In South Korea, every man older than 18 must serve in the army for two years, according to Korean students, which can often overlap with serving an LDS mission and create conflict.
Why do Koreans need to serve in the army
Young-ho Shin, a freshman majoring in hospitality and tourism management, said the military service requirement stemmed from the war between South and North Korea. “In fact, since we got split in 1953, incidents such as missile tests, the use of bombs and North Korean soldiers running into South Korea have happened more than 2,000 times.”
Euisoo Park, a sophomore studying hospitality and tourism management, said the requirement wasn’t out of a desire to engage in war, but to be prepared for one. “We can’t just sit and do nothing.”
Who needs to serve and when
According to Park, men can start serving whenever, but only after turning 18. They are expected to serve for 21 to 24 months. “Of course, you’re exempted if you’re disabled. Whatever physical or mental disabilities you have, the government will assess your condition and determine whether you need to serve,” he added.
However, Park explained people with disabilities still need to serve their country and are assigned to community service in industries, schools, or other public services.
Another exception is when a young man has more than three children and the family’s financial situation doesn’t allow him to leave for military service, Park added. In that case, there is a possibility for that father to be exempted.
Conflicts between military service and full-time missions
“When I was waiting for my mission call, I received my military service call from the government,” said Park. “Since military service is mandatory, I decided to enlist first.
“By the time I finished my service in the army, I had already been separated from my family and friends for two years. I didn’t want to take another year of not being able to see them, so I came to college first before serving a church mission.”
Park also shared how his friend received a call from the government to enlist when he was serving his church mission in Korea so he paused his mission, enlisted, and continued his mission after military service.
Park said it’s common for elders who serve in South Korea to receive their military call during their mission. “The government doesn’t know you’re serving a church mission. The situation literally is you are a Korean citizen and you are in Korea. You can get your military call anytime during your mission, but you can choose to defer it.”
Feelings about military service
By the time Shin came to BYUH as a freshman, he had already served in the army and a mission, being in service for four years. Being older than the average freshmen, Shin said he was glad that age doesn’t matter much in American cultures.
“I felt awkward at first, but then I found out people in America don’t really care about your age. Then I was relieved. In Korean culture, age really matters,” said Shin.
Seungyoung Choi, a Korean sophomore studying biology, is returning home to enlist next semester. He said he wasn’t feeling nervous at all. “It’s just a very usual thing for Korean boys. Most of my friends are serving in the army too.”
Hyoju Jeong is sophomore from Korea majoring in social work. As a woman, Jeong doesn’t need to enlist, but she commented that serving in the army is a good chance for men to learn new skills. “They can learn how to combat, protect themselves, and survive outside. My brother is serving in one of the bases of the American army in Korea. He’s guaranteed to practice English,” she said.•