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15th Sejong Writing Competition (March 2020)

Writing Competition Planning Committee   

Essay Category    

Winners Competition Rules and Essay Topic Winners Entries & Bio  Adult Division  Senior Division  Junior Division Competition Judges

Sijo Category    

Winners Rules and a Basic Guide to Writing Sijo Winners Entries & Bio  Adult Division  Pre-College Division Competition Judges

Grants provided by: LTI of Korea, Korea Foundation, The Academy of Korean Studies, Overseas Korean Foundation Special Sponsors: Pacific Rim Cultural Foundation, Korea Times in Chicago, Korean Consulate General in Chicago, SNUAA Chicago, Dr. & Mrs. B.U. Chung Fund


  

Sejong Writing Competition

Writing Competition Planning Committee:

Heinz Insu Fenkl (State University of New York at New Paltz, NY), chair

Bruce Fulton (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada) Seong-Kon Kim (Seoul National University, Korea) Young-Min Kwon (Seoul National University, Korea) David McCann (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA) Mark Peterson (Brigham Young University, Provo, UT) Martha Vickery (Korean Quarterly, St. Paul, MN)


15th Sejong Writing Competition (March 2020)

Essay Category

 Winners  Competition Rules and Essay Topic  Winners Entries & Bio   

Adult Division Senior Division Junior Division

 Competition Judges


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2020 Essay Winners Entries     

ADULT ESSAY DIVISION


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Topics

Adult division (age 30 and younger) and senior division (grade 12 and younger) "Cranes" by Hwang Sun-won Please note that the adult division age limit has been increased to age 30. Topic: Hwang Sun-won (1915-2000), one of Korea’s great 20th century writers of fiction, published “Cranes” in 1953, just as the Korean War ceasefire was coming into effect. The story has been seen and even criticized for being too optimistic—even naïve—about the possibilities for future reconciliation between the two Koreas, which, as recent news stories tell us, remain extremely hostile toward one another. In a carefully developed essay, point out those parts of the story that do seem to suggest the possibility or hope of future reconciliation between the two main characters and, by extension, the two Koreas. But noting that now, more than a half-century later, hostile actions continue to occur, while still there is no peace treaty, show how Hwang’s story might be read as a more complicated rendering of the situation on the Korean peninsula than naïvely optimistic.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Guidelines Divisions: adult (age 30 and younger), senior (grade 12 and younger), and junior (grade 8 and younger)

Rules: 

Essays must not exceed 1,000 words in length.

Junior division students should refer to our folktales index when choosing a folktale to write about and select one of the stories listed there. Please choose only one topic and folktale to write about.

Entries must be submitted through our website.

One entry per category per contestant is permitted. (Contestants are permitted one essay and one sijo entry.)

Essay division age limits do not have a lower limit, but the sijo adult division is limited to age 19 and older. If a pre-college student would like to compete in the adult essay division and pre-college sijo division, s/he must create two separate application accounts.

All entries must be written in English.

Contestants' names cannot be written in their entries.

We reserve the right to use all submitted pieces in future publications of the Sejong Cultural Society with no compensation to the authors.

We reserve the right to not award any prizes.

Winners are generally announced by early May. This estimate is subject to change depending on the number of total entries received; a more accurate estimate will be posted on our website soon after the competition deadline.

Prizes: 

Adult division: First ($1,000), Second ($750), Third ($500)

Senior division: First ($500), Second ($400), Third ($300)

Junior division: First ($300), Second ($200), Third ($100)

Honorable mention (for all divisions listed above): Friends of Pacific Rim Awards ($50 each)

Winners' works may be published in the Korea Times Chicago or the Korean Quarterly.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Adult Essay Division Isabella Cho first place

Wilmette, IL North Shore Country Day School

Embracing Moral and Political Ambiguity As A Pathway To Redemption Humans are obsessed with moral dichotomies, eager to label good and bad, allies and enemies, the divine and the satanic. Yet in “Cranes,” a story that explores an unlikely friendship as a parable for the viability of Korean reunification, author Hwang Sunwon resists this impulse for oversimplification. Rather, he is willing to engage uncertainty and ambiguity, demonstrating that both are necessary for a humane and dimensional understanding of the era. Through vivid anecdotes and an emphasis on his two protagonists’s parallel experiences, Hwang structures a singular relationship as a microcosm for the sacrifice necessary for reunification. Hwang’s depiction of a border-transcending friendship, however, does not confer a naively romantic vision of reunification. In Songsam’s village, one characterized by surveillance, repression, and imminent violence, subtle gestures become political acts. Hwang is not a stranger to the political repression of the era. Throughout his story, he remains loyal to this reality. The most compelling moments of glimpsed humanity, of the potential for redemption and reunification, consequently lie not in overt gestures of reconciliation but, rather, in stolen moments of decency and solidarity. One of the most prominent tensions in Hwang’s layered narrative is that between shared humanity and political fealty. Through evocative, intimate glimpses into Songsam’s past, Hwang further engages this tension between personal relationships and political responsibility. As Songsam accompanies a bound Tokchae to the edge of the village, he reminisces about their childhood escapades, remembering Tokchae’s act of kindness decades ago after Songsam’s chestnut filching went awry: “Tokchae suddenly reached out with a fistful of his own chestnuts and stuck them in Songsam’s pocket” (307). After this memory, Songsam “threw away the cigarette he had just lit. He makes up his mind not to light another while escorting this fellow Tokchae” (307). Though this seems like an insignificant gesture, it represents a moment of human decency, of Songsam’s tacit emotional solidarity with Tokchae. Songsam is not comfortable with enjoying a luxury that his counterpart cannot afford. This minimal act intimates the sacrifice necessary for reconciliation, a thematic undertone that crescendos toward the story’s end. Herein lies the efficacy of Hwang’s story: Rather than entertain grand, politically untenable scenarios as testaments to the possibility of reunification, he centers on small moments, ones that less observant individuals are likely to dismiss or pass over altogether. The mundane, then, becomes a vehicle for moral and political resistance, for glimpses of the possibility of what could be.


2020 Essay Winners Entries      Hwang further interrogates and dismantles the fictive moral schism between north and south through exploring the parallel lived experiences of Songsam and Tokchae. When Songsam questions why Tokchae did not flee north, Tokchae cites his bedridden father. He claims, “I thought of getting away too, even if I had to carry my father on my back. But he said no, he couldn’t” (309). Through this exchange, Songsam becomes a direct foil to Tokchae: When faced with the prospect of displacement, Songsam could afford to migrate while Tokchae could not. From this conversation emerges a powerful refrain, a thematic continuity that haunts both characters: “If farm workers left the farming, where would they go?” (309). This simple query affirms that physical displacement dislodges more than a sense of geographical belonging. It also disorients one’s identity and purpose. Both Songsam and Tokchae’s fathers ask, “Where would a farmer go, and leave the farming?” (309) when prompted to move. The parallel dilemmas of both individuals, despite their political disparities, demonstrates that deeper than nominal divides lies an indelible loyalty to Korea as a singular home. Hwang’s most overt moments of symbolism manifest in the form of cranes. He provides two parallel moments with cranes: Songsam and Tokchae’s childhood experience capturing a crane, and the cranes both characters witness as they go “crane hunting” (312) as adults. Though seemingly disparate, a singular conviction coheres these two experiences: a willingness to compromise personal safety for the preservation of something beautiful and worthwhile, arguably even transcendent. When Songsam and Tokchae hear that a man from Seoul intends to shoot a crane, the two children are willing to jeopardize themselves, so long as their shared secret is set free: “It did not matter that the grown-ups might find out and give them a scolding. All they could think was that their crane must not die” (311). A similar conviction impels Songsam’s radical decision toward the story’s end. As he abruptly announces, “Hey, time for us to go crane hunting” (312), Tokchae blanches at the danger of their situation and thinks, “You’re going to be shot” (312). Though the entity that unites both individuals in the current moment is less tangible than the Tanjong crane of their youths, it nonetheless mobilizes them in a time of danger. The magnificent “something” that Songsam compromises his safety for comes not in the form of a bird but, rather, in his recognition of Tokchae’s inherent dignity as a human being. Through freeing his friend, Songsam tacitly affirms that Tokchae’s human decency transcends his political identity. In a situation fraught with danger, even imminent death, Songsam is willing to compromise himself to preserve his companion’s safety and, by extension, the vision of a broken yet enduring past. Hwang, however, is intentional in leaving his conclusion ambiguous, again refuting the stance that his is a naive vision of political reconciliation. As the two friends crawl through the weeds, “two or three cranes, their huge wings spread, went soaring through the clear autumn sky” (312). Though Hwang’s concluding description flirts with the impression of flight and, by extension, freedom, it is unclear whether this imagery of liberation extends to the fates of Songsam and Tokchae. Through emphasizing the continued possibility of


2020 Essay Winners Entries      violence and death, Hwang underscores the human sacrifice and moral audacity necessary to actualize the vision of a united Korea. Genuine redemption and reconciliation, he intimates, begin not with grand gestures but with a commitment to honoring human decency, with a fealty to the shared emotional vulnerability and lived experiences that cohere those on opposing sides of war.

Isabella Cho Wilmette, IL North Shore Country Day School Adult essay division, first place My name is Isabella “Izzy” Cho, and I’m currently a senior at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois. To me, writing is not merely a tool for communication but, perhaps more importantly, a medium for empathic introspection and self-discovery. As a Korean American, I am always eager to explore texts that challenge the Eurocentric canon as the standard for American curricula. Engaging with Hwang Sunwon’s “Cranes” allowed me to discover a seminal Korean text and, by extension, reappraise my preconceived notions regarding the complex issue of socio-political reunification. My hobbies include writing poetry, watching Korean television, and playing tennis. Though I have yet to envision a grand plan for my future, I am fairly certain that I will pursue a career that involves the extensive use of words in either an academic or creative context. Traveling is also a huge passion of mine; I hope to someday travel the world and write about my experiences navigating communities and cultures. I will be attending Harvard University in the fall.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Adult Essay Division Sarah Watanaskul second place San Diego, CA University of California, San Francisco

Nostalgia: Finding the Future Through the Past Hwang Sun-won’s 1953 short story “Cranes” weaves together the narratives of Songsam and his childhood friend Tokchae, the conflict between North and South Korea, and that of the birds from which the title comes. Collectively it is a narrative of duality, juxtaposing themes of peace and violence, friendship and animosity, and freedom and imprisonment through various relationships and imagery. Written at a time when the Korean War armistice was coming into effect, it is no surprise that “Cranes” is viewed as a wholeheartedly optimistic take on the possibility of reconciliation and perhaps even reunification of the two Koreas. However, while it appears that Songsam and Tokchae are able to discard the confines of politics, war, and their divergent pasts in the pursuit of freedom and friendship at the end of the story, a more nuanced examination reveals both the obstacles that must be overcome to reach reconciliation and the acknowledgement that reunification may be just a fleeting dream rooted in the past. The element of time is crucial in “Cranes” because it is only in looking to the past that Songsam overcomes the expectations of his present and makes his own decision for the future. Traveling between Songsam’s past and the present, we sense the nostalgia that memories of sharing pumpkin leaf cigarettes (306), pilfering chestnuts from the old grandfather’s tree (307), and capturing then freeing a Tanjong crane (311) evoke. We sense that while Songsam escaped to a place south of the 38th and outwardly adopted the view that men from the North must have blood on their hands (“‘How many men have you killed so far?’”(307)), there is still a part of him that holds on to his identity as a farmer and believes in the goodness of his childhood. His “heart feels relieved at its core. As if something blocking it has eased and fallen loose” (307) when he sees Tokchae’s indignance at the accusation since he realizes that his friend is no murderer. Their lives had been drastically altered by the war, and they had chosen to pursue different visions, but in many ways they were still true to their identities. Songsam had abandoned his home and family to flee South (309) and survive, but he never let go of the guilt of that decision, and now Tokchae is choosing to stay with his ailing father and pregnant wife, because even though it means facing death, “‘People like us, all we know is working the earth to stay alive’” (309) and there is no future in fleeing. Vulnerability is the first hurdle that must be overcome to create a space for curiosity, mutual understanding, honest dialogue, and generosity. Songsam is conscious of society’s


2020 Essay Winners Entries      expectations for his role as Tokchae’s enemy—“How could he offer a cigarette to a guy like this one, today?” (306)—but he finds ways to be kind to his childhood friend: “He makes up his mind not to light another while escorting this fellow Tokchae” (307); asking about Tokchae’s family; not laughing when he finds out Tokchae married Short Stuff (308). The reciprocation of vulnerability is equally essential for re-establishing rapport. Though Songsam was willing to offer an olive branch, it was Tokchae’s returned willingness to share information about his ailing father and his family that resurrected the bond of friendship between them and rekindled the desire to trust in a simpler, more peaceful time. The memory of the cranes and the freeing of Tokchae that takes place in the demilitarized zone illustrate the complexity of Hwang Sun-won’s portrayal of the relationship between the two Koreas. When they were children, Songsam and Tokchae imprisoned a Tanjong crane. “They had tied it up, even its wings, and every day the two of them would come and stroke its neck, ride on its back, making a fuss over it” (311). They nearly destroyed it with their adoration, and even though “all they could think was that their crane must not die…the crane could hardly walk. Probably from being tied up for so long” (311). Their interest in the crane was borne from good intention, but their affection almost killed it and not even their collective effort in heaving the crane into the air could successfully send it off. Only with the support of another crane could their own crane “stretch out its long neck, give a cry, and fly up into the sky” (311). Though Songsam and Tokchae can be thought of as representing South and North Korea, I would add that the characters represent the citizens of those countries whereas the cranes themselves symbolize the countries. The support of the people is necessary to achieve reconciliation, but to succeed, the endeavor toward peace and reconciliation also requires the support of both North and South Korea as nations. That there are two cranes rather than one introduces the uncertainty of whether the two Koreas will ever become one. The people, though governed, still have the freedom to make their own decisions. As children, Songsam and Tokchae chose to thwart the government-approved hunting of cranes by saving their own crane; as adults, they must overcome their own vulnerability and fear of betrayal and choose to trust each other via trusting in their shared past. Songsam suggests they go crane hunting in the DMZ, an area of peace bridged on both sides by war. “‘I’ll make a snare with the rope here. You chase a crane over’” (312). It is a shared secret between them, what crane hunting means: the escape to freedom, a future free of death, the shared dream of peace. But Tokchae has a moment of hesitation, experiences the fear that “soon a bullet would come from where Songsam had gone crawling off” (312), yet in the end he chooses to trust. As the “two or three cranes, their huge wings spread, soaring through the clear autumn sky” (312), we are left to wonder whether those cranes are the three countries that signed the armistice, or the two Koreas traveling in unison.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Sarah Watanaskul San Diego, CA University of California, San Francisco Adult essay division, second place


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Adult Essay Division Megan Cole

third place tie

Irvine, CA University of California, Irvine

Remembrance and Reconciliation in Hwang Sun-won’s “Cranes” As the Korean War approached a ceasefire in the summer of 1953, citizens on each side of the 38th parallel confronted the probability that North and South Korea could remain irrevocably divided. The newly established demilitarized zone separated an estimated 10 million Korean families, and few imagined that they would ever reconcile. As historian Mark Peterson notes, “the war, by making unification a more distant prospect, made...separation permanent” (207). Tensions and uncertainties remained high as the war came to an end, and pessimism toward the possibility of future reconciliation settled over both Koreas. Among the myriad post-war Korean writers who chronicled this turbulent period was Hwang Sun-won, a North Korean-born author who lived in the South after the war. In “Cranes,” published in 1953, Hwang acknowledges the profound pain and difficulty that reunification might entail, but still espouses hope that the Korean people, separated so violently by borders, armies, and ideologies, might someday rediscover their commonalities. Invoking the power of common memories and personal bonds, Hwang suggests that the Koreas’ geopolitical differences might eventually be overcome through personal connection; however, he also warns that remembrances and relationships are ephemeral, and as decades pass, these touchstones of hope and humanity become harder to remember and to rely upon for reunification. In “Cranes,” Hwang toggles between two temporalities: the tense, violent Korean War raging in the present; and the comparatively idyllic, pastoral childhood of Hwang’s protagonists in the recent past. At the center of the narrative is Songsam, a Public Peace Corpsman tasked with punishing his childhood friend, Tokchae, who has since become vice chairman of the Farmers Collective Committee. To desensitize himself to the orders he must carry out, Songsam attempts to depersonalize and forget his past connection to Tokchae, whom he insists on calling “this fellow” and “a guy,” despite having grown up with him (306). Songsam attempts, too, to distance himself from his hometown, which he initially insists “did not seem like the old village where he had grown up as a youngster” (305). Still, despite his efforts to ignore his history and fulfill his current duty, Songsam’s present landscape is punctured by memories of the past: a patch of chestnut trees reminds him of how he and Tokchae, as boys, once ran away from the elderly villager who owned the grove; passing a hill, he recognizes the spot where he and Tokchae had once worked together cutting fodder. Try as he might to enforce the severe division between North and


2020 Essay Winners Entries      South Koreans, Songsam’s shared past with Tokchae illuminates the connective tissue holding them inextricably together. Ultimately, Songsam’s remembrances of his and Tokchae’s shared childhood — including their common social ties, their shared experiences as sons of farmers, and their longstanding friendship — prevent Songsam from inflicting any governmentmandated punishment upon his old companion. As he leads Tokchae into a field, ostensibly to be killed, he suddenly remembers a crane they had once caught and released in the same area, as children, in order to save it from being shot by a government specimen-collector. Announcing spontaneously that it is “time for us to go crane hunting,” Songsam decides, in response to their shared memory, to let his old friend run free (312). Comparing Tokchae to a crane, which in Korean culture traditionally symbolizes harmony and reverence of the past, imbues the scene with the suggestion that shared memories directly affect future harmony (Philadelphia). Transnational peace and understanding, for Hwang, must stem from a recognition of deep-rooted commonalities and mutual history rather than permanent division and difference. Songsam’s climactic reconciliation with Tokchae is thus directly enabled by the men’s shared social background. Hwang implies that Songsam’s political allegiances may have superseded his mercy if he did not personally know Tokchae, and if he was therefore unable to recognize Tokchae as a person and not merely as a geopolitical enemy. Songsam, through his history with Tokchae, understands that his old friend is not a soulless member of the opposition, but merely the son of a “dirt-poor farmer,” whose political motivations for joining the Farmers Collective Committee amount to a reluctance to abandon his family, who must “ the earth to stay alive” (309). In “Cranes,” remembrance alone provides the grounds for reconciliation between Songsam and Tokchae, who represent the opposing Koreas. Since the publication of “Cranes,” critics have retrospectively challenged Hwang’s apparent idealism, which indeed seems misplaced in light of North and South Korea’s intensifying contemporary antagonisms. As Mark Peterson points out, the Korean War culminated in a “stalemate,” and after the violent conflict, “the two halves of Korea returned to where they had been before the war, with injured, maimed, and wounded on both sides. Neither side gained anything; both sides lost much in the way of life and property” (Peterson 208). Much has remained static over the past seven decades, and with no reunification prospects in sight, Koreans’ common memories and personal ties to those on the other side of the demilitarized zone have become increasingly distant, if not nonexistent. Hwang's hope for reunification may have been plausible in 1953, but any remaining opportunities for reconciliation — premised as it is on the maintenance of collective memory and personal relationships between North and South Koreans — may now be running out. However, stories like “Cranes,” which highlight the human dimensions and costs of the Korean partition, may provide some of the common histories that are missing from contemporary


2020 Essay Winners Entries      geopolitical discourse, and could help bridge the widening gap between present and past, between entrenched policies and genuine human connection.

Megan Cole Irvine, CA University of California, Irvine Adult essay division, third place tie


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Adult Essay Division Anne Whitehouse third place tie

Provo, UT University of Utah

Remembrance and Reconciliation in Hwang Sun-won’s “Cranes” As the Korean War approached a ceasefire in the summer of 1953, citizens on each side of the 38th parallel confronted the probability that North and South Korea could remain irrevocably divided. The newly established demilitarized zone separated an estimated 10 million Korean families, and few imagined that they would ever reconcile. As historian Mark Peterson notes, “the war, by making unification a more distant prospect, made...separation permanent” (207). Tensions and uncertainties remained high as the war came to an end, and pessimism toward the possibility of future reconciliation settled over both Koreas. Among the myriad post-war Korean writers who chronicled this turbulent period was Hwang Sun-won, a North Korean-born author who lived in the South after the war. In “Cranes,” published in 1953, Hwang acknowledges the profound pain and difficulty that reunification might entail, but still espouses hope that the Korean people, separated so violently by borders, armies, and ideologies, might someday rediscover their commonalities. Invoking the power of common memories and personal bonds, Hwang suggests that the Koreas’ geopolitical differences might eventually be overcome through personal connection; however, he also warns that remembrances and relationships are ephemeral, and as decades pass, these touchstones of hope and humanity become harder to remember and to rely upon for reunification. In “Cranes,” Hwang toggles between two temporalities: the tense, violent Korean War raging in the present; and the comparatively idyllic, pastoral childhood of Hwang’s protagonists in the recent past. At the center of the narrative is Songsam, a Public Peace Corpsman tasked with punishing his childhood friend, Tokchae, who has since become vice chairman of the Farmers Collective Committee. To desensitize himself to the orders he must carry out, Songsam attempts to depersonalize and forget his past connection to Tokchae, whom he insists on calling “this fellow” and “a guy,” despite having grown up with him (306). Songsam attempts, too, to distance himself from his hometown, which he initially insists “did not seem like the old village where he had grown up as a youngster” (305). Still, despite his efforts to ignore his history and fulfill his current duty, Songsam’s present landscape is punctured by memories of the past: a patch of chestnut trees reminds him of how he and Tokchae, as boys, once ran away from the elderly villager who owned the grove; passing a hill, he recognizes the spot where he and Tokchae had once worked together cutting fodder. Try as he might to enforce the severe division between North and


2020 Essay Winners Entries      South Koreans, Songsam’s shared past with Tokchae illuminates the connective tissue holding them inextricably together. Ultimately, Songsam’s remembrances of his and Tokchae’s shared childhood — including their common social ties, their shared experiences as sons of farmers, and their longstanding friendship — prevent Songsam from inflicting any governmentmandated punishment upon his old companion. As he leads Tokchae into a field, ostensibly to be killed, he suddenly remembers a crane they had once caught and released in the same area, as children, in order to save it from being shot by a government specimen-collector. Announcing spontaneously that it is “time for us to go crane hunting,” Songsam decides, in response to their shared memory, to let his old friend run free (312). Comparing Tokchae to a crane, which in Korean culture traditionally symbolizes harmony and reverence of the past, imbues the scene with the suggestion that shared memories directly affect future harmony (Philadelphia). Transnational peace and understanding, for Hwang, must stem from a recognition of deep-rooted commonalities and mutual history rather than permanent division and difference. Songsam’s climactic reconciliation with Tokchae is thus directly enabled by the men’s shared social background. Hwang implies that Songsam’s political allegiances may have superseded his mercy if he did not personally know Tokchae, and if he was therefore unable to recognize Tokchae as a person and not merely as a geopolitical enemy. Songsam, through his history with Tokchae, understands that his old friend is not a soulless member of the opposition, but merely the son of a “dirt-poor farmer,” whose political motivations for joining the Farmers Collective Committee amount to a reluctance to abandon his family, who must “ the earth to stay alive” (309). In “Cranes,” remembrance alone provides the grounds for reconciliation between Songsam and Tokchae, who represent the opposing Koreas. Since the publication of “Cranes,” critics have retrospectively challenged Hwang’s apparent idealism, which indeed seems misplaced in light of North and South Korea’s intensifying contemporary antagonisms. As Mark Peterson points out, the Korean War culminated in a “stalemate,” and after the violent conflict, “the two halves of Korea returned to where they had been before the war, with injured, maimed, and wounded on both sides. Neither side gained anything; both sides lost much in the way of life and property” (Peterson 208). Much has remained static over the past seven decades, and with no reunification prospects in sight, Koreans’ common memories and personal ties to those on the other side of the demilitarized zone have become increasingly distant, if not nonexistent. Hwang's hope for reunification may have been plausible in 1953, but any remaining opportunities for reconciliation — premised as it is on the maintenance of collective memory and personal relationships between North and South Koreans — may now be running out. However, stories like “Cranes,” which highlight the human dimensions and costs of the Korean partition, may provide some of the common histories that are missing from contemporary


2020 Essay Winners Entries      geopolitical discourse, and could help bridge the widening gap between present and past, between entrenched policies and genuine human connection.

Anne Whitehouse Provo, UT University of Utah adult division, third place tie My name is Anne Whitehouse, and I am originally from Seattle, Washington. I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology at Brigham Young University, and I am currently pursuing an MA in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. I am interested in using writing to find ways to connect urban audiences with the natural world and ecosystems that we are a part of, including engagement with international ideas and writings. My scholarly endeavors focus on studying Korean literature and culture in the context of environmental issues and ecological relationships. My master’s thesis research examines the complicated and myriad relationships humans have with urban rivers through ecocritical analysis of Korean literary texts about the Cheonggye Stream (청계천) in Seoul. I really enjoyed the opportunity to read, think about, and write about Hwang Sun-won’s “Cranes”. I was fascinated by the role that so many of the non-human, natural symbols in the story played in illustrating a complicated relationship between the characters (and, by extension, the two Koreas) as well as between the characters and the landscape. I am really grateful to the Sejong Cultural Society for providing this opportunity to learn more about Korean literature and culture. When I'm not studying or working, I enjoy experimental cooking, tap dancing, hiking, watching international films, reading, and spending time with my rough collie.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

SENIOR ESSAY DIVISION


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Topics

Adult division (age 30 and younger) and senior division (grade 12 and younger) "Cranes" by Hwang Sun-won Please note that the adult division age limit has been increased to age 30. Topic: Hwang Sun-won (1915-2000), one of Korea’s great 20th century writers of fiction, published “Cranes” in 1953, just as the Korean War ceasefire was coming into effect. The story has been seen and even criticized for being too optimistic—even naïve—about the possibilities for future reconciliation between the two Koreas, which, as recent news stories tell us, remain extremely hostile toward one another. In a carefully developed essay, point out those parts of the story that do seem to suggest the possibility or hope of future reconciliation between the two main characters and, by extension, the two Koreas. But noting that now, more than a half-century later, hostile actions continue to occur, while still there is no peace treaty, show how Hwang’s story might be read as a more complicated rendering of the situation on the Korean peninsula than naïvely optimistic.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Senior Essay Division Anna-Marie Ahn first place

Portland, OR 11th grade, Shirly Tagayuna (teacher) Westside Christian High School

Cranes: The Power of Hope Although present day South Korea is a thriving hub of trade, iconic pop culture, and compelling history, its brother country, North Korea, is shrouded in a miasma of ambiguity, mystery, and isolation. Dim threats of nuclear war hover on the horizon of diplomacy between the two nations. Apathy and empathy circulate alike among young and old Koreans, while the rest of the world tastes bitter fear of what the future will bring from the Korean peninsula. In the midst of such national and international tension, it is difficult to remember that only a little over seventy years ago, these two polarized countries were one. But in Cranes, a short story of the effects of the Korean War on a small rural village north of the 38th parallel, acclaimed writer Hwang Sunwon reveals the profound power of hope; how, in the midst of terrible violence and polarization of friends, family, and nation, unity of mind and country is always an undying dream. The story depicts two childhood friends: Tokchae, a hardworking farmer, and Songsam, who escaped from the North to the South during the war. Tokchae is arrested for hiding from South Korean soldiers, and Songsam escorts him to Chongdan. Along the way, Songsam ponders the history of their friendship, and how they have become so politically and situationally estranged: Tokchae has married and will be a father, while Songsam has left behind most of his Northern roots. Ultimately, Songsam decides to free Tokchae and face the consequences, even if it means death. Tokchae, with his strong roots in the land and in his agricultural livelihood, represents North Korea. Songsam, a free spirit who is willing to leave behind all that he has known to find a better life, represents South Korea. In order to highlight the parallel between their friendship and the division of the Koreas, Hwang utilizes two powerful symbols, the chestnut tree and the cranes, successfully illustrating his hope for Korean unification. First, the chestnut tree represents the past unity and subsequent division of the Koreas. As he leads Tokchae through the village, Songsam recalls how one time, he had been caught climbing the tree and had fallen out of the tree onto the burrs below. He and Tokchae had run for their lives, despite the pain in Songsam’s backside. Songsam had plaintively cried while pulling out the burrs, when Tokchae had “suddenly reached out with a fistful of his own chestnuts and stuck them in Songsam’s pocket…”


2020 Essay Winners Entries      Hwang uses subtle details to illustrate Korea’s division. When Songsam climbs the tree, and Tokchae stays on the ground, the situation represents how both Koreas had pushed themselves towards completely different ideologies; Hwang skilfully shows their polarization by evoking the contrast of going skyward, or staying on the ground. In addition to this contrast, he represents the deep pain induced by the division of the Korean peninsula and the ensuing war through Songsam’s fall to the ground onto the burrs. He underscores how the two countries had essentially fallen away from one another, only to be afflicted by suffering of breaking an age old mental, emotional, and national unity. In the end, however, Hwang uses the image of Tokchae offering Sangsom his own chestnuts to highlight the hope of reconciliation between the two friends, and the two Koreas. Secondly, Hwang utilizes cranes as a symbol of distinct hope. As boys, Songsam and Tokchae had caught a crane and had “tied it up, even its wings.” The crane, in its helplessness and captivity, characterizes how North and South Korea have become mired in stubbornness and disunity, and how the division of what should be whole brings about bitterness. Hwang advocates reconciliation by illustrating how both boys decided to free the crane: “their own crane, the one that had come down to earth, stretched out its long neck, gave a cry, and flying up into the sky…vanished into the distance.” Through this illustration, he highlights the hope of national redemption and the rectification of all past wrongs and mutual failures between the two Koreas. Essentially, Hwang emphasizes the importance of having a profound faith in future peace, defying all the ghosts of bygone destruction and mistakes. Despite Hwang’s use of the chestnut tree and the cranes as symbols of the past and future situation between the two Koreas, there seems to be no immediate hope of reconciliation. The two countries are more divided than ever; the mercantile and cultural successes of half of the peninsula shine brilliantly in the world, while the other half seems only to boast of its powerful weapons of destruction, deliberately perpetuating the keen despondency and fatalism of those who hope for unification. However, Hwang does present a realistic view of the situation. He reveals that peace is not an easy task by highlighting the situational and ideological differences between Tokchae and Songsam. While Tokchae refuses to run away from his home, sighing, “People like us, all we know is working the earth to stay alive. What good would it do us to run away?” Songsam, leaves his elderly parents to wander “the strange streets and hamlets of the south.” Through this, Hwang reveals how polarized the North and South are in their ideologies and ambitions. However, Hwang’s objective through this story is to show the power of hope. Even while signifying the differences between Tokchae and Songsam and North and South Korea, he suffuses the story with hope of future reconciliation between both countries. He reveals that, although the dream of unification, pounding in each fervent Korean heart, seems to be lost in the quagmire of harsh reality and present despair, hope is a candle that will never be extinguished by darkness. Indeed, Hwang plants this seed of hope in the soil of tomorrow; even if the world only sees what is broken, and not what can be made whole, one day, a


2020 Essay Winners Entries      unified Korea will go “soaring through the clear autumn sky” and remain unified in thought, in blood, at heart, and in spirit.

Anna-Marie Ahn Portland, OR 11th grade, Shirly Tagayuna (teacher) Westside Christian High School senior division, first place My name is Anna-Marie Ahn, and I am a junior from Westside Christian High School in Portland, Oregon. I am a second generation Korean American. I enjoy reading classic literature and poetry, playing soccer, and learning new languages. In the future, I hope to help the world practically by working in the medical field, specifically as a doctor. While reading Hwang Sunwon’s Cranes and writing this essay, I was able to deeply reflect on my identity as a Korean and learn more about the history of the Korean people, as well as about the ever present hope of reunification. As for my personal heroes, I have many, but today I would like to thank my grandparents from both sides of the family: Missionaries José and Maria Ahn and Missionaries Mark and Anna Yang. I thank them for their faith, prayers for reunification, and for instilling a deep pride of being a Korean in myself. I also thank my father for introducing the Sejong Competition to me, my mother and brother for always supporting me and praying for me. Lastly, I give all glory to God. Soli deo gloria.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Senior Essay Division Jun Kim

second place Centreville, VA 11th grade, Westfield High School

A Tale of Two Koreas In his short story “Cranes,” writer Hwang Sun-Wŏn illustrates the complex and heartrending relationship between two childhood friends that find each other identifying with opposing ideologies. It is not difficult to comprehend that the two main characters of the story represent North and South Korea, who have been unable to resolve their conflict to this day. Throughout the story, Hwang’s desire for North and South Korea to set aside their differences and unite is made clear several times. The most obvious of Hwang’s allusions to his hope for the reconciliation of North and South Korea takes the form of the relationship between the two main characters, Sŏngsam and Tŏkchae. When Tŏkchae, the analogical reflection of communist North Korea is introduced, he is at opposing ends with Sŏngsam, who represents South Korea. Over the course of the story, Sŏngsam comes to the realization that the cause of their conflict is purely ideological. Once he looks past their opposing ideologies, he is able to see how much he and Tŏkchae have in common. They are able to reminisce about their past and Tŏkchae’s wife, and Sŏngsam marvels at the fact that Tŏkchae has started a family. Sŏngsam also discovers that Tŏkchae isn’t evil because he identifies with the Communist side; in fact, he was forced into it when he was made Vice Chairman of the Farmers’ Communist League because he stayed to help his father with the farm labor. In contrast, Sŏngsam had fled by himself, leaving his parents and family behind. Using their pasts, Hwang brings to light the fact that neither the citizens of the North nor the South were necessarily correct in their beliefs, or held a moral high ground, but in fact that the division between the two was tragic circumstance. In the end, Sŏngsam decides that he must release Tŏkchae and save his life. In this way, Hwang depicts a North and South Korea that have successfully set aside their differences and learned to care for each other. Another more elaborate reference to the reconciliation of the two Koreas that Hwang makes is centered around the crane that Sŏngsam and Tŏkchae caught as children. In this analogy, the crane represents the people of North and South Korea that have had their lives torn apart by the division between the two Koreas, while Sŏngsam and Tŏkchae’s capturing of the crane and tying it down represent the failure of the North and South Korean governments to come to a compromise and reunite. The crane, a portrayal of the victims of the aftereffects of the division, is forced to suffer as a result of Sŏngsam and Tŏkchae’s selfish, albeit not entirely ill-meaning actions. However, upon hearing news of an individual


2020 Essay Winners Entries      from Seoul that had come with a permit to kill the crane, the two realize that they must set the crane free. Hwang’s desire for the two Koreas to put aside their wants for the betterment of its people is illuminated in the story. While the fact that the Koreas have still failed to reunite makes Hwang’s story seem naïvely optimistic, Hwang includes details that prove that his writing is more complex than mere dewy-eyed wishful thinking. In the story about the crane that Sŏngsam and Tŏkchae captured, the two decide they must release the bird only when they hear of a collector that is headed down to kill it. In a research report written by Bruce W. Bennet and published by the RAND Corporation, “Alternative Paths to Korean Unification,” Bennet asserts that the three major paths to reunification include war, a regime collapse, and peaceful agreements led by both governments, although Bennet does add that “a win-win outcome for the two governments does not seem to exist”(Bennet, 57). Hwang recognizes that drastic conditions are necessary for the two governments to put aside their differences and let the two Koreas reunite. Hwang also establishes that he is aware that reuniting the two Koreas could potentially bring about even more issues and challenges for the Korean people. At the end of the story, as the crane is released, Hwang adds that at first, the crane has trouble walking and flying from being restricted for so long. In an article published on World Finance, written by Barclay Ballard, Ballard states that because of the different natures of South and North Korean economies, economic reintegration could prove to be very difficult, and South Korea would even need to assist North Korea in preparing to transition into a market economy before reunification plans even begin (“The economics of Korean Reunification”). Although Hwang’s views and hopes for reunification seem more naïve and unjustified than ever, as Korea still fails to reunify, he shows a delicate understanding of the difficulties that reunification between the starkly different Koreas faces. While reunification may seem as though it will never be achieved, it is evident that both Koreas have grown remarkably in terms of culture, beliefs, laws, and economics since the Division that occurred in 1945. Perhaps now more than ever, we must remain optimistic for reunification and strive to look past the ideological differences that tore a country and the families within it apart so many decades ago.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Jun Kim Centreville, VA 11th grade, Westfield High School senior division, second place

My name is Jun Kim, and I am currently a junior attending Westfield High School in Centreville, Virginia. Since middle school, I have pursued my interest in Korean history by participating in national history competitions, writing essays, and even making a documentary with some friends. Because I was born here and lived my entire life here in America, my exposure to modern Korean politics has, for the most part, been limited to the news and overhearing snippets of my parents’ conversations. Doing research in order to write for the Sejong essay competition provided me with a chance to take a deeper look into both older and more recent political issues and events, as well as delve deeper into the topic of the Division of Korea than any history classes have motivated me to before. I would like to thank my parents for encouraging me to even consider writing an entry for this essay competition, as well as supporting me throughout the process. I would also like to thank the Sejong Cultural Society for providing me with such a rewarding opportunity to more thoughtfully research the Division of Korea as well as more deeply consider both the implications and complications of reuniting the two Koreas.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Senior Essay Division Abigail Cherenfant third place

North Miami Beach, FL 11th grade, Samuel Brown (teacher) Miami Country Day School

Imagining Possibility The year is 1950: turmoil lies on both sides of the 38th parallel. Violence. Warfare. Distrust. Antagonizing sentiments that still live today were born out of the Korean War, which resulted not only in the division of the two Koreas, but also of families, friends, and lovers. Published in 1953, Hwang Sun-won’s "Cranes" parallels the cessation of the Korean War with an attempt at true peace and reunification with loved ones. Oftentimes, the theme of reunification might be deemed too naive and unrealistic; however, Hwang’s story presents a juxtaposition of reconciliation and apprehension. Through the recollection of pleasant memories, placement of amicable and unifying symbols, and examination of the characters’ wary thoughts, “Cranes" portrays a possible alternate universe where two divided entities could overcome adversities to reap the benefits of reunification and friendship. What “Cranes” succeeds to imply is that history holds future potential.“Cranes” takes place in a village along the 38th parrallel -- a village deserted and grim, with a not-to-be forgotten history of family and love. Once close friends in that village, the main characters -Songsam and Tokchae--are reminded of their platonic history throughout the story: making cigarettes out of pumpkins, Tokchae giving Songsam the chestnut burs he pulled out of Songsam’s back, teasing Short Stuff, and freeing the crane they caught before it was killed by the government official. Childhood memories like these naturally evoke nostalgia, a yearning for the past. For Tokchae and Songsam, the remembrance of the past allows them to rebuild trust in one another and play together once again, as observed in the final scene where Tokchae finally “understood, and began crawling into the weeds” as he had done before with Songsam. In the case of reunification, such memories serve as a reminder that past reconciliations can be imitated. “Cranes” has been criticized as a story that pays little to no attention to the harsh realities of attempting reunification. Troy Stangarone, a senior director at the Korea Economic Institute, and many other accredited economists have noted that “the likelihood of unification is very low in the near future” due to the vastly different economic and political situations of the two nations. Despite its notes of optimism, “Cranes” delivers similar sentiments of worry and apprehension. Before each moment of reconciliation between Songsam and Tokchae is a moment of doubt. Songsam refuses to give Tokchae a cigarette because of his affiliation to the Communist Party. Tokchae feared fulfilling Songsam’s order


2020 Essay Winners Entries      to flush some cranes due to the thought that Songsam would shoot him. Distrust is interwoven throughout the story and is often blatant. To dismiss the story as naively optimistic involves ignoring those complex thoughts of suspicion. When applied to real life, the struggles the characters face can represent the economic and social issues reunification may create. According to Stangarone, the story presents one realistic way of how reunification would work, as opposed to war or the collapse of the North Korean regime: “ a gradual, consensual process.” Perhaps “Cranes” is a story that should be taken more seriously and merits consideration for the future. Along with the economic difficulties, “Cranes” foreshadows the social realities that hinder the Koreas’ pursuit of reunification. Songsam and Tokchae encounter social pressures to despise one another. One significant moment is when Songsam shouts with heavy sudden anger at Tokchae after remembering the time when he moved to the south two years before Liberation. The reason he gets angry is not explicitly stated, but it can be inferred that the anger-evoking memory is filled with feelings of distrust, fear, and violence that prompt him to move away. That type of fear and distrust is not too different from the feelings of South Koreans when they suspect a North Korean defector to be a spy. Due to the distinct cultures of the two countries, antagonizing sentiments, supported by misinformation of either Korea, still live on today. This is reflected in the name-calling, ostracism, workplace discrimination experienced by many of the 30,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. The inclusion of these prejudices that remain until the end of the story makes “Cranes” more complex than just a superficially optimistic children’s story; there is truth and reality behind it. “Cranes” offers many opportunities for analysis of its situations and themes, and its rich complexity should not be ignored or undermined. The story presents the effects of othering and ways of rising above preconceived prejudicial notions. “Cranes” does not cloud reality; instead, it presents an idea, one that is attainable. At the end of the story two cranes fly, concluding with the metaphorical representation of what Hwang Sun-won wants to see in the futures of the Koreas: unity. Even though North and South Korea have diverged and developed distinct cultures and levels of modernization, “Cranes” offers measured hope during the troubling time when it was published that a better form of peace and unity can ensue.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Abigail Cherenfant North Miami Beach, FL 11th grade, Samuel Brown (teacher) Miami Country Day School senior division, third place

My name is Abigail Cherenfant and I am a junior at Miami Country Day School in Miami, Florida. I was first introduced to the Sejong Essay Competition last year through my English teacher, who had posted the contest’s advertisement on his classroom door for several months. My interest in Korean culture enticed me to enter. Over the past two years, I had encouraged myself to see things deeper than what may be presented superficially. The contest offered me an opportunity to learn more about Korea past its pop music, entertainment, food, and militant border. Through reading last year’s novella and Hwang Sunwon’s “Cranes”, I have developed a broader and more humanized perspective of Korea’s history and the sentiments that lay between and within the peninsula. Writing this year's essay reminded me of the power of compassion and interconnectedness that the world, oftentimes, takes for granted. I thank God, my English teacher, and my family for all their help!


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Senior Essay Division Katie Kosowski

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Macon, GA 12th grade, Melinda Powell (teacher) Howard High School

Cranes: An Optimistic Look at Reconciliation Between the Two Koreas Peace is something the most western countries, such as the United States, take for granted. However, in Hwang Sun-Won's short story Cranes, it is evident that peace is not something that comes easily as seen from the conflict between North Korea and South Korea from the Korean War. Even though this peace is hard to find, there can be hope for reconciliation in the future between the two countries. Cranes is centered around Songsam, a peace police officer from south of the 38th parallel and Tokchae, a farmer from north of the 38th parallel. After fleeing from North Korea to South Korea, Songsam fought with South Korean forces and eventually made it back to his hometown where he runs into Tokchae, his childhood friend, who is being held as a risoner. As soon as he sees Tokchae, Songsam offers to escort Tokchae to Chongdan. On the trip there, through the village, Songsam begins to reminisce on the times that he and Tokchae had spent together. One of these memories was about Songsam climbing the old man with a wen’s chestnut tree with Tokchae. As it was Songsam’s turn to get his chestnuts, the old man caught them stealing from his tree causing Songsam to fall onto the pointy spines of the fallen chestnuts that stick to his skin. The two boys ran off until the man could not catch them anymore. Tokchae then helps remove the sharp spines from Songsam’s back then gives a handful of his own chestnuts to Tokchae. This interaction shows the importance for looking after one another and sharing. Although Songsam was upset about being hurt and not being able to get the chestnuts on his own, Tokchae graciously looked after his friend and was able to make the situation better by sharing and solving the problem. Another example of reconciliation between the two characters is when Songsam thinks back to the time that he and Tokchae released their crane to be free. As children, the two boys captured a crane and played with it, which wore down the crane. However, when they found out that a hunter from Seoul was coming to kill the cranes, Tokchae and Songsam rushed to their crane to set it free without a single worry of what the consequences may be if they got


2020 Essay Winners Entries      caught. As they untie it, they see that the crane is badly damaged, but eventually takes flight into the blue sky and is free again. The boys watched in awe as the bird flew away as they felt a sense of relief by saving the bird from its inevitable death. The comradery that Songsam once felt with Tokchae swells up and causes him to decide to let Tokchae escape. This action shows the importance of respecting each other’s lives and the importance of relationships between people, regardless of what side they are on. Although the two men have different ideologies, they can respect each other and go on their separate paths without interfering with one another. The two Koreas share very different ideologies but cannot respect each other like Tokchae and Songsam do. Hwang’s writing delves into the complex situation that the Korean War caused. Songsam and Tokchae were once childhood friends from the same village. They were almost like brothers and did everything together. However, as the conflict on the Korean Peninsula grew stronger, Songsam decided to flee to the south to save his own life. He left everything behind, including his friends and family, in order to be safe. On the other hand, Tokchae chose to stay behind and take care of his father, farm, and family. The division and conflict that came along with the 38th parallel caused many relationships to be severed, such as the one between Tokchae and Songsam. Even though these terrible things had happened in Tokchae and Songsam’s life, the tone of the end of Hwang’s short story suggests a more positive outlook on the reconciliation of the waring countries. In Korea, the crane symbolizes longevity, purity, and peace. In the writing, Hwang explains that in the demilitarized zone, no people that were previously there remained, but instead, the cranes continued to inhabit that area. The DMZ represents a place where both sides come together and discuss the relations of the two countries peacefully. The cranes staying in that area show the importance the ideal of peace has in the DMZ. What better place could there be to let Tokchae escape? The relationship between Songsam and Tokchae plus the signs of peace that the crane gives convince Songsam to let Tokchae go and be with his family. Although they may not follow the same path, there is still hope for peace between the two men as they separate one last time. Overall, Cranes shows signs of hope between the two countries that share the same peninsula. Even though relationships had been broken because of the 38th parallel, people can still recognize that those on the other side are still human, as well. Although the conflict between the two Koreas is still severe today, the two countries are making steps at reconciliation as they realize the importance of relationships and peace within the world.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Katie Kosowski Macon, GA 12th grade, Melinda Powell (teacher) Howard High School senior essay division honorable mention, Friend of Pacific Rim Award


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Senior Essay Division Irene Park

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award San Jose, CA 11th grade, Carolyn Cmaylo (teacher) Archibishop Mitty High School

"Cranes": We're Not Past the Point of No Return My Korean grandfather harnesses an ardent presence in our family. A retired vice-president of a high school concentrated in Seoul, you’ll still find him returning to his hometown— Hongcheon—every weekend to visit his father, who’s buried beneath a hill encapsulated by the stillness of the countryside. Taking part in this ancestral visitation-ritual myself, I relentlessly desired to unravel my great-grandfather’s past, and the reason for my grandfather’s keen attachment to this rather lifeless place. I respectfully bowed down my head in silence, observing my grandfather as he poured makgeolli over the dry patch of tumbleweed. As I gingerly walked down the hill holding my frail grandfather’s hand, I asked him about his memories of his family. He struggled for words, however, as if he had no recollection of his past. I later learned that my great-grandfather had originally been born in Wonsan, a province in North Korea, and escaped the Communist regime to settle in the very home that I had been staying in. He was also one of a lucky few in his family who escaped, losing his own siblings in the chaos of war. My grandfather’s stiffened expression still resonates with me today. In that brief moment, I knew that the war had deprived him, his family, and thousands of Koreans, of something so precious and irreplaceable. Hwang Sun-won’s story “Cranes” is an emotionally-crafted testament to this post-war texture of a society shaken by the void of fracitide. Confronting a hostile attitude militarized by the brutality of a political battle, “Cranes” can not be read as a mere reunification fairytale. The grave description of people’s faces “marked by fear” in the opening scene is evident of the deep scar imprinted on the soul of Korea that had paralyzed it with such terror—making such restoration of national identity so difficult. Yet, amidst this disorientation, a rekindled sense of humanity—in remembrance of friendship, culture, and 5,000 years of shared heritage—illuminates a beacon of hope for reconciliation that fearlessly transcends ideological polarization.


2020 Essay Winners Entries      A hope of future reconciliation evolves from the revival of Tokchae and Songsam’s friendship. Returning to his childhood village as a security corps officer, Songsam shockingly finds his old friend arrested as a prisoner of war. Although Songsam’s automated reaction is that of registered hostility, as he escorts Tokchae to the execution site, he vulnerably finds himself softening to his inner attachment to childhood memories; This brief satisfaction in reminiscence quickly dissipates, however, as he presses his Communist-tainted friend to the threat of his own pistol. As Tokchae reveals that he had respectfully stayed behind for his ailing father, Songsam guiltily remembers abandoning his poor family to fend for their own. Songsam realizes he was quick to misjudge his good-hearted friend as Tokchae is no communist, nor a hard-fisted murderer—just a human toiling to make ends meet amidst a meager quality of life. Suddenly, their ideological barriers become distilled into a clarity of each other’s humanity and intent. The restoration of their friendship further harbors hope through the symbolism of cranes. As the two friends trudge down the hill, Songsam becomes mesmerized by the peacefulness of the demilitarized zone along the 38th parallel: “Over in the center of the fields, looking like some people wearing their white clothes, backs bent, surely that was a flock of cranes.” Utilizing this imagery, Hwang draws an interesting parallel of the flock of cranes to the appearance of white-clothed people. Prior to the Korean War, Korea had long been regarded as “baekeminjok,” which directly translates to “The People of White Clothes.” Subtly revealing an important facet of shared Korean history, Hwang utilizes the crane to tap into the emotional remembrance of over 5,000 years of rich history and culture. In this sense, the cranes represent the preservation of the spiritual unification of Koreans, transcending the separation of two split ideological worlds. Revisiting endearing memories of crane hunting with Tokchae, Songsam recalls the time they had desperately freed their own Tanjong crane. Just as the boys lost hope in their weakened crane that helplessly sunk down to Earth, it suddenly soared into the sky, majestically sweeping over their gaping faces. Alas, the crane’s resilient revival manifests into the resilience of Songsam and Tokchae’s severed friendship. As Songsam amiably directs Tokchae to crawl to the other side, a rekindled loyalty awakens a physical and metaphorical freeing of their boundaries; Tokchae is physically freed, and their ideological polarities become insignificant. Thus, the resilience of the two friends’ relationship instills a great hope for the prevail of humanity in a reconciliation between the two Koreas. I’ll admit: even as a native Korean, I’ve been quite indifferent about this issue. I’ve always felt disconnected from the emotional suffering that my country still faces today, and obviously could not decipher for myself whether or not I actually wanted reunification. The three-day inter-Korean summit in 2018 was a historical, emotional moment for the Korean Peninsula. Peering into the screen my parents were endearingly staring at, I saw the two leaders smile and hug amid cheering crowds waving flags of a unified Korea. Strangely, the scene was very heartwarming and touching— it instantly penetrated the barrier of indifference that I had internalized.


2020 Essay Winners Entries      And I wasn’t the only one who had felt a small glimmer of hope. As I ask my relatives living in Korea for their thoughts on reunification, their unwavering support surprises me. When asked for a reason, a simple “Because, we’re all Korean” immediately dismantled the challenging practicalities people seem to worry too much about, and touched me with great hope. Perhaps Sun-Won’s story was to capture exactly this; it’s not even about forecasting the outcome of reconciliation or reunification. Rather, it’s a reminder of our humanity in the midst of such disorientation and uncertainty. It’s about the precious things we must dearly hold on to during these hard times. But perhaps no one can say it better than Songsam himself: “Hey, what are you (we) waiting for? Chase a crane or something over here!”

Irene Park San Jose, CA 11th grade, Carolyn Cmaylo (teacher) Archibishop Mitty High School senior essay division honorable mention, Friend of Pacific Rim Award "My name is Irene Park and I’m currently a junior attending Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, California. As a leader of my school’s advocacy team, I’ve discovered a passion for advocating for mental health reform; raising awareness on issues such as implicit bias; and increasing civic engagement and participation in my community. In the future I hope to pursue a career in politics so that I can continue to unapologetically advocate for social justice on both the legislative and grassroots levels. My other hobbies include creative writing, flute/piano performance, and dancing. Before engaging with Hwang Sun-won's short story "Cranes,” I’ve never extensively considered the polarized sentiments surrounding the discussion of a possible reunification. Although Korean American, I felt rather distant from the emotional fragility and pain that the Korean Peninsula is still contending with today. I would like to thank the Sejong Cultural Society for gifting me this opportunity to not only widen my understanding of this issue, but to deepen my gratitude for Korean culture through literature."


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Senior Essay Division Brenda Kim

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award

Tenafly, NJ 11th grade, Brianna Kim (teacher) Tenafly High Schoold

In 2018, the reunification of Korea seemed more likely than ever before. With the signed agreement to officially end the war, the united march under one flag in the Olympics, and the inter-Korean summit, hope was renewed for both countries. However, in only two years, progress has halted to a period of stagnation. Pessimists will argue that the reconciliation efforts will be met with inevitable disappointment, a criticism that also targets the story “Cranes” by Hwang Sun-won. The author has been dismissed by some as naively optimistic as the people grew more cynical at a hopeful future. Instead of naive optimism however, the author embraces the idea of reunification by both acknowledging the difficulties lying ahead and advocating for a method of reconciliation that stems from hope and understanding. Despite the optimistic ending of the story, the author does not neglect to mention the obstacles facing the two friends and two nations. Initially, when Tokchae and Songsam meet, tension fills the setting. Songsam repeatedly calls his friend a “sunnavabitch” (Hwang 2), which has a dehumanizing effect. Despite the two being childhood friends, the author shows the hostility that initially eclipses the friendship as the situation gives Songsam all of the power in this dynamic. Songsam and Tokchae maintain a certain level of hostility as they deliberately “kept face turned away” (2). For most, seeing their close childhood friend would lead to an exchange of pleasantries, but their chilling reaction reinforces the idea that reunification would involve bridging certain tensions that remain regardless of previous relationships. Songsam’s disgust with his friend is not completely unwarranted, as he asks Tokchae repeatedly, “How many people have you killed?” (3). This reinforces the reality of war, and since Songsam was the victor, he is able to accuse Tokchae of taking the lives of innocent civilians, painting him in a cruel light. Despite how Songsam could also be responsible for the lives of others, as a war just occured, the author accentuates the power dynamic, where Songsam as the victor is able to view himself as superior to Tokchae. This demonstrates the author’s recognition of the power dynamic that exists between the two Koreas, revealing how the author possesses a keen perception of reality. He does not delude readers into believing that North and South Koreans perceive each other as equal, but recognizes it as a real obstacle to progress.


2020 Essay Winners Entries      Despite the reality of events in the story, the author from the beginning sets up a comparison between the two Koreas: emphasizing the similarities, rather than the differences. The imagery of the gourds in the first page reveal two identical white gourds, sharply contrasted by the dirt. The author makes no distinction between the two gourds and implies a close relationship between the two through their support and proximity, despite how the gourds are “between rooms” (1). The contrast between the dirt, often regarded as sordid, and the white, associated with purity, demonstrate that, despite external circumstances, the two Koreas are not completely irreconcilable. Although North and South Korea are often regarded as polar opposites, through his symbolism, the author argues that the two are not so disparate. However, even within this optimistic comparison, the author acknowledges how there “might be just a white gourd” (1), displaying the lack of certainty regarding a united Korea. The gourds’ existence itself is questioned, clearly showing that the author acknowledges that reconciliation remains a hope rather than a fact. The author continues this comparison throughout the rest of the story, describing the two characters’ similar backgrounds and morals. Songsam and Tokchae both come from a family tied to farming, which shows how a significant part of their identity and origins are connected. This forges the connection between their morals and character, as exemplified by their concern for the family. Although Songsam decides to run away while Tokchae stays for his father, Songsam constantly thinks of “the farm work he had left to his old parents and young family” (5) This single difference of Tokchae staying and Songsam leaving creates their widely different futures, and also complicates the morality of each character. Tokchae made the honorable choice of staying for his father, yet he is now about to be executed after the war. Songsam was met with the same decision as his father also refused to flee South, yet Songsam abandoned his father. If Tokchae has more family members to help out his father, or Songsam only has his father left, their positions could have been easily switched. In addition to their filial piety, Songsam and Tokchae are intertwined by their belief regarding the crane. When Tokchae and Songsam learn of the possibility of death for the crane, they run off “without stopping to catch their breath” (6) to untie the crane, ignoring the potential scolding and even danger. This insinuates that morals between North and South Koreans are fueled by the same morals regarding humanity. Both sides have similar core moral beliefs, exemplified by how both characters are driven by the same fear for the crane’s life. The close connection between the two is further developed with the cranes themselves that serve as symbols for Tokchae and Songsam. Initially, the crane could not fly away until another crane came. This is representative of how Tokchae is not able to gain freedom until Songsam comes and sets him free. Despite how they share a connection and are bound by the same beliefs, Tokchae still almost dies. The author acknowledges how there is a lot of hostility despite all that connects them. Had Songsam not been able to look past their different ideologies to recognize


2020 Essay Winners Entries      Tokchae as his friend, as a person, before his ideas, the execution would have taken place. Therefore, by showing the hesitation Songsam had before letting Tokchae go, the author acknowledges that reconciliation requires a lot of effort in that we must learn to realize that people should not be seen as simply a part of a larger whole, but as individual parts.

Brenda Kim Tenafly, NJ 11th grade, Brianna Kim (teacher) Tenafly High Schoold senior essay division honorable mention, Friend of Pacific Rim Award


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Senior Essay Division Ethan Moore

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Smyrna, GA 10th grade, Haley Crockett (teacher) Fulton Science Academy

Can Cranes Fly? December, 2014: Sony Pictures Entertainment has been compromised…hackers have stolen over 100 terabytes of data, wiped company hard drives, leaked vast amounts of sensitive documents onto the internet, and threatened 9/11-style attacks on theaters that dare to show The Interview. The culprits identify themselves as “#GOP”, the Guardians of Peace, but the Central Intelligence Agency… The Central Intelligence Agency has identified a much bigger threat: the mysterious government of North Korea. December, 2019: Snow falls as carolers go from door to door. Families snuggle up by the fire, waiting in anticipation to open the gifts under their trees. Across the world, Kim Jong Un sits atop his steed in the snowy peaks of Mt. Paektu, preparing his message to the United States: “It is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select.” When not engaged in a love affair with controversy, North Korea fades into the depths of the undulating seas of the modern American news media. With it, accompany its complicated history and the war that started it all: the divisive and oftentimes forgotten Korean War that split the Korean Peninsula in two. Hwang Sun-won’s short story “Cranes” is not naively optimistic, but rather a complicated rendering of the possibility for gradual reconciliation through the efforts of the democratic southern administration and the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Throughout the story, hope for reconciliation persists, acting as reinforcement that, while it may seem impossible, the parties involved will be able to unite in a coalition of peace instead of continuing tensions that have raged for decades. While escorting Tökchae to Chöngdan, where he would most likely be killed, Söngsam asks Tökchae if he is married, and Tökchae responds that he is married to Short Stuff. Understandably, Söngsam is surprised. Tökchae married the woman they bullied as children, a woman they had wronged for years. Tökchae and Short Stuff, moreover, are expecting a child. The baby, the result of the joining of the two, acts as a symbol of reunification of two opposing groups that creates a new body without the conflicts of its parental groups. This new body’s future, however, requires nurturing to become a functional being. Similarly, the creation of a reunified Korea or the peace between two nations, with consistent and long-term effort, is possible. A baby’s future, additionally, is not certain. No one knows if the child will live long in


2020 Essay Winners Entries      prosperity, exist in mediocrity, or die young in poverty. This uncertainty highlights Sunwon’s realistic perspective towards the possibility for peace, or lack thereof, in the Korean Peninsula. Sun-won’s use of the past through flashbacks in “Cranes” highlights the systematic gradualness of any attempt to reunify or create an amicable relationship between the two Korean states. Söngsam recalls his and Tökchae’s childhood when they “would make cigarettes out of pumpkin leaves and smoke them”(306). That memory encourages Söngsam to think about offering an olive branch in the form of a cigarette. This moment could act as Sun-won’s appeal to look to the past, to look to a unified Korea, to persuade your audience. Donald Trump did so with his “Make America Great Again '' campaign slogan, as well as Mao Zedong who, in “The Chinese People Have Stood Up!”alludes to the advancement and innovation of classical and post-classical China. Looking to the past has inspired groups for centuries. Through this avenue, the peoples of the Korean Peninsula may form a basis for reconciliation. Sun-won, however, also recognizes that the traditions of yesterday cannot simply wipe away the sins of today and completely solve the unpredictability of tomorrow. This realization is mirrored in Söngsam’s explosive anger in which he yells at Tökchae after reminiscing about their childhoods. Memories of the past have the ability to act as a catalyst for what Sun-won is able to identify as feelings of betrayal that the two opposing sides will have to struggle past in order for unification to take place. “Cranes” offers not a naively optimistic view towards the reconciliation of the nations of the Korean Peninsula, but is instead, through the characters’ own relationships and memories, a hopeful statement that addresses the very real possibility that the democratic southern administration and the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea can reach peace. Sun-won presents a bigger question: Is reconciliation between two nations that have fought for so long possible? When doves have cried… can cranes fly?


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Ethan Moore Smyrna, GA 10th grade, Haley Crockett (teacher) Fulton Science Academy senior essay division honorable mention, Friend of Pacific Rim Award

I enjoy writing stories and watching comedies such as The Office. After college, I would like to work for NASA mission control. My personal hero is my mom because she taught me how to work hard and remain optimistic when times become tough. While writing my essay, I learned more about the history of the conflict that led to the split of the Korean Peninsula.


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JUNIOR ESSAY DIVISION


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Topics

"Junior essay division (grade 8 and younger) Folktales index Korea has a rich tradition of storytelling, and its folktales reflect important aspects of its history and culture. Many of the old historical texts are full of local legends and myths. Folk tales can be entertaining and educational, but they can also strike a deep chord in our personal lives, and many Korean folktales demonstrate the universal tragedies and triumphs of daily life in the family. Topics (choose one): Each topic refers to the list of Korean folktales found on our folktales index page. Please make sure to select a folktale under the "2019 Essay Competition" list. When writing your essay, please be sure to include specific references to the tale you chose to write about. In your analysis or interpretation of the stories, you may also want to make references to your own life experiences. a. Select one folktale from the list and explain your interpretation of the story. What is its importance? Why do you think it was created? Which Korean folktale character do you relate to best and why? Would you make the same decisions as that character? b. If you could change one of these folktales, what would you change and why? Do you disagree with something the tale is trying to convey?


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Korean Folktales - Index

translations provided by Prof. Heinz Insu Fenkl, Dongwol Kim Roberson, and Suzanne Crowder Han 2020 Essay Competition Folktales 

The Rabbit's Liver

  

The Three Gifts The Tiger and the Persimmon The Three Questions

Other folktales The following folktales are not eligible for use in the Sejong Writing Competition this year.

            

The Green Frog Shimchong: the Blind Man's Daughter The Queen Swallow's Gift The Goblin's Club The Heavenly Maiden and the Woodcutter The Mud Snail Bride The Snake and the Boar Princess Pari, the Cast-off Daughter The Tiger and the Cloudburst The Silkworm Congjui Potjui: Korean Cinderella The Curse of Three-Year Hill The Golden Ax and Silver Ax

Sources Heinz Insu Fenkl. "Korean Folk Tales: in the old, old days, when tigers smoked tobacco pipes". Bo-Leaf Books, 2008. reproduced courtesy of Heinz Insu Fenkl and Bo-Leaf Books Dongwol Kim Roberson. https://koreanfolktales.com. Accessed September 2018. reproduced courtesy of Dongwol Kim Roberson. Books available for purchase on Amazon. Suzanne Crowder Han. "Korean Folk & Fairy Tales". Hollym, 1991. reproduced courtesy of Suzanne Crowder Han and Hollym International Corp


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Junior Essay Division Anna Kim first place

Fairfax, VA 8th grade, Shruti Sharma (teacher) Robert Frost Middle School

Cunning over Courage: How a Rabbit Defined a Nation Cinderella patiently tolerated the harsh brutality and exclusion of her stepmother and stepsisters and eventually married royalty. Hansel and Gretel kindly bore the abuse of their stepmother, and ultimately became rich and victorious. In most folktales around the world, the moral is to always be noble and self-sacrificing, for such behavior will be rewarded. Is this always true? Is honorability always the right choice? I had never truly pondered this question until I read “The Rabbit’s Liver”. In this folktale, a Dragon King is in dire need of a rabbit’s liver to cure him of his sickness. A turtle goes out in search of the rabbit and tricks him into coming back to the King. Once the rabbit arrives, he realizes he has been tricked, but instead of accepting the situation and sacrificing his life for the King’s, he seeks out a way to save his own skin. He tells the King that he left his liver at home and asks to go retrieve it. After the turtle escorts him back home, the rabbit hops away, laughing at the stupidity of the King and the turtle. At first glance, this folktale appears to encourage trickery, and portray it essentially as the only way out in a crisis. Initially, I was surprised and rather upset at why the story appeared to reward the rabbit for tricking the King and the turtle. However, a second reading allowed me to see a clearer picture. When facing a dire situation and outmatched in power, we sometimes must resort to using alternative methods to overcome disadvantages. The rabbit was outmatched in size, strength, and influence, but he had one advantage which he used to gain the upper hand: cunningness. As a society, we often view cunningness as a negative trait. Some folk tales would have us believe that kindness is the only answer for our problems.However, we cannot always sit back and give way for others to cheat or take advantage of us; sometimes, it is best to take a stand, and fight back with cunningness. In the story of Cinderella, her kindness and acceptance of her stepmother’s treatment to her was rewarded by marriage to a prince. In real life, however, allowing people to take advantage of our timidity rarely results in a happy ending. Kindness doesn’t always lead to rewards as the fairy tales preach. This folktale was written to show that is kindness isn’t the only correct answer. Cunningness can be the right path for its own reasons. The rabbit’s action might not have been the kindest, but it was the most necessary.


2020 Essay Winners Entries      A long time ago, there was a country that was in a perilous situation. Just as the rabbit outsmarted his more powerful opponent, Korea outsmarted their enemy and conqueror, Japan. Korea was much weaker physically, with less land, fewer resources, and fewer armed forces. Korea had to rely solely on its most brilliant minds in order to win against its far stronger opponent. One of the most famous figures in Korean history, Yi Sun-shin, was a Korean general who was one of the most influential driving forces that would propel Korea’s win. One of the key tactics that won the war involved luring the powerful Japanese naval fleet into a narrow strait, and then closing the mouth of the strait with heavy chains. The Japanese were utterly trapped, and many of their ships hit rocks and sank. Korea, and Yi Sun-shin’s navy were severely outnumbered, yet they managed to win using creative, cunning tactics. Were these acts noble? If Korea had fought without such cunningness, would they have won? When faced with a choice, the lives of millions of innocents were placed above the importance of a “noble” fight. Other countries often associate rabbits with vulnerability and prey. They would rather represent themselves as creatures of power- dragons, lions, and eagles. However, Korea seems to value the traits of rabbits that go ignored. In Korean folktales like “Moon Rabbit” and “The Tiger and the Rabbit”, rabbits are depicted as unlikely protagonists, who win happy endings not through kindness or bravery but through their clever minds. Many folktales specifically in Korean culture mention trickery and wit to solve problems- tigers and monsters threaten children, mothers, and other weaker protagonists who must think quickly to outsmart their intimidating opponents. Many Koreans proudly believe their country is shaped like a rabbit. They embrace this rabbit wholeheartedly, as a representation of what Korea is. Folktales tell us about a country’s culture. All of us will have to rely on our quick sense to carry us through situations like the rabbit’s in this folktale. If I’m stuck in a situation where the odds are against me, I’ll still try to find a way to prevail by turning to the solution that might not seem as obvious. We often think that the big, powerful forces are the ones that will always end up with a medal in hand, but that isn’t always true. Underdogs can win with cunningness - and they do many times. Korea has had to win through cleverness, not through power alone. Koreans are bold. Perhaps not in the way that we think on first impression, but through cunningness and skill. We can model the rabbit in our difficult situations - by looking for creative solutions and using wit to escape unharmed from otherwise uncomfortable circumstances.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Anna Kim Fairfax, VA 8th grade, Shruti Sharma (teacher) Robert Frost Middle School junior division, first place My name is Anna Kim and I am in 8th grade at Robert Frost Middle School in Fairfax, Virginia. I love to play tennis, violin, and travel. I have also loved reading from a very young age. My fondest memories include visiting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Missouri and tracing her footsteps after reading all of her books over and over. This passion for reading eventually grew into a love of writing as well. Before I wrote this essay, I always thought that American and Korean cultures were polar opposites. Though I am Korean-American, I have always felt like Korea was a distant relative. Through reading these folktales and reflecting on them, I have drawn closer to my Korean heritage and realized that the two cultures have similarities and that I can belong to both. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to explore Korean literature through this competition.


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Junior Essay Division Sanjna Akula second place

Cumming, GA 7th grade, Haley Crockett (teacher) Fulton Science Academy Private School

The Three Gifts “The value of these things is only as good as your own sense. Use them well.” In the Korean folktale, The Three Gifts, translated by Heinz Insu Fenkl, a poor old father on his deathbed conveys this message to his three sons while he entrusts his only possessions: a millstone, a gourd, a bamboo staff, and a drum, to their care. Setting out to find their fortune, and using their good sense and their respective items, the brothers each become rich and successful in their endeavors. This is a tale of cleverness, bravery, and cunning. I interpret this story as a representation that no matter one’s material wealth, intuition and good sense must always surpass it, and to succeed, one must be willing to work hard for one’s goals. The importance of this story is how meaningfully it portrays a father wishing the best for his children. The dying father, who is so poor that he can only afford to give his sons four items, tells them that the sons can increase the value of the possessions using their wits. By giving them the items that seem so trivial and meager, the father has also secured his sons’ fortune, knowing them to be clever and sensible. The story also explains how the sons each find their own fortune to show that they all have different adventures, left to their own devices. This symbolizes that each son is clever in his own way, just like everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. The first son uses his millstone to scare robbers and take their loot, the second son uses the gourd and the bamboo staff to trick a goblin, in turn inheriting a fortune, and the third son uses his drum and happens upon a dancing tiger, the pair becoming a singing and dancing sensation. Later selling the tiger to a king, his wealth increases still. Throughout all of these adventures, the sons each used their sense and clever wits to turn their luck around. The character I would relate to the most would be the third son. I am a creative person, and I love music such as singing and playing the violin. Along with using his wits, the third son also used his creativity and song. His lively tune is what caused him to discover the dancing tiger. “He ignored his tiredness and sang as he walked, and moved by a particular surge of joy, he beat his drum and danced a happy dance.” The third son is also positive and innovative in his mindset and attitude. He was exhausted from walking, but was still buoyant and sang his song. Despite the fact that his inheritance was the most meager and useless for a lucrative life, the son still kept high hopes and persevered to be the richest of the three sons. I see myself as a positive person who likes to make the best of what I have. If I was in the third son’s place, I wouldn’t have sold the tiger to the king. While the extra


2020 Essay Winners Entries      money would be tempting, I would see the tiger as both a stroke of luck and a sign of good fortune, and wouldn’t at all be willing to part with it. I think the third son should’ve kept his unique performance and considerable wealth, instead of trading it for a common performance and extreme wealth. The message of the story is to always have hope, good sense, and the will to work hard for what one pursues. If the brothers had been sullen and downcast about their father’s meager inheritance, they would have remained in the same melancholy state as before. I believe this story was created to inspire the less fortunate people in this world to never give up and hang one’s head because of one’s bad luck. It is common opinion that people with better fortunes and more opportunities are the most ambitious and successful. However, The Three Gifts contradicts this opinion and argues that while the chances of the brothers’ success were low, the ambition and drive of the brothers helped them rise to fame and wealth. A famous saying goes as such, “You get what you work for, not what you wish for.” Portraying this moral in a charming, heartfelt folktale, The Three Gifts puts work before wealth. In conclusion, The Three Gifts is a tale of bravery, skill, and three sons making the best of what they have. Join them as they head out into the world, find their fortune, and honor the last wish of their father. While this story seems self-explanatory at first, three brothers striking it rich with a stroke of luck, it uses this simple facade to convey a deeper message: that no matter who someone is and what their fortune is, one should always have good sense and strive to reach one’s success, whatever it may be. While the folktale itself is little in size, the moral is anything but.

            Sanjna Akula Cumming, GA 7th grade, Haley Crockett (teacher) Fulton Science Academy Private School junior essay division second place My name is Sanjna Akula, and I am in 7th grade at Fulton Science Academy Private School in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of my hobbies include playing the violin, volleyball, singing, classical dance, painting, and writing. I also love to travel and see new places. I have always liked to write, but I definitely couldn't have made it this far without my friends, family, and my teachers. I want to thank my parents for always encouraging me to pursue my dreams and never give up. I also want to thank my ELA teacher, Ms. Crockett for introducing this competition to me and challenging me to write to the best of my ability. Lastly, I want to thank the Sejong Cultural Society for this amazing opportunity that has encouraged me to pursue my dream of being a writer.


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Junior Essay Division Abigail Davies third place Rodondo Beach, CA 6th grade, Christopher Meisel (teacher) Chadwick School

  The Three Gifts, a traditional Korean folktale, is retold by Heinz Insu Fenkl. The moral of this folktale is that you cannot measure something's value by what it is, but what you do with it. However, there are certain aspects of the story that could be changed in order to make the tale more engaging, while ensuring that it continues to teach the right lessons. The Three Gifts is about three brothers who accept their poor father’s gifts after he dies and use the seemingly useless items to become rich. They all go off on different paths and become wealthy. The first son becomes prosperous by tricking thieves into thinking that they are being punished by the gods. The second son gets a gourd and a bamboo staff and becomes affluent by spending the night in a graveyard. A goblin finds him and thinks he is a skeleton because of the bamboo cane and gourd. The son then goes with the goblin and steals a rich girl’s soul. He takes the soul from the goblin, pretends he is a shaman, and brings the girl back to life. In doing this he gets a large sum of money from the girl’s father and becomes her husband. The third son finds a tiger who dances and makes his money by performing with the tiger. The story of the second son is problematic because when he brings the girl back to life she has no choice in being his wife, and her father decides whether or not she will marry him. The father says,”See how she looks at you? Does she please you, young man? Would you take my daughter as your wife?” As the reader can observe the father does not offer the daughter a choice and gives her no voice. This will teach generations of young readers that women’s opinions don’t matter. Another area of concern is the lack of information about the second son. We know that the second son is a quick thinker due to his decisions and actions. Yet the reader does not learn much more detail about his personality or character traits. We barely know anything about him, but he has to make the most complex decisions which are key to the story. For instance, he has to decide whether or not to marry the rich man’s daughter. Furthermore the father's judgement is questionable because he marries his daughter off to a man he doesn’t know. The father is potentially placing his daughter in danger and in the best case scenario he is risking her happiness. This demonstrates that the father is thoughtless and makes rash decisions. This connects to an earlier point which was that the reader does not know the second son’s character. Moreover we do not find out what fate befalls the daughter in her life with the second son.


2020 Essay Winners Entries      All of the brothers are victims of chance yet they all get amazing rewards for doing very little. This will also teach readers that things will happen to you by chance and not through hard work. All three of the brothers are very smart, but do no actual hard work. This imparts the wrong lesson because to get anything in life one has to work diligently. In conclusion, my version of the story would change three main things. The first one being that the daughter would get a choice in her marriage. This would allow for her character to play a bigger role in the story and add depth and strength of will to her character. The second thing my version would change is that we would discover more about the second son’s personality. If the reader knew what type of person the second son was it would make the story more engaging and fun. The reader would be able to relate more to how the character is feeling if we knew more about the second son and his personality traits. The third thing that I would change is that the three brothers would have to work harder and more diligently to get their rewards. The Three Gifts is a folktale that with some changes to the story could become more immersive while still conveying the right lessons.

Abigail Davies Rodondo Beach, CA 6th grade, Christopher Meisel (teacher) Chadwick School junior division, third place My name is Abigail Davies and I am a sixth grade student at Chadwick school in Palos Verdes, California. My hobbies are reading, swimming, and horseback riding. My favorite books are Life of Pi and Twilight. I also enjoy reading The New York Times. I chose to enter this competition because my teacher encouraged me to participate, and I thought it sounded like a fun challenge. At school, my two favorite subjects are Science and English. I hope to use my passion for Science to become a veterinarian. My personal hero is Michelle Obama because she has given so many girls an education and encouraged them to reach their full potential. I really want to be like her so I can help kids and adults who are not able to read or write. From this competition I have learned to take risks and to revise a piece of writing to focus the topic of each of my paragraphs. I have also learned to make sure I’ve supported my ideas with clear examples. I am so grateful to the Sejong Cultural Society for allowing me to participate in this enjoyable experience.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Junior Essay Division Jenna Kim

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Bloomfield Hills, MI 8th grade, Katherine Georges (teacher) Cranbrook Schools

Out of the blue, a rabbit is approached by a turtle to come with him to see the Dragon King in the Southern Sea. Once at the kingdom, the rabbit realizes that he has in fact been tricked into coming to the kingdom as the Dragon King is in great desire for the rabbit’s liver in order to overcome his sickness. Nonetheless, the rabbit calmly evades the situation by stating that he does not keep his liver with him and he would be honored to bring back his liver for the indisposed king. The turtle offers the rabbit a ride back to retrieve his liver, however, once they reach land, the rabbit leaps off the turtle’s back and escapes whilst mocking the daft turtle and Dragon King. This folktale ‘The Rabbit’s Liver’ may come across as a silly and comical story. Yet, it reflects the subversive perception of the feudal system resulting in a dysfunctional society. There are more than just several instances of the use of social systems and hierarchy throughout history. The paradigmatic ethnography of the Caste system, the marginalization of ethnic and racial minorities in early America, and the Korean ruling class with royalty all stand as examples of social structures. These social classes all guided many people’s lives. The rabbit in this story portrays the powerless and idealistic commoner or peasant in the early Korea’s ruling system. While the turtle stands as a subject for the Dragon King, who acts as the ruler. The Dragon King’s initial proclamation to ask for one of his subjects to retrieve a rabbit on land serves as a representation of an adverse society where the ruler views the people as objects of exploitation, for his own glory. The Dragon King is on the top of the social pyramid and therefore has not a whisker to worry about in taking away an animal’s life. Commoners may see the king’s desire for the rabbit’s liver as greed, however that greed is simply the king’s standard. Once the turtle arrives on land, he is successful in deceiving the rabbit. The rabbit reacts in shock and surprise as it would be for a commoner to receive an offer to visit the royalty. He questions the offer by wondering how a land animal would be able to go under to the sea. However, in the end, he does not lose the chance to climb the social ladder. As the turtle and the rabbit both descended into the kingdom, the rabbit was bombarded with the unforeseen fact that he was indeed brought to the sea to become medicine for the Dragon King. The norm, in this case, would be that the lowly commoner would concede to


2020 Essay Winners Entries      the upper class. Per contra, the rabbit switched the odds and duped the Dragon King by stating that he does not keep such distinguished liver on him and that he keeps it in a covert space in the forest. The Dragon King was then won over by cavalier flattery and allowed the turtle to give a ride back for the rabbit to retrieve his liver. The rabbit’s words prove that when taken advantage of, the weak should use their quick wits and slyness to bypass the situation unscathed. As the two animals arrived on land, the rabbit loudly exclaimed, “Did you think I was really going to let your stupid Dragon King cut me open and take my liver? Ha!” (Rabbit, Fenkl) The turtle looked at the rabbit in utter disbelief that he and the whole kingdom had been swindled on. The turtle has no choice but to leave with no rabbit’s liver and the king would have to die. The subject not only leaves with a heavy heart, yet with social morals to not waste noble qualities with feeble-minded actions. ‘The Rabbit’s Liver’ conveys a defense mechanism for the powerless. This tale went against the social class system and broke down barriers which then allowed for the wealth of knowledge of the society to become freely available to everybody. The rabbit in this tale taught society the importance of democracy. In addition, it displayed how social class can hinder national unity and development which could lead to suppression and treachery. As a thirteen-year-old Korean American living as a minority in a predominantly white community, I am able to relate with this cunning rabbit. The rabbit was challenged as inferior to the social system. Nevertheless, he was powerful enough to be allowed to escape to his favored ground. He stands to represent that one needs a voice to survive and overcome tough situations. Likewise, I have spent time on figuring out my identity as a first-generation Korean American and finding my voice within society. I have pondered on how to change the status quo as an Asian American. Asian Americans such as myself, are still confronted by prejudices that we are only good at solving math problems, playing the violin, and eating spicy food. However, I believe Asian Americans should not be grouped into one identity, labeled, and categorized. Hence, I am the rabbit. Just as the rabbit was able to find his voice and break the status quo for a commoner, I, as well as other Asian Americans, need to speak up and make the world realize that we may be one race, yet that one race contains millions of different individuals. Telling stories is an innate human skill -- we are narrative creatures at heart. Tales allow us to achieve distance and objectivity in difficult situations. They help us to identify and use our own imaginative resources to cope with challenges in creative ways and strengthen our resilience. ‘The Rabbit’s Liver’ is capable of helping the audience understand the roles that they play, and respect each other's skills and differences. Readers learn to make sense of chaos and to simplify the complex. The story makes us rethink the perception of social systems and understand the importance of a single voice.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Jenna Kim Bloomfield Hills, MI 8th grade, Katherine Georges (teacher) Cranbrook Schools junior essay division honorable mention, Friend of Pacific Rim Award


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Junior Essay Division Sanjana Uppaluri

honorable mention honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Alpharetta, GA 6th grade, Haley Crockett (teacher) Fulton Science Academy Private School

The Three Gifts: Family, Cooperation, and Perseverance I really enjoyed the story, “The Three Gifts”, but believe that some changes can be made to improve the moral of the story. I think that instead of leaving only seemingly useless items to all three sons, he should have left something very valuable to one of them and something of less value to the other two. The richest son should then waste his newfound riches over time since he was too happy with what he received and did not want to share with the other two. Meanwhile, the other two sons who may have received something like a drum or a millstone should continue to use it in their ingenious ways. So in the end, the son who was originally the richest will end up being the poorest one while the other two sons will end up being much richer. But the other two sons understand the importance of family, and will give some of their wealth to the now poor son so they can all live happily forever after. I believe that there is too much luck involved in this story and it should incorporate more cooperation and work ethic. I want to make these changes because of an experience I had in learning how to dance when I was younger; I always wanted to learn it on my own, but would always struggle with the correct moves. My older brother made time to practice with me and correct my mistakes everyday over two years. Only with his help was I able to improve my dancing technique. I still dance with him every week! To improve the theme, I would start the story with the father knowing which son will need the money the most and which sons will be able to make it in the world with much less. The father decides to give his eldest but least wise son a large jewel that has been passed down through generations. For the other two sons, he does not leave anything but a millstone and drum. This is because he trusts his two younger sons to make the best use of what they have and then passes away. With the first chance he gets, the unwise first son sells off the jewel for a large sum of money. “Could we please borrow some money?”, the younger brothers inquired of him. “I need to use it for the mansion I am building”, the older brother selfishly responded. Afterwards, the other two sons move into an abandoned shack and cooperate to make use of what they have. The youngest son practices for hours each day with his drum while the middle son painstakingly grinds leftover grains with his millstone for the brothers to eat. After many years, the youngest son is quite masterful with the drums and is now doing many traveling shows with his brother, who sells many different grain


2020 Essay Winners Entries      dishes made with his millstone. They gain fame throughout the region as heads of the great watch-and-eat musical show. Meanwhile, the eldest brother has spent all of his money decorating his home with luxurious furniture. In a stroke of bad luck, a tsunami destroys the eldest son’s mansion and all of his valuables. Now, he is without the money he earned from the jewel as well as the friends who only hung around him to visit his mansion. He makes the long journey from the coast and stumbles upon an advertisement about the renowned watch-and-eat show of two brothers. He can barely believe it when he sees they are his own brothers and waits for his chance to ask for forgiveness. The eldest son is truly amazed by the magnificence of his brother playing the drums as well as the tasty food made by his other brother. After the show ends, he begs his younger brothers, “Please forgive me for valuing money over my own brothers.” The two brothers gratefully accept the apology, only asking for two things in return. “You must put your family above material possessions,” the first brother dictates. The second brother continues, “You should learn to play the guitar too!” Now the eldest brother practices the new instrument tirelessly and starts to play with the youngest brother’s drums. The melodious tunes of the brothers’ music are now well-known throughout the whole kingdom. The perseverance of the younger two brothers and repentance of the older one allowed them to form an amazing team and become the richest and happiest men in the kingdom. If the story was like this, I believe it would help show the value of hard work and cooperation with those around you. I think the original story had too many elements of luck involved like with how the third son randomly saw a tiger dancing in the woods. The only luck in this story is the mansion’s destruction, but I think it helps prove how money is not everything and can be lost in an instant. Even if the same tsunami hit the hut of the two younger brothers, they would probably be fine because of the strong bond they had together compared to the little money they had at the time. By playing the guitar with the people that he loves, the eldest brother found much more satisfaction in life than what even the largest of mansions could give him. Similarly collaborating with my brother gave me the confidence and skills to find satisfaction in more than just dancing. The moral of the story would now go deeper than the “make use of what you have” moral seen in the original story. After these changes in the story, one can understand the importance of family over money, and the importance of cooperation and perseverance in order to become successful at something. Just as these three brothers improved themselves through the help of each other, I would never have been able to become a better dancer without my brother’s help.


2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Sanjana Uppaluri Alpharetta, GA 6th grade, Haley Crockett (teacher) Fulton Science Academy Private School junior essay division honorable mention, Friend of Pacific Rim Award

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2020 Essay Winners Entries     

Junior Essay Division Lily Jin

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Wellesley, MA 8th grade, Cassandra Short (teacher) Wellesley Middle School

The Three Gifts: An Olden Tale In Modern Times Passed down from generation to generation, folktales have been a popular tradition for a variety of cultures. These stories are windows looking into the perspectives, beliefs, and hopes of our cultural ancestors. Although traditional folktales are enjoyable to read and should be cherished, there’s always some aspects in them that can be improved; not only for a better reading experience, but for a better influence on readers and modern society. “The Three Gifts” is one such folktale. Although it has an exciting plot and a meaningful moral embedded deep within the pages, there are still some characteristics I would change based solely on my perspective: The characters’ actions, the ending, and most importantly, the folktale’s conventionality. Throughout the story, the three brothers went on different journeys, but there were similarities in what they did. “The oldest son came down from the tree and took all the money and jewels the thieves had left.” The second son stole a rich man’s daughter’s spirit, then lied to the man by saying, “‘I am a shaman and I may be able to bring her back to life’”. The youngest son took advantage of controlling an ordinary tiger, exaggerating the tiger’s value to the king by declaring, “‘This tiger is a family treasure passed down from generation to generation.’” Clearly, there’s a pattern: Stealing and lying. In modern times, these actions come with punishments, not with rewards. This can be a bad influence on our society today where morality is hard to find. Famous folktales such as Jack and The Beanstalk, Goldilocks and The Three Bears, and Hansel And Gretel all have flawed characters who set poor examples for young readers. Our modern world needs more stories where the character’s actions aren’t stealing, trespassing, or acting greedily, to name a few. Whether good or bad, folktales have the ability to powerfully influence the readers. If the three sons in The Three Gifts acted more honestly and morally, the folktale would have a much better impact on readers and society. The most impactful element of any story is its ending. In The Three Gifts, the second to last sentence is, “They embraced each other and danced with joy when they learned from each other that they had all become fabulously rich.” This sounded all too familiar. Does being “fabulously rich” really mean “joy”? By reading a story that most likely includes wealth as part of the “happy ending”, we’d be inclined to think so. Living in a wealthy town, I’ve always been surrounded by the unspoken rule: Wealth defines your reputation. For


2020 Essay Winners Entries      example, kids at the top of the middle school hierarchy have the most expensive accessories and clothes. On the other hand, my goal doesn’t involve money, which is reflected in my ideal ending for The Three Gifts. If the reader’s personal life goals are mirrored in the story’s ending, they’d be more motivated to achieve them. For instance, I believe being wealthy isn’t the best ending for The Three Gifts, but many people might disagree because wealth could be their life goal, which matters the most. There is also a reverse effect, when the story’s ending can become the goal. Therefore, if a story always ends with the characters becoming rich, the reader’s goal would be the same. Personally, my goal has always been to conquer my biggest challenge one day. As a result, I’d change the ending of The Three Gifts to the brothers finally overcoming their greatest obstacles instead of becoming rich. I believe that a folktale’s traditional culture is what sets it apart, but I also believe that it prevents growth and adaptation in modern times. Our country’s foundation, the Constitution, added amendments to move forward with time. Shouldn’t folktales be the same? Living in the 21st century means living with the latest technology and trends, not to mention an increasing variety of political, social, and environmental issues. These controversies in our everyday lives should be incorporated into another version of The Three Gifts to give the reader a better sense of the world they’re living in. For instance, having three sisters instead of three brothers can introduce the idea of a balanced society with men and women playing equal roles. Or maybe the social ladder and monarchy can be removed from The Three Gifts, introducing modern political topics today in different countries. As a reader, I’ve always preferred reading modern books knowing that I’d be more interested in stories that have a stronger connection to the present with modern settings and characters that I can easily apply to my life. Many other readers might agree with me: creating a more adapted and modernized version of a traditional folktale could offer new perspectives that we can relate to more. If The Three Gifts took a more modern approach, we’d accumulate more ideas and connections by reading about the present, which is equally as important as reading about the past. In the end, our opinion of any story ties back to our interpretation of it. Diana Wynne Jones, a British novelist and poet, once said about folktales: “... the interpretation is infinitely blurred, a sort of enormous rainbow of every possible color you could imagine.” This rainbow arches over The Three Gifts, a story that’s different for each of us. Finding ways to change this folktale can change how this folktale changes us. Never etched into stone, stories change perspectivally as they’re passed down from generation to generation. The heart of all stories stay the same, but perspective changes the rest. Maybe we can be the next generation of storytellers to write down our perspectives, creating another endless rainbow for the world.


2020 Essay Winners Entries      r div

Lily Jin Wellesley, MA 8th grade, Cassandra Short (teacher) Wellesley Middle School junior essay division honorable mention, Friend of Pacific Rim Award


2020 Sejong Writing Competition Judges     

15th Sejong Writing Competition (March 2020)

JUDGES ESSAY Category David Schaafsma Sora Kim-Russell Joanne Rhim


2020 Sejong Writing Competition Judges     

David Schaafsma, essay David Schaafsma, Professor of English and Director of the Program in English Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is interested in scholarly issues concerning the preparation of English teachers, young adult literature, community-based literacy, the uses of narrative in research and learning, and the relationship between literacy, democracy, and social action. His books include Narrative Inquiry in English Education (Teachers College Press); Jane Addams in the Classroom (The University of Illinois Press), and Eating on the Street: Teaching Literacy in a Multicultural Society (The University of Pittsburgh Press)

Sora Kim-Russell, essay Sora Kim-Russell is a literary translator based in Seoul. Her publications include Kim Un-su's The Plotters; Hwang Sok-yong’s At Dusk, which was longlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International; and Pyun Hyeyoung’s City of Ash and Red, and The Hole, which won the 2017 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel. She has taught literary translation at Ewha Woman's University, the Literary Translation Institute of Korea, and the Bread Loaf Translators' Conference. Her latest translation, The Law of Lines by Pyun Hye-young, will be released on May 5, 2020.

Joanne Rhim Lee, essay Joanne Rhim Lee teaches Asian History at Century College in St. Paul, Minnesota and has written for the Korean Quarterly for the past twenty years. She is originally from Chicago, and graduated from Carleton College and Stanford University. published by UNESCO in Korea, from 2015 to 2017. Currently he is working with a research center he founded called The Frog Outside the Well Research Center, which publishes an active YouTube channel by that name. He also writes a weekly column for the Korea Times.


15th Sejong Writing Competition (March 2020)  

Sijo Category         Winners   Rules and a Basic Guide to Writing Sijo   Winners Entries & Bio   

Adult Division  Pre‐College Division 

 Competition Judges    


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2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Sijo Competition Rules and Information in collaboration with the Korea Institute, Harvard University Deadline: March 31, 2020 (11:59pm CDT) how to write sijo | sijo samples | sijo references (links) Divisions: adult division (age 19 and older) and pre-college division (age 18 and younger*) * College students who are eighteen at the time of the competition deadline are asked to participate in the adult division. Guidelines:       

  

Write one sijo in English on a topic of your choice. A title for the sijo is not required. More information on writing sijo can be found here. Participants must participate in their age-appropriate division. Younger participants may not apply to the adult division. Entries must be submitted through our website. One entry per category per contestant is permitted. (Contestants are permitted one essay and one sijo entry.) All entries must be written in English. Contestants' names cannot be written in their entries. Essay division age limits do not have a lower limit, but the sijo adult division is limited to age 19 and older. If a pre-college student would like to compete in the adult essay division and pre-college sijo division, s/he must create two separate application accounts. We reserve the right to use all submitted pieces in future publications of the Sejong Cultural Society with no compensation to the authors. We reserve the right to not award any prizes. Winners are generally announced by early May. This estimate is subject to change depending on the number of total entries received; a more accurate estimate will be posted on our website soon after the competition deadline.

Prizes (funded by the Korea Institute at Harvard University):     

Adult division: First ($1,000), Second ($750), Third ($500) Pre-college division: First ($500), Second ($400), Third ($300) Honorable mention (for both divisions listed above): Friends of Pacific Rim Awards ($50 each) Competition winners will be announced in AZALEA: Journal of Korean Literature and Culture, published by the Korea Institute at Harvard University. Winners' works may be published in the Korea Times Chicago or the Korean Quarterly.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

A Basic Guide to Writing Sijo The sijo (Korean 시조, pronounced SHEE-jo) is a traditional three-line Korean poetic form typically exploring cosmological, metaphysical, or pastoral themes. Organized both technically and thematically by line and syllable count, sijo are expected to be phrasal and lyrical, as they are first and foremost meant to be songs. Sijo are written in three lines, each averaging 14-16 syllables for a total of 44-46 syllables. Each line is written in four groups of syllables that should be clearly differentiated from the other groups, yet still flow together as a single line. When written in English, sijo may be written in six lines, with each line containing two syllable groupings instead of four. Additionally, as shown in the example below, liberties may be taken (within reason) with the number of syllables per group as long as the total syllable count for the line remains the same. However, it is strongly recommended that the third line consistently begin with a grouping of three syllables. The first line is usually written in a 3-4-4-4 grouping pattern and states the theme of the poem, where a situation is generally introduced. The second line is usually written in a 3-4-4-4 pattern (similar to the first) and is an elaboration of the first line's theme or situation (development). The third line is divided into two sections. The first section, the counter-theme, is grouped as 3-5, while the second part, considered the conclusion of the poem, is written as 4-3. The counter-theme is called the 'twist,' which is usually a surprise in meaning, sound, or other device.

Example: excerpt from "Song of my five friends" Yun Seondo (1587-1671) You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine. (2-6-4-4) The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade. (2-4-4-6) Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask? (2-5, 5-3)

Advice from Prof. Mark Peterson “The structure is important, but I always allow for poetic license, meaning that sometimes the message is more important than the structure. But a poem can be eliminated if the structure is too far off base ... I really like the three-beat start to the third line.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries      Word choice is important. Some poems used a word that seemed beyond the argot of the writer and was not quite the right word in nuance, if not in actual definition. Sometimes the right word in the right place is a zinger, really powerful. Imagery. Some poems capture an image so effectively – you can see the image. Some poems miss in that the image or message is lost in vague and ambiguous wording and imagery. They seem to try too hard to be flowery or emotional and the message is unclear. Clarity is essential. Emotion. Poetry, in sijo or any form, has to capture an emotion and transfer that feeling to the reader. Some poetic emotion is in the category of sadness – loss, loneliness, abandonment, insult, being ostracized. Happiness – love, acceptance, success, accomplishment. The thing about sijo, more so than haiku, is that the form can capture a wide range of emotions.” Mark Peterson is Professor Emeritus of Korean history, literature and language from Brigham Young University. He is a frequent judge of the Sejong Writing Competition sijo category and board member of the Sejong Cultural Society.

Further reading: Sijo Primer (an introduction for those new to sijo) by Larry Gross (.pdf) Structure of the Korean Sijo by David McCann (.pdf) Sijo lectures by David McCann Part 1: form and structure Part 2: history Part 3: sample analysis of sijo Sijo lecture series by Mark Peterson Lecture 1: Rhythm of sijo and classic masterpieces Lecture 2: Correcting sijo Lecture 3: Teaching sijo through mimicry Lecture 4: Creating sijo from other texts Lecture 5: Sijo and haiku


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

ADULT SIJO DIVISION


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Adult Sijo Division Alice Davidson first place Houston, TX

That sweater, so warm and soft – yet full of holes, hangs unworn. “Let’s toss it!” Downsizing means tough decisions. “No one wears it.” “Wait!” I cry. “Grandma made that when I was young. It still fits.”

My name is Alice Davidson, and I have been a World History and Chinese and East Asian Cultures teacher for 40 years, the last 30 at Episcopal High School in Houston, TX. My hobbies include traveling, and reading historical fiction, biographies, and anything about Asia. I was fortunate to live in China for several years, and to travel to Korea with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia in 2017. I learned about sijo while attending the National Korean Studies Seminar in Los Angeles in 2019. My future goals are to continue finding ways to bring East Asia into my curriculum and provide my students with cross cultural experiences. My personal hero is my grandmother Alice, for whom I am named. My main childhood memories are of her sitting in a chair knitting and telling stories of past generations of our family.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Adult Sijo Division Kim Jasper

second place Stockton, MO

Viral Transformation Faces behind colorful scarves, skaters glide on the frozen ice. A young pair practices: looping, spinning, spiraling—breathless On the rink, masked workers stack bodies, covered by sheets of white.

I am a retired English teacher and journalist. I now consult with students and teachers, present writing workshops, and serve in organizations that provide scholarships for student writers. I stay flexible by practicing and teaching yoga. I chose to write a sijo and enter the competition to (partially) fulfill one of my goals for 2020: be more creative. I wasn’t familiar with the format, so I found the Sejong Cultural Society’s videos, suggestions, and examples helpful. The juxtaposition of images during the COVID19 pandemic seemed like a good place to start as I mused about topics and subjects. I was struck by the image of the refrigeration trucks and ice rinks being used to store dead bodies. As a teacher, I always appreciated the forced creativity demanded of a formula poem. Thanks for the opportunity to stretch my creativity; I never expected to place, so that was nice surprise.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Adult Sijo Division Julie Shute third place Encino, CA

Social Distancing Neighborhoods, bereft of neighbors. Teeming cities, bare. We orbit our own lives. Joined in isolation. All, alone. We see how our fates are interwoven, just as they unravel.

I am a middle school teacher from Southern California, who enjoys eating good food, traveling, singing in the car, and petting fluffy animals. I was teaching my students about Ancient Korea, and was lucky enough to find numerous great sources of information, including the Sejong Cultural Society. I learned about sijo poetry and shared what I'd learned with my kids. I encouraged my students to enter the contest, and was inspired by their creativity to create a poem of my own.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Adult Sijo Division Mike Reese

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Oconomowoc, WI

Joy Ride Warm Sunday. “Let’s take a ride. Get in the car. Buckle up, kids!” Wheels turn fast. “Sharp turn ahead.” Smiles turn to screams as the car rolls. That’s a fun rollercoaster--scary and thrilling. “Ride again?”

I work in HVAC in Wisconsin, but in my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family, boating, playing horseshoes and riding my motorcycle. For the past two years, I’ve written sijo and then shared them at a poetry reading my sister-in-law hosts. Our friends all write and share multiple sijo. I really enjoy the creative thought process that goes into writing sijo. I got the inspiration for my sijo from my love hate relationship with rollercoasters! I look forward to writing and sharing future sijo with friends and family. I would like to thank my dear friend Liz Jorgensen, champion of sijo poetry, for introducing me to this form.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Adult Sijo Division Jeffrey Bolognese

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Columbia, MD

Nature Walk We watch the fox, the dog and I, loping along the wooded path. We pause our stroll, she stops as well, sitting down to regard us. Then, bored with local wildlife, she turns around and heads for home.

My name is Jeff Bolognese, and I'm an aerospace engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. I live in Columbia, MD with my wife Cindy, my son, Nathan, my daughter, Evie, and our husky/golden retriever mixed breed dog, Sadie (and Trident the turtle, and Phantom the hamster). I became interested in Sijo poetry several years ago after hearing a piece about this particular poetry form on KBS World Radio. I've been writing Sijo on and off ever since. I've always enjoyed creative writing and, as an engineer, I like the challenge of fitting verse to the specific structure of Sijo while still maintaining a song-like quality and ending "twist" that characterize it. In my free time I enjoy cooking, hiking, playing board games with my family, and trying to play the guitar. My family is very patient with both my cooking and guitar playing!


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Adult Sijo Division Hannah Kim

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award San Mateo, CA

but today, I hear "Did you eat?" Dad asks again, picking me up from the airport. I grew up wishing he'd say "I love you" like my friends' dads did but today, I hear his question as his way of saying that.

I am a philosophy PhD candidate at Stanford University. I'm grateful for the competition and the opportunity it gave me to learn about sijo as a poetic form.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Adult Sijo Division Susan Luther

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Huntsville, AL

Arbor As a child, among all trees, the redbud pleased me most. Years later, we planted its image in our back yard. Cat rests there in a willow basket; its old roots cradle her bones.

I am a vintage poet who has been writing, publishing, and leading poetrywriting groups for years. Even so, I was unaware of sijo until the Society’s announcement of its writing competition came in the mail. Though I usually write free verse, I also enjoy the discipline of writing in form, and when I consulted the rules and website examples / tutorials, the sijo’s intriguing structure plus its thematic and emotional range made it irresistible. The sijo I submitted comes from my personal experience and time-of-life perspective. Many thanks to the Society; having this beautiful form to learn and work on during the Covid lockdown has been a particular gift. – Susan Luther.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

PRE-COLLEGE SIJO DIVISION


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Pre-college Sijo Division Andy Zhao (12th grade) first place tie

Langley, BC Canada 12th grade, Heather Smith Burnaby North Secondary School

Lost Letters A hundred thousand love-filled letters I have written for you. Tonight, my pen runs dry, trapping my words within my mind. Why do I still stoke the flame that I know will never warm me?

"I’m Andy Zhao, and I’m a grade 12 student at Burnaby North Secondary. I’m pursuing post-secondary education in Computer Science, but writing and other creative pursuits have been hobbies of mine for quite a while. Writing poetry, whether structured or free verse, have always been a great expressive and emotional outlet. I feel especially satisfied when my outbursts create something eloquent. I learned about this contest through my creative writing teacher at school. During our poetry unit, she encouraged us to try this type of poetry, and when I first read a contemporary sijo, I was inspired by how much emotion was conveyed with such little words. I felt compelled to submit into this competition-no harm, right? I had no expectations to win, rather, it was just a fun experience. My poem was partly inspired by my own feelings, and partly created in my imagination. I wanted to convey the emotion of desperation and sorrow, and so I just started writing and letting words flow. Love is a complicated thing, and sometimes it’s better to think less than to overthink it. I’m honoured to have received the first place award. I entered the competition expecting nothing but a bit of fun, and so I’m honestly in awe that I would be afforded such an honour. To Ms. Smith, thank you for supporting and encouraging me. To the Sejong Cultural Society, thank you for giving me this honour."


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Pre-college Sijo Division Elizabeth Flesch (12th grade) first place tie

Hartland, WI 12th grade, Elizabeth Jorgensen Arrowhead Union High School

Sunday in the Park with Me. Picture-perfect people relax in the shimmering Sunday sun. Pink parasols twirl against an azure sky and lush grass. I step back from the canvas, wishing I could jump into the frame.

My name is Elizabeth Flesch and I am a senior at Arrowhead High School. I am a part of my school’s Forensics Team, Drama Club, Stage Crew, and German Club. In the fall I will be attending DePaul University. I intend to major in Communications and Media, and hope to work in Multimedia production someday. I’ve always liked to write, and I’m glad I got to express my creativity through this poem! I entered this competition through my creative writing class, and I’m so thankful my teacher Ms. Jorgensen introduced me to this beautiful art form.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Pre-college Sijo Division Matthew Umhoefer (12th grade) second place

Hartland, WI 12th grade, Elizabeth Jorgensen Arrowhead Union High School

Sister My sister strikes me across the face and I wish for a brother. She steals the remote and I wish I were an only child. But I wish for my sister back when she goes to college.

I decided to write about the relationship with my sister and how it changed because it has had such a big impact on my life. Like many others, my sister and I started off despising each other. But as we got older, our relationship got closer. So once she left for college, I finally realized how important having a strong relationship with your sibling is. Writing this sijo has taught me to cherish every moment with my family and friends.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Pre-college Sijo Division Riley Taylor (10th grade) third place

Singlelands, NY 10th grade, Robin Henderson Tocci Academy of the Holy Names

Inhale, exhale, healthy newborns; a mother watches through the glass. Angelic little humans: so precious, so fortunate. She then walks to her fading newborn, why is this life so unfair?

My name is Riley Taylor, and I am a sophomore at the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany, New York. I enjoy playing sports, especially soccer, and spending time with my friends and family. I am very interested in science, and I hope to pursue a career in biology in the future. Writing has always been a passion of mine, and I have grown to appreciate poetry so much more this year. My older sister has always been a huge inspiration in my life as she has helped me to become the person I am today. She always tells me about her dreams to help premature babies when she is older as she was premature herself. In this is found inspiration for my sijo. I am very grateful for my teacher, Mrs. Tocci, who has taught me everything I know about sijo poems and who introduced me to this competition!


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Pre-college Sijo Division Trace Morrissey (12th grade)

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Hartland, WI 12th grade, Elizabeth Jorgensen Arrowhead Union High School

Coming home Air felt lighter, food tasted better, music more upbeat, sun brighter. Not seeing my brother in two years, I remained eager. But he came home in a plane, in a pine box, covered in a flag.

My name is Trace Morrissey and I am currently a senior at Arrowhead High School. Once I graduate, I am enlisting in the Air Force with the end goal of becoming a pilot. During my free time, I like to spend time outdoors with friends. I also enjoy going up north to spend time on a lake, or skiing. One person who has always been my hero is my grandpa. He taught me so much about life and how to treat people respectfully. Although we lost him in November 2019, I feel as if he is still teaching me lessons today. I learned while writing my sijo I needed to connect with the reader and to trigger an emotion. Since I have learned this, my writing has drastically improved. My inspiration for writing this poem came from a Vietnam War veteran that came and spoke with our class one day. He talked about how he lost good friends in the war and how he cannot forget some of the things he saw while fighting. We also wrote letters in class to veterans going on the Honor Flight. Most people wrote back and those who did had an impact on everyone who read their response.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Pre-college Sijo Division Dalton Elrod (12th grade)

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Hartland, WI 12th grade, Elizabeth Jorgensen Arrowhead Union High School

Why Now The smile shines on her face, brighter than the sun, the color of love. She always had the answer no matter the question. I asked grandma why she had to leave us. "It was time," she said.

My name is Dalton Elrod and I am a senior at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, WI. I played football, basketball, and baseball and ran track while in high school. I will be graduating in June and will be playing football, on scholarship, for Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I enjoy hunting, fishing and playing frisbee golf. Ms. Jorgensen, my English teacher, introduced me to this competition. I had no idea I would win, but I am proud of this piece. Writing a sijo poem brought out my creativity and I enjoyed showing it to others. I am extremely grateful for her support this senior year and I am honored to be part of this competition.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Pre-college Sijo Division Esther Kim (11th grade)

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Potomac, MD 11th grade, Melinda Salata Holton-Arms School

In Middle School I thought that beauty meant discarding my Korean self. I wished to leave my yellow skin, but my umma comforted me; she said, "Yellow is the color of forsythias, bright and beautiful."

My name is Esther Kim, and I am a junior at the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland. As a first generation Korean-American, I frequently reflected on my parents’ journey to America and their cultural influence on me. This sparked a defined interest at the intersection of English and History, which led to my discovery of poetry. My poems, including the one recognized by the Sejong Cultural Society, often explore my relationships with Korea and America. I am extremely grateful for the efforts of the Sejong Cultural Society in broadening awareness of Korean culture. Through this competition, I have been able to learn about not only the craft of writing sijos but also the oftenneglected history of Korea.


2020 Sijo Winners Entries     

Pre-college Sijo Division Briaja Brooks (12th grade)

honorable mention Friend of the Pacific Rim Award Cleveland Heights, OH 12th grade, Melinda Cales Cleveland Heights High School

My skin is light, my eyes are hazel and my hair is blonde I'm one of a kind, But it is not what it seems I am just as colored as my mother's blueberry black skin.


2020 Sejong Writing Competition Judges     

15th Sejong Writing Competition (March 2020)

JUDGES SIJO Category Gyung-ryul Jang David McCann Mark Peterson


2020 Sejong Writing Competition Judges     

Gyung-ryul Jang, sijo Gyung-ryul Jang received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from Seoul National University, Korea, and his Ph.D. degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Jang is now professor of English at Seoul National University. He has contributed numerous articles on contemporary literary theory and Korean literature to various literary journals in Korea. He has recently published two books of critical essays in sijo poetry: Poetics of Temporality: Toward a New Understanding of Sijo Poetry (Seoul: Seoul National University Press, 2013); and What Does Change and What Should Not Change: Critical Essays in Sijo Poetry (Seoul: Literary Notebook Pub. Co., 2017). Some other recent publications are as follows: Joy of Reading Poetry: A Critical Reading of Contemporary Korean Poetry (Seoul: Literary Notebook Pub. Co., 2014); What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen: Essays in Korean Literature (Seoul: Moonji Pub. Co., 2016); Somewhere Between Insight and Blindness: Critical Essays in Contemporary Korean Literary Trend (Seoul: Munhakdongne Pub. Group, 2017); and Is it a Petal or a Butterfly?: Essays in Korean Sijo and Japanese Haiku and Tanka (Seoul: Lyric Poetry & Poetics Pub. Co., 2017).

David McCann, sijo David McCann taught Korean literature at Harvard University until his retirement in 2014. He particularly enjoyed teaching his class Writing Asian Poetry, a creative writing class exploring the Classical Chinese, Japanese haiku, and Korean sijo forms for English-language poetry. His more recent books include Urban Temple, a collection of his English-language sijo poems from Bo-Leaf Press in 2010, published in a dual-language, Korean and English edition by Changbi Publishers in Seoul in 2012; Slipping Away, a Korean p’ansori-style narrative poem from Finishing Line Press, a chapbook published in 2013; and Same Bird, new and selected poems from Moon Pie Press in 2016. One of his haiku poems published in Acorn haiku journal received The Haiku Foundation Touchstone Award in 2014 and is included in Haiku 2015, from Modern Haiku Press. David translated the poems included in the collection The Temple of Words: An Anthology of Modern Korean Buddhist Poetry published by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Seoul, in 2017.


2020 Sejong Writing Competition Judges     

Mark Peterson, sijo

Mark Peterson (Professor Emeritus of Korean history, literature and language, Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages. Brigham Young University, Provo, UT) received B.A.'s in Asian Studies and Anthropology from Brigham Young University in 1971. He received his M.A. in 1973 and his Ph.D. in 1987, both from Harvard University in the field of East Asian Languages and Civilization. Prior to coming to BYU in 1984 he was the director of the Fulbright program in Korea from 1978 to 1983. He has been the coordinator of the Asian Studies Program and was the director of the undergraduate programs in the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. Dr. Peterson is a member of the Association for Asian Studies, where he was formerly the chair of the Korean Studies Committee; was also the book review editor for the Journal of Asian Studies for Korean Studies books. He is also a member of the Royal Asiatic Society, the International Association for Korean Language Education, the International Korean Literature Association, and the American Association of Korean Teachers. He served as past editor-in-chief for the Korea Journal, published by UNESCO in Korea, from 2015 to 2017. Currently he is working with a research center he founded called The Frog Outside the Well Research Center, which publishes an active YouTube channel by that name. He also writes a weekly column for the Korea Times.

Profile for Sejong Cultural Society

15th (2020) Sejong Writing Competition Winners' Entries  

15th Sejong Writing Competition (March 2020) Winners' Entries - Essay and Sijo Including winners' profile and competition judges' profile.

15th (2020) Sejong Writing Competition Winners' Entries  

15th Sejong Writing Competition (March 2020) Winners' Entries - Essay and Sijo Including winners' profile and competition judges' profile.

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