From civilian to soldier: The stories of two South Korean exchange students

Dane Ji, general program major, and Daniel Jang, hospitality and restaurant management major, are two men who have served their home country not out of choice, but out of necessity.

Daniel Jang and Dane Ji
Daniel Jang and Dane Ji are UAA students who served two years in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces. Photo credit: Joseph Diaz

As South Korean citizens, they were required to serve two years in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces.

While the draft is mandatory, there are different ways to serve the country if you are not able to work in the military. If someone is not able to serve, they will be assigned to the civil sector, or they may be exempt entirely from public service.

Several tests have been put in place to see how fit and able an individual is to serve in the armed forces, and to see where they will serve.

“Most people try their hardest during their tests. Not too many people try to fake their ability. There are always a few that do, but most people try,” Ji said.

Ji served his time as a chef assistant at the Korean Air Force Academy. He said that there was some benefit to serving in the military, even if it is not the most pleasant experience.

“You learn skills like how to blend in socially, you learn discipline and you learn how to ‘catch air,’” Ji said.

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Ji says catching air is the ability to read people’s body language and emotions and to be able to react accordingly.

Jang had a different experience than Ji, serving his time in the Army.

“I was in the [Republic of Korea]’s Army and we only had to serve one year and nine months,” Jang said.

Jang worked as a driver transporting executive officers to different locations. He believes that the conditions those in the military endure have been improving, both in the level of safety and the conditions of living.

Even with the improvements, there is still a lot that can go wrong on the job.

Jang’s best experience in the army was what he called his “turning point.”

“One day I was driving and my superior… He told me something that has really stuck with me. He said ‘If you give up now, then you might as well give up on yourself. If you always give up, you will never get anywhere.’ It helped me realize that I need to really commit to my work and never give up,” Jang said. “Before I joined the military I didn’t really have a lot to push me forward and I didn’t really want to work hard. Through the military, I gained a much better sense of work ethic that has not only helped me through my classes at UAA, but it also helped me learn English in America.”

Both Ji and Jang’s experiences have affected their time at UAA, each taking a different outlook on their time on campus.

“After my time in the military, I really gained an appreciation for life. It just really changed the way I see life,” Ji said.