not exactly comforting words for it's southern neighbor and public enemy. No "final peaceful settlement" has ever been fully achieved between the two sides and these kind of statements paired with the ramping up of their missile systems are right to raise alarm. However, it is still thoroughly unclear what exactly should be done about the latest threats.

Amid all this speculation and fear, the question arises about expats that are choosing to stay and live in South Korea. It seems clear that the most aggressive reports of North Korea's capabilities are exaggerated, but are expats in South Korea living in fear?

Expat bloggers, Dan and Vanessa from Sautéed Happy Family, have written several posts on the subject, and in a word - no, they aren't afraid. A young couple that left behind the American dream, they have begun life abroad in South Korea to teach English, travel, and share their wild shenanigans with us. In their post, "OMG! Will North Korea Attack?" they answer,

"...for non-military citizens or expats like us, nothing has changed. Dozens of people still fill coffee shops, children go to school just the same, families go hiking, not even any warnings on loud speakers or evacuation drills."

This is an important note for people outside of the country to remember. The media's business is not just to report world happenings, but to sell news. While we rely on reporters and experts to keep us informed, their analysis may offer a wildly different view than those that are supposedly directly affected. Dan and Vanessa have fielded questions from friends, family, and even an English speaking newspaper in Moscow. They understand the repercussions better than most as targets of North Korea's threats. They describe in their post, "Same As Usual: South of North Korea",

"Bombing Seoul would be disastrous for North Korea. For better or worse, South Korea and the US would shower Pyongyang, and that would end the status quo for the North Korean elite....

Life in South Korea hasn't changed since we arrived here a year and a half ago. Kim Jong Il died, Kim Jong Un took power, North Korea continued the threats of the last several decade...Not that there isn't sufficient risk. Sure, if the cousins to the North decided to attack, we'd be in some serious doo-doo, but after so long with empty threats and intense military presence in the South, what can you do, right?

I've probably mentioned this before, but every South Korean man at some point between the age of 18-ish and 35-ish is required to serve two years in the military. The thought of possible war is, technically, a whole lot more frightening for them. In fact, if war were to happen, every single Korean male under the age of 45 could be called upon to die for the South. That includes our boss Joshua, our friends Joe, Joey, Hoon, Kevin..."

Safety in South Korea and Abroad

Most expats in South Korea appear to agree with Dan and Vanessa about the current safety level. The official word from the U.S. Embassy is that despite current political tensions with North Korea, there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea (ROK).

The truth is, it can be easy to fixate on problems overseas, but there are issues of safety everywhere...some painfully close to home. Fear in the aftermath of the bombings at the Boston Marathon again confirm the unfortunate truth that nowhere is absolutely safe. Be aware, be prepared, and live the life you want to live.

Emergency Plans

Even with the minimal risk, it is always best to have a plan. As we have previously written about for expat evacuation and disasters abroad, it is necessary for all people to have an emergency plan.

    Tips to create your own Emergency Plan
  • Government systems provide a detailed system of alarms, signals, emergency broadcasting, and planned evacuation routes. Contact your nearest government office to find out your city's plan. Be aware of potential threats and emergency resources with EasyExpat Guides section on "Emergency".
  • Embassies and consulates also have a plan for expats in the country. Find embassies with EasyExpat Guides section on "Consulate".
  • Create a personal safety plan of supplies, escape routes, and emergency contacts and meet-up points. Have back-up documentation of documents like passports, visas, property deeds, health certificates, proof of vaccines, prescriptions, and education certificates. It's easy to store digital copies in a portable drive or in a safe place online which can save you a lot of trouble in the case of an emergency.

For more about life in South Korea, follow Dan and Vanessa's blog, Sautéed Happy Family, and other expat bloggers in Korea.

Have a story to share or a way that you deal with fear? Leave it in the comments below.


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Thanks! [Reply]

Great article! And thanks for the link to "expat evacuation." Even though (as you quoted), I don't really feel in danger here in Korea, it's always good to know how to be prepared!

  Vanessa     18 Apr 2013, 18:03


Nice article! I'm planning to visit South Korea soon.

  Sara @ Travel Escapism     19 Apr 2013, 11:28