Four years ago, an unforgettable incident happened in Korea: The Sewol Ferry Disaster. The Sewol Ferry, sailing from Incheon to Jeju Province, sank in the sea near Jin Island. More than 300 people died or were lost at sea. But what was worse than the scale of the tragedy was what happened after the disaster. The government’s ineffective action directly increased the number of victims and created distrust for the government throughout the nation. As such, the Sewol Ferry incident has left a deep scar on our society, but we must remember it. As long as we continue to find structural problems dealing with inefficiency and incompetence in Korea, we cannot remain idle. The Argus checked the shape of our generation after the Sewol Ferry disaster.
How Sewol Changed the Students
Students start to take interest in society.
Students begin to pay attention to the world and try to change the world.
The National Institute of Korean Language announced newly-coined terms of 2014, with one of them being, “The Sewol generation.” It means a similar age group as the high school students who accounted for being most of the victims of the sinking of the Sewol ferry.
After the tragedy, the Hankyoreh Economy & Society Research Institute and Chamgyoyook Research Institute’s survey showed that juniors in high school had an increased distrust of society at large, and a larger need to cooperate with others, and the will to change society more than before.
According to the National Election Commission, the turnout of people in their 20s in the 20th general election was lower than that of other age groups, but it increased significantly compared to the 19th general election with about 10 percent point higher participation. The turnout of 19-year-olds also increased from 47.2 percent to 53.6 percent.
Students start to change the world.
Students realized that the world was wrong and began to change the world.
When the Sewol incident happened and the Park Geun-hye - Choi Soon-sil scandal exploded, people started to protest in Gwanghwamun. The candlelight vigils at Gwanghwamun resulted in the impeachment of the former President Park Geun-hye.
Especially the students who have experienced the Sewol disaster feel this result more meaning. At the candlelight vigils, the HUFSans went out into the streets and helped participate in rally after rally, as detailed in The Argus, in the Dec. 2016 issue, Reportage.
Students start to remember the past in the present.
On the streets, there are people hanging yellow ribbons from their bags.
Kim Yeong-hyeon (Kyung Hee University, ‘16) “I’m wearing a yellow bracelet that says, “REMEMBER 20140416.” I could think of it if I put it on my body. The incident has not been solved yet, and I do not know the truth, but I will not forget it.”
Movements remembering this incident continue in general Korean culture, too. This year, the 4.16 Solidarity media committee produced a Sewol ferry documentary film. The first story of the movie, “Becoming Adults,” which is composed of four omnibuses, is the first documentary of the Sewol generation. Both director and all of the characters in the movie are student survivors or people who are of equal age with them. Students still remember the Sewol ferry in their daily lives.
What Will Students Continue to Do
Students participate in politics.
It is good that students’ values have changed and that they have started participating with interest in the world, but it is more important whether or not participation continues.
Students who have suffered from the Sewol disaster are continuing their political practice to change the world, as evidenced by election statistics.
According to the National Election Commission, the 19th presidential election’s voting rate increased 7.6 percent point, while that of those over 40 fell slightly compared to the 18th presidential election. The political participation of students is significant because it is not such a short-term but rather continuous participation, and it is expected to continue in the future.
Students contribute to society
Students are not stopping to change just the regime but are also trying to change the unjust social structure.
The recent proliferation of “MeToo” campaigns can be a part of that effort. That is because, through exposure, students want to change the social structure that raises awareness of sexual violence. The Seoul Institute of the Arts General Students’ Association expressed its position on reporting a professor’s alleged sexual assault in February of this year.
Other universities, such as Dongduk Women’s University and HUFS, have been exposing and supporting the MeToo campaign.
Students keep a hold on the past
After four years, many people do not feel the need to remember the Sewol ferry incident. However, by remembering the Sewol, students have an opportunity to think about the way to go through memorizing acts.
Park Jong-hee, a professor of Seoul National University, said, “The case of Sewol ferry was that it was very disappointing in the process of how the state or society responded after the incident. Therefore, efforts to move to a better direction than to forget can be a cure.”
Remembering the Sewol ferry is an opportunity to reflect on democracy of Korea.
On April 16, there will be a yellow wave in the world. We have changed, and now we are changing the world. Although the world feels unjust, we have to keep remembering and trying to change the world. Then the world might be better in the future.
By Han Byeong-ji
Reporter of National Section