The attack on Yeongyeong Island and the extent of Korean concert (photo courtesy of Newsmild)

The media is a really beautiful thing.  TV news reports, magazines and papers allow us to understand events transpiring in every country, despite our current location.  One glance at BBC’s website can tell me more than I ever cared to know about giant panda breeding, cricket scores, and discovered works by a renowned poet I am not familiar with.  Being connected to significant world events helps us better understand the human experience in other parts of the world, without us actually being there… or does it?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you heard about North Korea’s attack on the South Korean island of Yeongyeong in late November.  I heard about the news while at school, scanning website for foreign teachers in Korea and absentmindedly clicking on forum discussions.  On the forum, a fellow Native Speaking English Teacher informed us of the situation, and asked if anyone else had heard about the news (we hadn’t).  Aside from that message… I heard nothing.  No Korean mentioned the attack, or seemed particularly concerned, and South Korea went about it’s business as usual.  Checking Western news sources, however, provided a very different spin on the situation.

CNN news showed a video of protesters in Seoul on Thanksgiving weekend, with the reporter stating “This [protest] is an indication of just how much tension there is on the streets of Seoul right now…” at the start of the broadcast.  My mouth dropped open when I first saw this video.  They’re making it sound like Koreans are freaking out, I thought to myself.  They’re making it sound like Seoul is burning and people are smashing windows and chaos is breaking out everywhere.

But it wasn’t just CNN.  BBC, Yahoo!, Fox News, The Huffington Post- every site I looked at painted an image of pandemonium and panic that just didn’t match up with what I would see in Korea.  One Korean coworker approached me three days after North Korea’s attack and asked if I had heard what happened, and told me that there was no danger, and to tell friends and family in America not to worry.

Being able to see firsthand what is happening between North and South Korea, and how people are responding to this information has completely changed how I view news reports on world events.  It’s impossible to know what is actually happening in any particular country unless you go there yourself and see it.  Reading up on international news, and watching broadcasts is a great way of getting in sync with the rest of the world, but they should also be taken with a grain of salt.  Our media-dependent society has trained us to listen to TV reports with bated breath, and to trust what these reports are telling us.  While I’m not trying to start a counterculture lash-out, I think it’s important to try to view all sides of the story, before making any rash judgments of a people or culture.  Traveling allows us to better understand world politics and opinion… take advantage of that!