Korean War Legacy Project

Bruce Kim


Bruce Kim grew up as a Korean American in Honolulu, Hawaii. As a young boy, he has memories of his father reviving the Korean Independence Movement and bringing together the community. After graduating from Punahou College Preparatory School in 1968 and studying history at Wittenberg University, he wrestled with which path to take next. Because the Vietnam War and draft were still going on, he chose to serve his country by joining the Peace Corps. In 1972, he received an invitation to serve in Korea. With some apprehension, he left for Korea and arrived shortly after martial law was imposed. He spent two years serving in a middle school for boys in Samcheonpo, which was a small fishing community in the south and is now known as Sacheon. Overall, he feels that his experience in the Peace Corps gave him the desire to make a difference in the world.

Video Clips

Unsettling First Few Days

Bruce Kim describes flying over the Han River and the disturbing experience of arriving in Korea shortly after martial law was imposed by President Park Chung-Hee. Shortly after their arrival, he remembers traveling to the DMZ. He recalls a strong military presence everywhere and being told to be careful in Seoul. He emphasizes how he was shocked by the number of checkpoints and the tense atmosphere.

Tags: Hangang (River),Seoul,Impressions of Korea

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Making a Contribution

Bruce Kim describes his experience at the middle school for boys in Samcheonpo. He particularly remembers the lack of heat in the school and the students in the simplicity of the resources. After getting into a routine, he explains how he tried to train them to move away from just memorizing the words and instead focus on making dialogue. He comments on how some of the students enjoyed the different teaching style. Overall, he remembers many excelled with this different approach. Furthermore, he shares he felt he made a contribution by showing them how they could use the English language.

Tags: Civilians,Cold winters,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions

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Students Find Success

Bruce Kim reflects on the relationships he developed while in Samcheonpo. He thinks about the perception of the countryside communities in Korea and feels that sometimes they are underestimated. However, against all of their adversities, he shares that many of his students from that small fishing community were able to attend Seoul National University. During a trip back to Korea, he describes one encounter with a former student who became a dentist and returned to Samcheonpo.

Tags: Civilians,Impressions of Korea,Modern Korea

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


I:          It’s June 28, 2022, beautiful city of Wilsonville, State of Oregon.  My name is Jungwoo Han. I am the President of World History Digital Education Foundation.  We are doing this to document the amazing experience of the Peace Corps volunteers to Korea.  And here we have a volunteer, Bruce Kim.



So, it’s my great honor and pleasure to meet you, sir.  And please introduce yourself, your name please.

B:        Thank you, Dr. Han.  My name is Bruce Kim, KIM,

I:          Bruce?
B:        BRUCE Kim, KIM.

I:          Yes.  And what is your birthday, sir?

B:        I was born on December 2, 1958.

I:          And where were you born?



B:        I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

I:          Honolulu.

B:        Yes.

I:          And please tell me about your family background when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings.

B:        Okay.  My dad and mom were both born in Hawaii, both of Korean ancestry.  I think my father was second generation Korean.  So, my grandparents on both sides, on my dad’s side immigrated from Korea back, between 1903 and 1910.



I:          All three to 10.

B:        Yes.  They came to work on the plantations, the sugar plantations and pineapple plantations.

I:          Um hm.

B:        So, he was actually born on the island of Kauai.

I:          Kauai.

B:        Yeah.

I:          I was just there.

B:        Yes.  There were Koreans working on the sugar plantations in various areas in Kauai.

I:          Your father was born in Kauai.

B:        He was born in Kauai on the plantation, yes.

I:          Beautiful Island.



B:        It’s terrific.  A lot of people love that in terms of the environment.

I:          I met a Korean War veteran there in Kauai.  His name is Roger Stringham.  But I found out that he drew pictures during his service in Korea.

B:        He kept them?
I:          Yes.

B:        Fantastic.

I:          And I asked him do you still have it?  And he said yes.  Where?  He said home.  Can I see it?  He said yes.  So, we just went right back into his house.



And we found so many drawings of the Korean scenes and the battles.  So, it’s been published in our website.  So please check it.

B:        Oh, I will.  This is priceless.

I:          So, tell me about your, so you are the only son?

B:        No.  I have three other siblings, a brother and two sisters.
I:          Two sisters.
B:        Yes.

I:          So, two boys and two girls.
B:        Correct.
I:          And you are the eldest?
B:        I’m the eldest.



I:          And tell me about your educational background, what schools you’ve been through in Kauai?
B:        No, I was born in Honolulu.

I:          Yeah.

B:        So, I went to elementary school, Moanalua’s Elementary.

I:          Moanalua’s.

B:        Moanalua Elementary which is near the University of Hawaii.

I:          Yeah.  Isn’t that a private school?
B:        No.  It’s a public school.  And then in the 5th grade, I went to Punahou School.

I:          Punahou.



B:        Correct.  And then I graduated from Punahou School in 1968.

I:          It’s a private?

B:        It’s a private school.

I:          How was it there?
B:        Oh, it was, at that time, it was very traditional. And it is the oldest private school west of the Rockies.  And I think it was founded in 1842.  And it was a very well-rounded education.



I:          Yeah.  I find it a beautiful school.

B:        Yes.
I:          And it has an amazing teaching staff.

B:        Oh, first rate.  Even back when I was there, there were a lot of really good teachers.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And our first grandson is now there starting off.

I:          You have a grandson?
B:        Yes.

I:          Wow.  You look too young.

B:        Not really.



I:          So, when did you graduate from Punahou High School?

B:        Nineteen sixty-eight.

I:          Nineteen sixty-eight.

B:        Um hm.

I:          And after that, what did you do?  What did you want to become?

B:        I didn’t have any really firm goals at that time, educationally or professionally.  And I went to school in Pennsylvania initially.  And then I ended up at a college in Ohio called Wittenberg University.

I:          Which one?

B:        Wittenberg University.



I:          Wittenberg.  What did you study?
B:        History.

I:          History.
B:        Um hm.

I:          And then what happened to you in your life that you joined the Peace Corps Volunteers program?
B:        Right.

I:          When did you join it?
B:        So, after I got out of school, I again was not really set on any particular path professionally or personally.  And at that time, the Viet Nam War was still going on.



And we were all still subject to the draft.  But again, this was something personally I was wrestling with about whether I wanted to go on immediately and continue with school, and I really wasn’t committed to that.  So, one of the options that somebody came up with or that I came up with was to make an inquiry to the Peace Corps.



In that way, I felt like I was serving my country and giving me the space to try to find out where I fit in the world.  And I sent a letter to the Peace Corps responding to one of their advertising campaigns.  And I got a response back.  So, they asked me where, on one of their questions, what I was interested in and where would I like to serve?

I:          Um.



B:        So, at that time, I told them I’d like to go to Africa cause that would be something completely different for me and allow me to see conditions in a developing country and see what I could contribute or help them with.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And they said okay.  Well, we’ll get back to you.  And the next thing I know, I was invited to, they call it a prist, PRIST in Denver, Colorado with a group of other individuals.


And that group was formed to go to Korea.

I:          That’s a pre-invitational.

B:        Right.
I:          Yeah.
B:        So, it’s a screening thing. I think we talked to people, we were interviewed.  And after that training session, they made the final selection, I think.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        I’m not sure of the exact process. But we got, the next notice that I got was, you know, you’re going to Korea, and you get a plane ticket, you know.



Be at this place on a certain date.

I:          When was it?  What year was that?
B:        Nineteen seventy-two.

I:          So, you were notified to go to Korea in 1972.
B:        Right.

I:          What was your reaction about that?  That wasn’t your first choice, right?

B:        No.

I:          Africa was your choice.

B:        Right.  I think I had a lot of apprehension about that.

I:          What?
B:        Apprehension.

I:          Apprehension of

B:        Of going to Korea.



I:          Why?

B:        I wasn’t a trained teacher.  I didn’t study any languages per say. I didn’t know how to speak Korean except for maybe simple things like food.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        But beyond that, you know, it was completely foreign to me because I’d been born and raised, you know, as an American.

I:          And I’m sure that there was not so much known about Korea in the curriculums or textbook, right when you were in middle school and high school?



B:        Exactly.

I:          Right?
B:        Right.  I mean, I can remember college courses in Asian History, primarily on China.

I:          China.
B:        And Japan.
I:          Um hm.

B:        And very little, I don’t ever remember having anything come up in any of those courses about Korea or its’ history.

I:          Yeah.  It’s always either China or Japan.

B:        Yeah.  And I don’t wanna go there.  But you know, to me, that’s a disservice.



I:          Yeah.

B:        You can’t really understand what’s been going on in that area of the world without understanding Korea as well because of all this turmoil that’s been going on.

I:          What was the reaction from your parents about the decision that the Peace Corps made for you, that you are going to go to Korea?  Were there any reactions from your parents?
B:        I don’t remember them being super happy about it.  But I thought they thought that they would support me if that was what I was going to do.



And I think my mother was concerned because it was so far.

I:          Too far from, yeah.

B:        Home.  And I don’t remember any strong reactions.
I:          I see.

B:        It was something that I decided, and they were supporting me in that.

I:          So finally, you agreed to that, or were there any process where you had been contemplating about whether you would go to Korea or not?



B:        So again, I had some apprehension about it because this is gonna be, I could see even or predict, even without going, being there before, having never been in Korea before, that this was gonna be a major transition for me.  And I felt that way when I got on the plane, too.


And I think many of the volunteers, too, they didn’t really understand.  They were feeling some apprehension about what was gonna happen.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Because we didn’t spend any time training for any of the jobs we were gonna do in the States.  All of our training was done in Korea.

I:          In Korea.

B:        Yeah.

I:          Uh huh.  So, you, where you were fitting?  The first detachment was (INAUDIBLE) and you’re

B:        Twenty-five.

I:          K25.
B:        K25.



And you haven’t had any training in the State about Korea or anything?
B:        No.

I:          Not at all?
B:        No.

I:          Huh.
B:        Like I said, I was familiar with Korean food, you know.  We ate it regularly and things like that.  But as far as (INAUDIBLE) Korean history, you know, it was basically unknown to me.

I:          Um hm.

B:        My grandmother who immigrated as a young girl and worked on the plantation,



Really didn’t talk about it too much.  My father went, when I was a young boy, and got involved in a, I think it started as a Korean Independence movement.

I:          Yes.

B:        Organization.  So, it was called, in sort of Korean Konglish or something like that, they called it the (INAUDIBLE).  But I think it’s Kukminway or something like that.


I:          Kuhminha.

B:        Ha, yeah.

I:          Yeah.

B:        They had a building in one neighborhood of Honolulu.  And I can remember as a child him going there regularly because he was trying to revive that organization.

I:          Yes.

B:        And I’ve seen all the older people, probably all first generation, a lot of the older men and women, you know, really meant a lot to them to go there and gather and meet their friends.



I:          Um hm.

B:        Because they had spread out all over the place.  So, these gatherings, maybe semi-monthly or you know, bi-weekly, they really enjoyed it because they could get together and see their friends and, [AUDIO GAP] plantation where life was not easy.  And she had other things to worry about like taking care of her family.

I:          It was a sad part of our history.

B:        Um hm.
I:          At the turn of the 20th Century.

B:        Um hm.


I:          It’s just like the Korean War veterans.  They don’t want to remember what they did there because it was so cold, so damn miserable.  And that War was not immediate victory at the time.

B:        Um hm.

I:          They were busy.

B:        Right.

I:          So, I think it has a sort of parallel between the Korean War veterans and the experience of Peace Corps volunteers, you know.

B:        Um hm.

I:          So, the Koreans asked for our communities.

B:        Um hm.

I:          The State didn’t do anything for the citizens.

B:        Right.
I:          of Korea, you know.



B:        Right.

I:          So, tell me about

B:        So anyway, long story short cause I didn’t really understand any of the dynamics of this. [AUDIO GAP] Seventy-two.  It was bitterly cold.

I:          Was it in Kimpo?
B:        Kimpo.  Han River.  Only one bridge.

I:          Still.

B:        Really?

I:          In ’72?

B:        Yeah, one bridge.

I:          Still one bridge?
B:        Yeah.  That’s all I recall. I know there’s many bridges now.  But at that time, yeah.

I:          There’s more than, close to 30, I think.

B:        Yeah.



So, if there were other bridges, we never saw them.  We came over the Han River Bridge.  The disturbing thing was that when we got there, I’m not sure when someone told us that martial law had just been imposed.  And that was kind of unsettling.  No one told us before we got on the airplane that anything like that was gonna happen.  And so, crossing the bridge, there were many armed soldiers,



Tanks, machine guns

I:          Must have been really surprising to you.

B:        Yeah, a big eye opener cause we’d never seen that kind of military presence before.  And then to find out that they had imposed martial law.  And they said that, again this is a wake-up call cause you have to be careful.

I:          Right.

B:        Even as Americans, we had to be careful.  And I think that day after we checked in at the hotel, they had us in Seoul.

I:          (INAUDIBLE)

B:        I don’t remember at this time.



I:          (INAUDIBLE)

B:        Oh no.

I:          (INAUDIBLE)

B:        No.  It was a regular hotel.

I:          Regular hotel.
B:        Yeah.  We weren’t gonna go first class.  We didn’t do anything first class.  So, I think that day they bussed us to the DMZ.  And that was

I:          During the day?
B:        Yeah.  So, it was really kind of a shock to see all these visuals and then to go up to the DMZ and rive up there and see the North Korean checkpoint, you know.



The first checkpoint I remember that day was the North Korean checkpoint, all dressed up in heavy coats and hats, and they were looking down carrying, you know, sub machine guns. And they were glaring at us, yeah.  And then when we got there, you know, you go through this standard lecture, you know, don’t point at people, don’t take a picture of them, you know, don’t laugh at them because they think, well there is a lot of tension.



Because Korea had gone to martial law.

I:          How many were in the K25 when you arrived in Korea?

B:        You know, I’m not sure.

I:          Around?
B:        I would say probably 25.

I:          Modern Korea was not really positive.

B:        Yeah, it was kind of

I:          It’s scary and

B:        It was very unsettling.

I:          That was Yushin, the President who declared martial law so he could extend his power.



B:        Exactly. So, there is a lot of stuff on the streets in Seoul, too.

I:          What did you learn in Chinchon and how was it?
B:        So, it was, you know, a compact program.  We were busy.  We had to learn some elements of what Korean teaching was like in Korea at that time.
I:          You mean (INAUDIBLE)


B:        Yeah.  We studied actually, and we were exposed to how they actually teach in a Korean classroom at that time, particularly English. And they didn’t really go into too many, you know, earth-shaking ideas about how you could transform that.

I:          Um.

B:        I later figured out that I don’t think the point was for us to go in there and transform English teaching in Korea.  We’d end up hitting our head against the wall a lot of times thinking that that was our job.



But it, I don’t believe that it was.  And we spent a lot of time on cross-cultural training and learning the Korean language, writing as well as speaking. And that pretty much was our daily routine.

I:          How long was it?
B:        It was more than two months. I think just over two months. Could have been shorter.



I:          When they told you about the cross-cultural adaptation or simulation.

B:        Um hm.

I:          to the Korean community.

B:        Um hm.

I:          While you were there, what did you feel about it?  I mean, you must be the only Korean American among those 25 or first batch that were your group, right?

B:        Yeah.

I:          All American, right?
B:        Right.

I:          Except you.

B:        Yeah.  I was the only Asian and only Korean American.

I:          Korean American.

B:        Um hm.

I:          And were you able to tell them your (INAUDIBLE)



B:        I think for other people it was more difficult.

I:          Way more difficult.

B:        The food, the noise, the living conditions.  It was difficult.  I don’t remember anybody leaving because of that.  They may have left afterwards, after we were sent to our teaching sites.  But during training, people left, but not for that reason.



I:          You knew that when you joined the Peace Corps volunteer that you were not gonna be paid high, right?
B:        Yeah.

I:          So, tell me about the financial logistics and the health care coverage and so on. What did you get from fiscal?  How much were you paid?

B:        I may have like a bad memory.



But this is another issue that was never completely explained to us in terms of how much you would get paid.  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention at that time, how much you were gonna get paid and how we were gonna get health care.  We did end up, when we finished training, with a card with our picture on it that was our identification card.  Cause I think they kept our passports or something like that. I don’t know that we were allowed to keep our passports.  But in any event, we ended up with this card.

I:          That’s interesting.



B:        And we were told to use that card in case, you know, of an emergency.  At that time, there were a lot of inspections all over the place, and you had to show your identification card.

I:          Um hm.

B:        But I don’t remember them going into great detail on how we were gonna get paid and how much we were gonna get paid.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And at that time, none of us had an expectation that we were gonna make, you know, become millionaires.  I was obviously not there to do that.



They did tell us the living conditions were gonna be very simple, especially if we were went out to the countryside.  As far as health care was concerned, that was all done through the Peace Corps office in Seoul.  So, if we really got sick, we had to get care locally or through the Peace Corps in Seoul.  And I think locally, they made arrangements, you know.



Like if you were injured or something, you had to go to a hospital, I think Peace Corps took care of that.

I:          Um hm.

B:        But the main health care was all centered in Seoul.  And then sometimes they would send out teams into the different provinces so you could get injections, you know, like that.

I:          So, after training, where were you assigned to, and what did you do there?

B:        So, I was, I completed training, and I had an interview with the In country Director at that time.



And we had a long discussion about what my goals or purposes were of being in Korea.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And I told him you know, I wanna complete my service.  And he asked me where I wanted to go, and I said I wanna go to a town by the ocean.

I:          Ocean.
B:        Yeah.  Ocean means a lot to me having been born and raised in Honolulu.  But he couldn’t understand that.  I don’t know what the issue was with him.



But eventually they assigned me to Samcheonpo, Korea.

I:          Samcheompo?

B:        Um hm.  Which doesn’t exist anymore.

I:          That was in eastern, northeast?
B:        Southern.

I:          Southern?

B:        Yeah, coast.  In Gyeongsangnam-do.

I:          Oh.

B:        Near Jinju.

I:          I see.

B:        Yeah.
I:          And.



B:        So, I was assigned to the Samcheonpo Namjimnoko Boys

I:          Namjimnoko

B:        Yeah.  Boys Middle School to assist the teaching staff in English, you know, teaching English.

I:          Not directly teaching.

B:        No.  I was teaching.  So, I had a co-teacher who brought me down from Seoul to Sumchumpo.  So, I was supposed to work with him in terms of

I:          Co-teacher means the Korean partner.
B:        Right.



I:          Who is the teacher.
B:        Actual teacher.

I:          So, you are a team doing it then.

B:        Right.  So, I met him in Seoul.  And we went down together, back to Sumchumpo.  And

I:          Did he speak English?

B:        Yeah, pretty good.

I:          Huh
B:        Pretty good.  He had went to college in Seoul somewhere.

I:          Do you remember his name?

B:        I think his last name was Kim.  But I don’t remember his first name.

I:          Okay.

B:        He left shortly thereafter.



I:          So, you taught students directly too but also you assisted.  You also helped the English teacher to be able to teach.

B:        To the extent that they wanted help, yeah.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And so, it was again, another situation where you were put into without much preparation or, I don’t know if support’s the right word, but preparation maybe.  So, I was dropped into a situation with this co-teacher who I just met.




I:          You deal yourself.

B:        Yeah, pretty much.

I:          Pretty much.
B:        Make of it what you will.  And I met the rest of the, whole middle school teaching staff and the couple of English teachers besides him who taught English in the school.  But I never really got the impression that I was supposed to do much beyond that.  And certainly, I don’t remember working with the other Korean English teachers in that school.



Only with him.  And so again, this was kind of uncomfortable for me because I wasn’t, no one explained to me what I was supposed to do there.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And we weren’t really prepared, you know, in terms of we want you to do X, Y, and Z.  And yeah.  So, like you said, it was whatever you make of it.  So that certainly came to mind shortly after I got my bearings.  And Samcheonpo was way far away from everything.



B:        It’s about as far away as you can get.

I:          I had to think where it was. Now I got it.

B:        Yeah.  It’s now called Sacheon-si,

I:          Sacheon-si, yes.

B:        Um hm.

I:          Got it.
B:        I don’t know why.  But somebody tried to explain that to me once.  And I actually saw a Korean drama about some controversy about changing Samcheonpo to this Sacheon-si, on a Korean drama.  So that sort of like gave some explanation of why that happened.



I thought that was kind of unbelievable.  Cause Sacheon when I was there was a very small town.  It was like a bus stop on the way from Jinju to Sacheon.  So.

I:          Very interesting.

B:        Yeah.

I:          So, what was your first day with the encounter with Korean students?  Tell me about it.  What is the first day?  How was it?
B:        It was

I:          Did you like it?
B:        It was cold.  It was very cold.
I:          No heating system?
B:        There was no heating in that school.  They had a charcoal stove in the classroom with a (INAUDIBLE)



But they never turned it on that I remember.  The only heat source I remember was in the (INAUDIBLE).

I:          The (INAUDIBLE)
B:        Yeah, the teacher’s room.  So, it was cold.  The students were like, you know, dressed in black uniforms, uniformly, sat at rough wooden desks.  It was cold.



And this is a country school.  So, nobody’s, you know, nothing fancy.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Very plain.  And you know, it didn’t take me long to get into that routine cause basically I was like you know, teaching them English phrases, sounds, how to pronounce words, reading with them and doing some lessons, you know, on the chalkboard and, you know, pictures we drew or something to try to create a story so they could use that,



Which is something they never, I think it was foreign to them, that way of getting taught, and trying to engage them in terms of not just repeating, you know, what I say but trying to understand, you know, what these words meant if you combine them in these combinations and you get a dialogue, you know.  And like you would have to make up that dialogue.  I’m not gonna tell you what to say.  You need to figure it out and try to train them in that way because I think before I got there and in Korean education at that time for English language which is mostly rote memorization.



I:          Yeah.

B:        Cause they had to pass that exam.  So

I:          I remember that.

B:        You probably, very well, remember that.  So it was, and some of them really enjoyed that, the young boys.  They really enjoyed that. I think the smarter ones really enjoyed that because it engaged them intellectually, you know, rather than just sitting there and memorizing something. They were actually using their minds to respond to questions or ask questions.



So that part was very, you know, interesting to me because I thought that, you know, in the very least, this is some small contribution I could make to try to engage the students, you know, to see that English is a living language and you could use it to actually help yourself.  And the idea that the smarter ones in the class, you know, were 100% invested into it because this was something that they could really use going on to university if that was their desire.



I:          What was it like to be in the small boys’ middle school classroom teaching English as a Korean American and as you said to yourself and to me that  you didn’t have much background of Korean society, culture and history.

B:        Um hm.

I:          What was it like?
B:        You know, we had been exposed to some of this in training cause we were sent out on trips to various parts of the country



To work with existing Peace Corps volunteers and to sort of introduce us to what their lives were like and how, you know, their work life was like.  So, I had some exposure to that before arriving in Samcheonpo.  But like you said, being in there day in and day out and figuring out what’s exactly happening here and what is my role because no one told me what my role is, this is my, what is my role and how will I fit in here,



It was kind of a shock to me.  And it took me a long time to get my feet in terms of what exactly I can do to make a contribution.  And so, the other complicating factor was that the man that was going to be my co-teacher there left abruptly in the middle of my first semester.  And I had been living with him and working with him,



And the school, when he left, I don’t know the school knew what to do with me because I think he was key to bringing me there or making the school believe that they could have a volunteer.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And so, I was kind of really thrown for a loss when he left.  I had to go find another place to live.  I’d lost that support.

I:          Oh.
B:        On the teaching staff because the other teachers were not invested in that.  And that was not part of their deal, you know.



So, I think, and the school, I think, wrestled with that, too, you know.  That was sad.  Huh?
I:          Nobody recognized you?
B:        No.

I:          No?  So, you were left alone?
B:        Yeah.  There were, so among the teaching, the remaining English teachers, so they didn’t know what to do with me, either.  I don’t really think.

I:          Where did you live, and what were the living conditions?

B:        So, I lived in a boarding house.

I:          Boarding house.

B:        Yeah.  Well, a couple different boarding houses.



So that was really unsettling for me too, because I was hoping that, you know, somebody would help me find a place to live that, again this is more like entrepreneurial side of Peace Corps.

I:          Um hm.

B:        You know, I have the time or the inclination not knowing anything about Sumchumpo, never having lived there before, about how I as gonna find a new place to live.



So, I went back to teaching (INAUDIBLE) and I asked them can somebody help me find some place, and the school felt some kind of like obligation to help me.  But so, I lived in different (INAUDIBLE).  And so, the whole experience at that time was made more difficult by this transition thing after the guy left.  And I was put in this, you know, left in this position, again without much support, if any, from the Peace Corps in Seoul which is like a whole different place.



You know, from where I was living.

I:          You didn’t have a cellular phone at the time.

B:        Yeah.
I:          You didn’t have iPhone, Samsung Galaxy so that you can talk with your people, members and family.

B:        Um hm.

I:          That must have been really hard.

B:        Um hm.

I:          Yeah.  Were you able to travel from Suncheon Port to other places?

B:        So more so as a coping mechanism.



After all this turmoil happened. I went to visit friends from my training group who were like in, at that time it was called (INAUDIBLE)  Now it’s Tongyeong, I think, something like that.

I:          Yeah.

B:        And then I had friends in Pusan.

I:          Pusan.
B:        And so, I would catch the ferry to visit them on the weekends from time to time.  Sometimes I would go spend the time.  I’d go hiking all over the place cause it was very beautiful, that area of Korea I think.



And taking pictures and things like that. I would go to  Jinju on the weekend to try to get Time Magazine or Newsweek or something.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        Yeah.  But I found things to do.

I:          What do they say, the people, the friends that you visited, Tongyeong and Pusan

B:        Um hm.

I:          What do they say about their experience there?

B:        It’s not normal.
I:          Not normal.

B:        Yeah.  They had a lot of institutional support from their schools.



I didn’t get that.

I:          More support from the institution.

B:        Correct.

I:          But you were left alone.

B:        To take care, right, to take care of the volunteers and make sure that they were okay.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        Yeah.  So, they were very solicitous of them. They had co-teachers who were very solicitous of them and tried to help them.

I:          That’s what I’m hearing.  I heard from, I read about it.

B:        Um hm.

I:          When did you leave Korea? (INAUDIBLE)
B:        December of ’74.

I:          Seventy-four.

B:        Um hm.

I:          So, you were there almost like two years.

B:        Um hm.



I:          Right:
B:        Um hm.

I:          And you didn’t want to extend.

B:        You know, no one told me I could.  I might have done it if I got some place that was more, you now, amenable to me. I might have done it.

I:          So, you were in Samcheonpo all the time.

B:        Right.  For the entire two years.

I:          The entire.

B:        Um hm.

I:          Period.  And



During your service there for two years,

B:        Um hm.

I:          What were the rewarding moments that you still remember if I ask you to pinpoint only one?

B:        Hm.  I think the relationship that I had with some of the students.

I:          Students.
B:        Right.  They really helped motivate me and, you know, motivate me to continue doing that work.



I:          Can you give me some episode about it?
B:        For some, well you know, it’s not, I think people think in Korea at that time maybe even today that people in the country are like useless.  And they have like really a lot of prejudice about them, you know, about the way, especially in the south, about the way they talk and all kinds of different biases.



I:          Biases about what?
B:        About, you know, we’re in Seoul, you know, we’re the best.  And you guys, how can you compete with us, you know, and things like that.  They look down their nose, you know, at the people in the countryside because at that time, you know, Korea was not the industrial modern society that it is today.  I mean, I think at that time it was primarily agricultural.  So that Sumchumpo was fishing and agriculture.

I:          Yeah.
B:        And so, the most rewarding thing for me was to know that some of the students that I had worked with became very fluent in English.



I:          Ah.

B:        They could read and write pretty much anything I gave them.  So, I tried to focus on them, you know, cause again, I’m making progress here, you know.  And maybe the teachers can see that if you just work with them, you know, individually, you can make a lot of progress, at least in terms of English.  So, a lot of them, you know, were very, very bright.  So, I think the most rewarding thing to me is to know that in, after they moved on and, you know, left Samcheonpo Middle School,



Some of them ended up at Seoul National.  And that

I:          Oh.  From Samcheonpo?
B:        From Samcheonpo.  Against all that adversity, you know.  They didn’t have the (INAUDIBLE) you know, all this other kind of available, stuff available to nor did they have resources to even think about being that way.  But they were very smart, bright (MIC PROBLEMS)

I:          Um.
B:        So, that was rewarding to me to know that first of all, because of (INAUDIBLE), I was able to help them facilitate, you know, their study of English.



To the point where they became, you know, nearly fluent in it.  And then without any, you know, not accent but they wouldn’t mess up on the R’s and the L’s, you know.  They got that down.

I:          That’s the hard part.

B:        Oh yeah, for sure.  And

I:          Still hard for me.
B:        Yeah.  Even to learn later on that some of them went to Seoul National was very rewarding.



And then the other thing that happened was, I think in 2011 or 2012, something like that, I went back to Korea and I visited Sumchumpo.  And one of the teachers that I knew after my co-teacher left, I became more friendly with, he took me out to lunch, and he invited a dentist from Sumchumpo to attend the lunch with us.  And his story was, and this is, he told me that, you know Mr. Kim?



I was just one of those kids in one of the classrooms that you taught at while I was there.

I:          He was your former student?
B:        Yeah.  I never met him before.  I never knew that he was my student.  And he told me that you know, all I remember if, and it sticks with me to this day.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        Is you teaching me how to pronounce R and L, to distinguish between those two sounds.  And I just laughed out loud.



I thought wow. If I did that, good on me.  And he was very, he had very fond recollections of that.  That was very rewarding.  And he, too, went to Seoul National from that tiny town.  And went to Seoul National Dental School.  And then, you know, good for him.  He decided to practice dentistry back in Sumchumpo.

I:          That’s a really noble thing.

B:        Very, very noble, yeah.

I:          Yeah.



B:        So, I thought that was really a great story.

I:          You must have done a good job there.

B:        I don’t know.  I don’t know if I did.

I:          You still in contact with some of the students?
B:        No.  Unfortunately, I’m not.

I:          Um.

B:        I lost contact with them.  I’ve asked after them when I visited.  And most of them are gone.  They left Sumchumpo.  So



I:          So, was it invited by the Korean Foundation that you were able to go back to Sumchumpo?  Or did you do it by yourself?
B:        Since leaving, yeah, since leaving Korea in ‘74, I’ve been back multiple times.

I:          Multiple times.

B:        In ’86 I went back with my wife, and we went to Sumchumpo in ’86.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And then more recently, I started to travel back there in the 2000’s.



I took my two oldest daughters with me the first time.  And then in 2011, I think I did a revisit, the Friends of Korea Revisit.

I:          Ah.

B:        That’s when, you know, we went back there.  My daughters have all met and been to Sumchumpo, too, and met the one Korean teacher that I had stayed in contact with.  So, they were exposed to that.  But, and then after that, I think I went back in 2015.  Since then, I haven’t been back.



I:          What did you do after you came back from Korea?
B:        You know, oddly enough when I returned to the United States, it was another culture shock. I had been living, you know, like so minimalisticly so to speak and simply.

I:          In Korea for two years.
B:        Yeah.  Not access to television, telephones, you know, just traveling around like normal Koreans, you know, at that time, catch the bus, the train.



I:          You said you are Korean.  So

B:        Yeah.  Although that’s a subject of controversy, too.  But the, you know, traveling around and things like, so when I got back to America and eating only Korean food.

I:          Um hm.

B:        So, when I got back to America, it took another change, and I didn’t realize that Korea affected me that much until I came back to America.



I tried to reconnect with people that I had known from college and things like that. And I just felt like I need to be somewhere, you know.

I:          Again.

B:        And yeah.  And unfortunately, it’s led to some, you know, personally some broken relationships.  And, because it was hard for them to understand what I had gone through and what I was going through in terms of a transition.

I:          Ah.



And I couldn’t deal with it, either.  I wanted to go back to see my volunteer friends because we had something in common that was, you know, very important to us.  So, there was a big transition again until I ended up in Law School in 1975.

I:          So, you became a lawyer?

B:        Yeah.



I:          And looking back those years, you saw Korea in 1972 under martial law.

B:        Um hm.

I:          And because it’s special because you were in Sumchumpo, Korea was more agricultural, very underdeveloped, right?
B:        Um hm.

I:          Still poor.

B:        Um hm.

I:          But now you know Korea, what it is now.

B:        Yeah.
I:          It’s the 10th largest economy in the world.

B:        Yeah.
I:          And a place to visit, President Biden made a visit in Korea

B:        Um hm.



I:          Plus, Samsung electronics.

B:        Um hm.

I:          And that was his first visit to Asia. And he chose to be in Korea.

B:        Um hm.

I:          And chose to be in Samsung Electronics.

B:        Um hm.

I:          What do you think about this condition, you know this, right?

B:        Um hm.

I:          It’s a little bit different because I asked this question to the American veterans.

B:        Um hm.

I:          They didn’t know a damn thing about Korea at all.

B:        Um hm.

I:          But to you as a Korean American, you are familiar with it.

B:        Um hm.



I:          But still, what is the before and after picture, and what do you think about it?
B:        So, you know, we’ve discussed already, you know, about what the Korean economy and what life was like back in the early 70’s. And at that time, you know, they were still, even talking to the Koreans that I met in Samcheonpo, you know, what a devastating thing the Korean War was to them and their country, to them personally and to their country.



So, when we were there in ’72, the country was just sort of at the cusp, you know, of exploding into the modern economic power that it’s become today, you know.  I mean, Samsung was there.  They were building ships in Ulsan, you know.  They had a lot of big industry, heavy industries, cars and things.  But that was only the start of it.

I:          Yeah.

B:        And so, there was a tremendous amount of, you know, energy that we could feel, you know, especially in the major cities.



But to see the transformation into what it’s become today is, it’s too much, too, you know, fully process because we only see Korea from our memories, you know. A lot of our emotional ties are to the places where we served.  And to see now what Korea has become, it’s unbelievable.



And for me, I feel a lot of, I think I’m proud that they did that.  I think, you know, I know from living there and listening to them talk about their, you know, limited discussion we have about their history, you know, how, what devastation was wrecked on that country from either the Japanese Occupation and then the Korean War and to become transformed into this modern society,



Modern industrial, you know, giant, it’s unbelievable.  It’s just mind blowing how they devoted all of their energy as a country and in terms of getting things done, at least you can say that for the people that ran Korea during that time.  They got things done.  But at what cost?  That’s not for me to say.  Some historian will make that judgement.  But it’s amazing.

I:          Have you ever imagined that Korea would become like this today when you left Korea in 1972?



B:        Not that fast.  Not that quickly.  Even Sumchumpo is completely, totally transformed.

I:          It changed so fast.
B:        It was incredible.  The roads, they built infrastructure.  The city is just now all full of towering condominiums, you know.  From that sleepy fishing town that I knew back in the early ‘70’s, it’s unrecognizable almost, unrecognizable.



I:          What about impact of your service as a Peach Corps volunteer for two years in Korea in 1970 upon your life?

B:        Um hm.
I:          What is the legacy of Peace Corps in your private life and overall?  What do you think the Peace Corps program did for Korea and for the people who participated in that program from the United States?
B:        Um hm.

I:          I think it’s a mutual thing, right?
B:        Um hm.

I:          You know, Greg told me that when I asked this question, he said that, just replied immediately back to me saying that we learned a lot from this rather than we’re taught it, you know.



B:        Yeah.

I:          So, please.

B:        So, you know, Americans have a lot.  They have, you know, an unconscious bias about being the kings of the universe.  Unfortunately, a lot of things that Korea does internationally comes about because they don’t have a clear understanding or appreciation for the cultures that they’re dealing with.



Like you said, even in Asia and they maybe focus on some other places like Japan and China, you know, and not really, and assume the Koreans are just like the Chinese and the Japanese, which is a, you know, bad mistake.

I:          Um hm.

B:        So, when we got there, you know, like all Americans, we thought like well, you know, this is no problem, you know.  Why can’t you understand that this is the way it’s gotta be?  And I think many volunteers, not only in Korea, have that bias and to understand what they were about.



I tried to take that into my law practice, to try to take what I learned of the, you know, the skills that I learned in the Peace Corps and use it in my law practice.  Practicing law is not like dealing with, you know, normal people.  It’s very tough and contentious.  So, in that sense, my career was like a lot of that type of law because I did mostly litigation.



But I thought at the end of the day that, you know, I could hold my head up high because, you know, I helped a lot of people. I think the Peace Corps gave me that desire to go out and try to make a difference in the world.

I:          Excellent point.

B:        Um hm.

I:          Recognizing being different, I think that’s really important these days.  If I ask you, you know, this Peace Corps program, volunteer program, it’s an amazing part of our history between U.S. and Korea.

B:        Um hm.



I:          And I want to revive that spirit and the experience for the future, in some sense for the future generations involved in the United States and Korea.

B:        Um hm.

I:          So that we can have mutual understanding

B:        Um hm.

I:          And learn from history.  What do you think we can do?  I’m brainstorming right now about this and see if we can come up with some sort of project where that we can draw a lesson from your experience and so many other Americans.



And also, the people from Korea.
B:        Um hm.  You know, I haven’t really thought much about that, you know.  I was active in the Friends of Korea. I was on the Board for a period of time.  They are working, you know, to try to keep that going because that is the third goal of the Peace Corps which is to return to America and educate people about those cultures that they have experienced during their service.



I think, you know, we’ve talked about today, you know, the cross-cultural emphasis of the Peace Corps as something that is very beneficial for the host country as well as the giving country assuming it’s done with a genuine, you know, heart.  So, projects that would, you know, foster that kind of cooperation and cross -cultural exchanges I think are critical because I don’t think America gets enough.



Like you said, Korean culture and issues are not well known in America.  And I know Friends of Korea work with Korea Foundation to, especially on the Revisit part of it

I:          Um hm.

B:        One of the highlights of my revisit to Korea under the Korea Foundation program was to go to Kuaka and to learn the

I:          Kuaka.

B:        Yeah, to learn that they took the spirit of the Peace Corps,



Their experience of the Peace, exactly.  They wanted to take that spirit and share it with other countries using Korean, young Korean people.

I:          Yeah.
B:        It was fabulous.  And to meet the young men and women that were going out on these assignments, it’s like deja vu all over again, you know, to see them and meet them.

I:          Um. So, we can think about establishing some sort of, what is it,



Volunteer group to share the experience for the future generations that they can do the same thing for others.

B:        So, the meeting at Kuaka that I attended, one of the good things was that these young men and women are gonna go to various corners of the world, many undeveloped countries.  And there was a lot of synergy there because they wanted to know from the Peace Corps volunteers how do you deal with alienation, loneliness, you know, adjusting.



I:          You mean for themselves.

B:        And to serve the greater purpose, you know, without losing focus on the greater purpose.

I:          Uh.

B:        And so they found a lot of the stories that we talked about, I think we broke into groups and we did round tables with the new ones, and that was really beneficial for them to hear it, even though it wasn’t, you know, from the Korean cultural perspective but just from the volunteer perspective of when you go to these countries, right, how do you preserve yourself?


And at the same time try to accomplish, you know, your goal of helping them without being, you know, obnoxious or you know, overbearing or, which is something you’re just gonna have to learn anyway because you can’t keep beating your head against the wall and nothing happens.  You finally reach an accommodation where you say look, if I can’t communicate with these people, I might as well go home now because I’m not gonna get anything done.



And they’re not gonna get anything out of me.  So, I thought that was really good.  And like those kind of mean, you know, more formal institutional exchanges would be, you know, would be good.

I:          I want to keep in touch with you about this potential kind of idea.

B:        Oh, great.

I:          Where we can continue to draw from the lesson and your experience.  So



B:        Feel free to do so.

I:          It’s a great honor and pleasure to meet you, sir.  And thank you for sharing your experience.  And really, I think that your perspective is quite different from other regular members of Peace Corps volunteers who are Americans.

B:        Right.

I:          And white, and you are in between.

B:        Um hm.
I:          So, I think you will be a great addition to this whole documentary and interview project as we develop it as (INAUDIBLE).



So, I wanna thank you, sir.
B:        So, I’m glad, thank you very much for that.  And I’m glad that Greg, you know, asked me to do this.  And I really feel, I was a little apprehensive.  But I feel a lot better now after getting to meet you and doing this interview with you.  I hope it’ll be of some help to you and your group.

I:          Absolutely.

B:        Great.

I:          I really enjoyed it because as I mentioned, your perspective is different from the regular, and I think it gives us a lot of insight, especially about the cross-cultural sort of understanding of different people in your region which really matters in this contemporary society



B:        Absolutely.

I:          Yeah.  So great to meet you, sir.

B:        Same here.

I:          Thank you.

B:        Thank you very much.