International relations and English double major junior Dong Won Oh has accomplished more in his life than most people his own age. While most students typically venture off to college after high school graduation, Oh enlisted as a soldier in the South Korean draft for two years in the middle of his college career.
As a child, Oh was raised in India because of his father’s employment but was legally required to dedicate two years of his life to participate in the draft, where he would essentially train as a soldier.
“My dad used to work for Samsung, so I was raised in India because he was stationed abroad in the Southeast Asian market. Then I came [to Geneseo] for two years of college,” Oh said. “And South Korea still has a draft, so I was there for two years; June 13, 2016 through March 12, 2018. Then I came back for my junior year [in the] fall last year, and I’m in my second semester.”
In reflecting upon his involvement in the artillery division in South Korea, Oh acknowledges that without this unique experience, he would not have had the opportunity to use different combat tools or to bond with other people in training.
“[I was] meeting all the new people [and I was] doing things I wouldn’t have done because I was assigned to an artillery division, so I drove a tank for a while. Guns are very restricted in Korea, so I did that,” Oh said. “[You experience the feeling] of being part of something bigger than yourself. But there wasn’t really much of a choice because it was conscription.”
Oh recognizes that when different obstacles are thrown in one’s path, they are often difficult to combat. But he has come to realize that many of his issues are now more manageable to overcome because of his experience in such a chaotic, challenging setting.
“I mean my life was derailed for two years, but I feel like you go through something hard and you come out of it and you become more resilient to things,” Oh said. “Everything else seems very manageable.”
Even though participating in a draft is a life-changing experience, Oh only suggests that people become soldiers if they are passionate for the cause.
“I’d say only if you believe in the cause behind it,” Oh said. “[I didn’t believe in the cause]; I just did the two years that was legally mandated.”
Since his enlistment, Oh has focused on education. Even though he previously lived in a different country where the way of life and academic focus differ from the United States, he chose to receive his education in the U.S.
“My dad … worked and lived in New Delhi, still does, since 2004,” Oh said. “So, I moved abroad, and I attended the American Embassy school. [I chose Geneseo] because my high school counselor recommended it.”
Now as a junior, Oh has involved himself in several campus organizations, and he continues to seek out different events at Geneseo.