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Many Mistakes Led to Tragedy in Syria

Posted By IRC, Monday, November 4, 2019
Updated: Monday, November 4, 2019

This article was originally published in the StarTribune on Wednesday, October 16 and can be found on their website

The tragedy unfolding in Syria has riveted American attention anew to the problems there — problems that reflect contradictions we have avoided, but must grapple with now.

One problem is that America’s single-minded focus on ISIS since 2014-15 has more or less willfully disregarded the longer-term. This no longer seems sustainable. The post-ISIS future of Syria is at stake as the Sunni Arab majority, Kurds, Alawites and Christians, as well as Turks, Russians and Iranians, are duking it out. We must decide whether, and how, to engage in that contest, irrespective of the ISIS campaign.

A second problem has to do with America’s reliance on Syrian Kurds and, specifically, our partnership in the anti-ISIS campaign with a Syrian Kurdish militia that is a subsidiary of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a vicious war against Turkey for the last 40-plus years. Turkey hated this partnership.

As a military tactic, U.S. policymakers understood this bargain had risks, but saw no other option — and this militia proved decisive in crushing the ISIS “caliphate,” saving tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of lives. But Kurds make up only 10% of Syria’s population, have long been estranged from its Sunni mainstream, and cannot deliver long-term peace and stability. On the contrary, their power grab in Syria’s ethnically diverse north is a source of instability.

As the endgame unfolds, the Kurdish piece of our Syria policy, such as it is, cannot continue as before.

A third problem is the matter of Turkey’s alliance with the United States and Europe juxtaposed against its defiance of its allies, its cozying relations with Russia, and its obvious turn away from democracy and the rule of law. Always a difficult ally, Turkey has become odious. Pending but unimplemented sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system reflect the Trump administration’s unwillingness to choose between competing images of Turkey.

This, too, has become less realistic — on both sides.

U.S. policymakers have long known these conundrums could not last, but sought to manage them. They tried to negotiate security arrangements that would reassure Ankara, protect our Syrian Kurdish friends, and ensure ISIS stayed finished. Little of this had much U.S. public support. While not failures, few elements in this line of action achieved success either.

No wonder President Donald Trump got frustrated, just as many others have tired of “forever wars” that seem to slide from one objective to another with too little justification to the American people.

Now our abandonment of the Kurds and the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria have led to demands for sanctions to halt Ankara’s campaign. Congress may well legislate punishments. But they will do nothing to address threats to U.S. interests in Syria or in the region. “Sanctions” and “foreign policy” are not synonymous, any more than name-calling or impetuous decisions by presidents or other leaders of the United States or Turkey are the same thing as strategy.

We care about making sure that ISIS stays stamped out. We care about a reasonable level of peace and security in the Middle East, on which the world’s economy depends. We care about the immense suffering that has befallen Syria since 2012; we would like to see it end. We care about our NATO alliance. And all the while we see our ability to influence events in Syria shrinking.

Instead of cutting and running — or posturing and beating our breasts — our conversation about Syria, Kurds, Turkey, ISIS, and the way forward should focus on melding achievable goals with the means to achieve them. That means finding new ways to keep ISIS defeated, and using our leverage to get the Turks and the Syrian Kurds — who have no choice but to live together — into a better place.

It also means re-engaging with the non-Kurdish Syrians, including the Assad regime, distasteful though that will be, in an effort to get the country on a path toward more effective governance and social-economic order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author
Ross Wilson, of River Falls, Wisconsin, was U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 2005 to 2008. He now serves as board chair of Global Minnesota (the IRC's sister council in Minneapolis) and as a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was a past speaker at the IRC in 2017. 

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The Middle East Beyond the Headlines

Posted By IRC, Monday, October 28, 2019
Updated: Monday, October 28, 2019

The University of Central Missouri (UCM) offers a wide variety of study programs for students to take advantage of while in school. One of these programs is “The Middle East Beyond the Headlines” which is a three-week, faculty-led tour to Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank. I participated in this program in the summer of 2018 and could not have been happier with the knowledge and growth I took back with me.

The purpose of this specific program is to break the common stereotypes that people have regarding the Middle East. For example, when telling my family and friends that I was traveling to this area of the world, they expressed concern or even fear for me rather than sharing in my enthusiasm. They would say things such as, “Why would you want to go there?” or, “Don’t you know that they will not like you?” and other questions and comments. I responded to this by telling them that not only was I very excited for my first international experience, but I was also looking forward to everything I knew I would learn.

The study tour was phenomenal. It begins in Amman, Jordan, with excursions to Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash, and others. After Jordan, you go to Tel Aviv, Israel, and see a very different side of the Middle East, despite the two cities being only a short bus ride apart from each other. Jerusalem is the last stop on the tour, and my personal favorite. It is an historical and cultural melting pot, with friendly people and so much to soak in. The program provides a healthy balance of lectures and tours with free time for students to explore the cities or book their own excursions. This program does help to break the stereotypes students might hold going into it. You learn that the region is not just a desert, that people are actually quite hospitable and want to get to know you, and it is more than just the conflict that is always being portrayed in the media.

Participating in this program helped me to realize how much I love learning about the Middle East region. After studying abroad for a second time, I returned to school and knew I wanted to continue learning as much as I could about the culture, and I declared a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. Next summer, I will be returning on the same program to Jordan and Israel to conduct field research for a project. I am very excited to see where this takes me and how I will be able to develop a career for my future.



About the Author
Mikayla Elia is a junior at the University of Central Missouri studying Anthropology with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. She in interested in nonprofit work and was a part of Nonprofit Shadow Day at the IRC. 

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International Dining Experiences at KU

Posted By IRC, Monday, October 21, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2019

As someone that has never traveled outside of the United States and has lived in a small town for most of her life, my interactions on an international level have been limited. However, I have met a number of wonderful people that are international exchange students through my occupation as a Student Manager for the University of Kansas’ Ekdahl Dining Hall. The University of Kansas requires all international students to work a part time job while they are in the United States. Due to this rule, a lot of international students work at Ekdahl, and, every year, a majority of Ekdahl Dining Hall’s part-time staff is made up of international students.

The relationships and atmosphere at work is very interesting because of this group of students. During my time at KU, I have experienced Indian exchange students become very good friends with Pakistani exchange students despite the tension that those two countries experience. I have also worked with students to accommodate certain restrictions that they have because of their religion or culture, such as an employee who could not handle meat because of his religion. Some of these occurrences have been shocking. There have been more times than I can count where I had to train an employee how to use a broom to sweep the floor because they grew up in a household that employs dozens of maids. In other cases, some employees did not take my position as a student manager seriously because I am a woman and women do not normally operate in positions of power in the country that they are from. As an individual who had not been exposed to much diversity prior to attending the University of Kansas, some of these situations came as something of a shock to me; however, these circumstances helped deepen my understanding of different cultures.

Learning about different cultures and how to interact with those cultures has impacted my life greatly. I was inspired early on in my college career to pursue a degree in Political Science with a minor focus in Middle East Studies. If it were not for the friendships and experiences, I made with those international part times students, I would not be pursing this field of study. This job has helped me grow exponentially. Not just in terms as a worker, but also as a person.

About the Author 
Noelle is a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in Political Science. She was a visiting student at the IRC as part of Nonprofit Shadow Day, organized by Nonprofit Connect. Noelle will be interning through KU in Washington D.C. during the upcoming spring semester before graduating in May 2020.

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Kansas City Transplant

Posted By IRC, Monday, October 14, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 11, 2019

Being from Upstate New York, I have been lucky to move to Kansas City at a very exciting and dynamic time. Prior to my arrival here, I have lived in Galway, Ireland for about six months, and Athens, Greece for three months. These two experiences gave me the tools to make such a large jump in my geographic home. My greatest takeaway from living in these two locations was that to make it feel like home, I have to explore events in the city. Whether it be festivals, local sports, or concerts, I have not been bored for one second in this city. Moving away from family for a new opportunity is always a challenge but keeping active in the community has been the perfect way to settle in and experience the city the way I want to.

Since arriving from New York, I have been extremely fortunate to attend events across the city. From my experiences of living abroad, I knew getting active with events would lead to opportunities and a better appreciation for the city. My personal favorites so far have been the event the IRC recently held with Rajmohan Gandhi and a Chiefs-Ravens game (I am still a Bills fan though!), but these events are just the start of my experience here. Getting out into the community, I have already attended many internationally focused events and have made many friends, including my furry new roommate, six-month-old Australian Shepherd, Ellie!

As the new membership assistant at the IRC, I truly appreciate the warm welcome I have received from IRC members and Kansas Citians! I am extremely excited for this new role and I hope I get to continue to meet more members in the future.


About the Author
Jonathan Hartnett is from Upstate New York and a recent graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations and History. He has an interest in foreign policy and security and is the membership assistant at the IRC.

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Commentary: Debunked! Most Americans Do Support the U.S. Engaging in World Affairs, Not Retreating

Posted By IRC, Monday, October 7, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Op-Ed by Ivo Daalder, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Originally published in the Chicago Tribune. Also carried in the Charlotte Observer (Sept. 18) and nationally.

A powerful belief about American views of the world has taken hold among foreign policy experts — that Americans are exhausted from global overreach and want to shed the burdens of global leadership. Arguing that American voters’ “foreign policy views stink,” New York Times columnist David Brooks opined that, after “Iraq and other debacles, many Americans are exhausted by the global leadership role” and “actively hostile” to key elements of U.S. foreign policy from past decades.

Brooks is not alone in this view. It animates much of foreign policy thinking, among Democrats and Republicans.

There’s just one problem: This view is wrong.

The latest annual survey examining American attitudes on foreign policy conducted for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs by polling and market research firm Ipsos Public Affairs shows that, rather than supporting a retreat, large numbers of Americans favor active U.S. engagement in the world and support long-standing pillars of U.S. foreign policy — alliances, trade, democracy.

The survey, conducted June 7-20, found that American support for taking an active role in world affairs remains near record high, at 69%, compared to 30% of Americans who want to stay out of world affairs. While President Donald Trump has frequently railed against the costs to the United States of maintaining security alliances and trade agreements, a strong majority of Americans (61%) believe that the benefits of staying engaged outweigh the costs.

In a first, the survey asked what people mean by taking an “active part” in world affairs. Large majorities of Americans (70% or more) believe that engaging in trade, providing humanitarian and economic aid, promoting democracy and human rights, defending allies and participating in international organizations form part of such active engagement. And 62% believed increasing spending on defense and diplomacy is part of an active U.S. role. A bare majority (51%) say it includes intervening in other countries, while a larger majority (62%) exclude selling arms abroad from an active role.

When asked what policies would make America safer, majorities cite alliances with other countries (74%), U.S. military superiority (69%), promoting democracy and human rights (56%) and participating in international organizations (54%) as most effective.

While President Trump has consistently suggested that U.S. alliances mostly benefit allies rather than the United States, the survey finds Americans reject that view. Sixty percent of Americans believe alliances in Asia are mutually beneficial or mostly benefit the U.S., and 64% believe this when it comes to alliances in Europe.

And Americans are willing to use force to back up these alliance commitments. Fifty-eight percent favor using U.S. troops to defend South Korea if North Korea invaded it, and 54% do so in case Russia invades a NATO ally such as Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia. They also believe we should increase or maintain U.S. troops in South Korea (69%) and Japan (59%). The largest majority yet (73%) believe NATO is essential for European security, and more Americans (78%) believe that we should maintain or increase our commitment to NATO than at any time since the question was first asked in 1974.

It isn’t just alliances that receive record levels of support. So does international trade. The survey showed 87% of Americans believe international trade is good for the U.S. economy (up from 59% just three years ago), and 83% think trade is good for American companies (up from 57% in 2016). What is significant about all of these findings is that despite the political turmoil and deep partisan divisions on many issues, when it comes to America’s role in the world there is a large degree of agreement and support among all Americans. Alliances, the bedrock of American military engagement abroad since World War II, enjoy strong and growing public support.What Americans reject is using force in other countries to try to resolve conflicts. The bitter experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have left Americans weary of interventionism.

But this concern is not the same as wanting to retreat from the world. Even after decades of war, a major financial crisis, and new challenges to U.S. powers, Americans strongly favor maintaining a leadership role in the world.

About the Author
Ivo Daalder is president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO.

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KC to Seville, Spain and Back Again

Posted By IRC, Monday, September 30, 2019
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2019

I have always been an introverted person with just enough self-awareness to know which baby steps to take in order to reach my goals that were outside of my comfort zone. I knew I wanted to travel the world. Creating new memories, meeting new people, and experiencing different cultures abroad was something that I always wanted to do. So, when I was in high school, I talked my mother into going on a faculty-led trip with me to Spain. She agreed. A few months later we landed in Madrid and made our way south to Malaga, stopping in Seville and Granada along the way. There is not much I remember about the trip as it was about 15 years ago, but I do remember falling in love with Spain, more specifically Seville, and promising myself I’d return.

I was able to fulfill a bucket list promise to myself in 2012 when I studied abroad in Seville during my time at Truman State University. This time was different than the first. I was going over alone, without my mom, and I was staying for four months instead of nine days. I cried walking onto the plane at MCI. I was second-guessing every decision that led to that moment and I was completely in over my head but it was the best decision I ever made.

While living abroad I was able to grow as an individual, as an American, and as a human being. I learned life skills such as money management, budgeting, conversational skills, how to live on my own, and how to say “no” when a situation didn’t feel right. I learned that young people in other countries were more aware of what was going on in the U.S. than I was. In those four months, I learned just as much about America and Americans than I did when I was in school. However, the most important thing I learned was that we’re all just people wanting to live our lives without being treated poorly, judged, or hated. We are more alike than different, and that mentality has led me to where I am today.

Since then, I have been able to build on the skills and knowledge I gained abroad to launch myself into adulthood and begin my career in international relations. I am thankful for my time in Spain. It has changed my life forever, and it will always have a special place in my heart.

 

Plaza de Espana

About the Author
Rachel White is the new Program Coordinator at the IRC. She received her BA from Truman State University and was able to study abroad in Seville, Spain, and Angers, France. Her favorite hobby is making travel plans because she always needs something to look forward to. 


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Welcoming Week

Posted By IRC, Monday, September 23, 2019
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2019

One of the reasons I am so proud to work for the YMCA of Greater Kansas City and be a part of the Y movement across the world is because of our commitment to be welcoming to all. Welcoming to new associates. Welcoming to members. Welcoming to those in need. Welcoming to those new to our community. Welcoming no matter a person’s background, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status. The Y is a WELCOMING organization.

The Y is so committed to being welcoming to those new to our community and nation that we have a New American Welcome Center located at our North Kansas City YMCA. Being welcoming to newcomers can be as simple as smiling at a person or shaking hands. It can also be teaching newcomers a new language so that they can communicate with others, including their own children and grandchildren. It can be bringing people together to share each other’s cultural experience. Welcoming can be connecting people with similar interests but diverse backgrounds.

Each year our YMCA participates in Welcoming Week, founded by Welcoming America. Welcoming Week is an annual celebration bringing together thousands of people through hundreds of local events that celebrate the contributions of immigrants and refugees, and the role communities play to foster greater welcome.

Welcoming Week shows that in places large and small, rural and urban, people of all backgrounds are coming together to create stronger communities. It is a time to celebrate the shared values that unite us as neighbors, parents and colleagues, and to make our towns more welcoming to newcomers and to everyone who calls our community home.

We have wrapped up Welcoming Week (Sept. 13-22), with more than 725 YMCA locations and other organizations across the United States cumulatively having hosted thousands of events to bring together immigrants and their U.S.-born neighbors. Celebrating and hosting events helps to strengthen our shared community.

Welcoming Week activities are open to the public and included open house events, resource fairs and seminars, and other activities that celebrate cultures from around the world. @KansasCityYMCA #WelcomingWeek #YforAll

Welcoming Week 2019

About the Author
Andrea Allison-Putman has served as the Chief People Officer for the YMCA of Greater Kansas City since January 2011. She was recognized with the Equalizer Award by the Urban League for her achievements in support of diversity and inclusion. Andrea is a valued IRC Board Member finding value in bringing a global perspective to our community by providing education, connections, support for collaborations, and being welcoming to all. 

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Increasingly International

Posted By IRC, Monday, September 9, 2019
Updated: Thursday, August 22, 2019

Growing up in Kansas City, I always had a fascination with other cultures. In elementary school there were periods of times when I would immerse myself in research about Ancient Egypt or the Elizabethan Era. After having the opportunity to visit Thailand and then paying my way to Cuba, I knew I wanted international travel to be a large part of my life. After those two trips, there was no doubt that I would study abroad in college. However, it was not until my junior year of high school that I considered actually going to college abroad full time. My math tutor was the first person to suggest the University of St Andrews and gave me a few names of current students who lived in the Kansas City area. I got into contact with one who went to Rockhurst. After talking with him I was convinced I would be a student at the University of St Andrews. I applied in September and was thrilled to be accepted. The following September I dragged all my suitcases to Kansas City International Airport, and I was off to university!

Now going into my third year at university, I have experienced and learned so much by being completely immersed in a different culture. The University of St Andrews was a faintly known name around private schools in the Kansas City area; however, for a public school such as Shawnee Mission East, the University of St Andrews was unheard of. Since my acceptance to St Andrews, it has become more commonly known among East students. Over the past two years, I have been meeting with East students to talk about St Andrews and the university experience. When I was applying to the University of St Andrews, the closest school representative was in Chicago.

However, now there is a St Andrews school representative in Kansas! Over the last two to three years, there has been more interaction with private schools such as Rockhurst and public schools like Shawnee Mission East with University of St Andrews representatives. This is one of the many factors that is bringing a more international presence to Kansas City. Students from the area are realizing that they do not just have to spend one semester abroad but can fully immerse themselves in a different culture for all four years.

Having the opportunity to travel and be exposed to unfamiliar surroundings is so important in the development of young adults. As we mature and start making an impact in the communities that surround us, travel is an essential experience as it decreases ignorance and gives people a greater understanding for the world that exists outside of Kansas City. Our community is becoming an increasingly international city that has many spheres of influence. By having a school representative from the University of St Andrews within Kansas City is an important factor that can give high school students the opportunity to have a greater knowledge of the world we are a part of.

                                       

About the Author
Kate Higgins is an undergraduate at the University of St Andrews pursuing a double major in International Relations and Social Anthropology.

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The Continuing Importance of the International Criminal Court

Posted By IRC, Monday, September 2, 2019
Updated: Thursday, August 22, 2019

The International Criminal Court (ICC) shines as an example of modern international law. There is nothing quite of its likeness in human history. The ability of a diverse international body to put individuals accused of crimes against humanity and genocide on trial is a great accomplishment of human civilization. The modernity of the International Criminal Court can also work to be one of its greatest flaws.

 

People tend to have a fixation on things in our past, and nostalgia can be a big factor in how people view their history. Collective memory intensifies this practice, and can reach back hundreds, if not thousands of years in order to create a homogenous national identity. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), which is the defining document from which the ICC draws its strength, was a treaty adopted on July 17, 1998, and it entered into effectiveness on July 1, 2002 (www.icc-cpi.int). Having been in proper effectiveness for only about 20 years gives the ICC little credit with the larger players in the field of international relations, and this limitation tends to be seen mostly within the types of cases that it prosecutes.

 

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the ICC has indicted more than 40 individuals for crimes as outlined in the Rome Statute. Every single conviction has involved an individual from an African nation (www.cfr.org). There has been discussion for the ICC to investigate other instances of crimes against humanity, such as with the Rohingya crisis of South-East Asia. However, the fact that the only indicted individuals are from Africa has led to much opposition to the court, articulated with arguments that assert that the court has an African bias. The relative newness of the court means that realistically it can only take on cases that are feasible to prosecute, and the conflicts that have existed in some African countries provide an easier platform to try individuals without facing much opposition from a strong international player.

 

With each case and subsequent ruling, however, the ICC gains more and more clout as an international organization. This increasing relevance has served to actually spook some of the signatory nations who become fearful that ICC investigators will come to indict their citizens. This has led to some participating nations to either bar investigators from entering their country, as the current Trump administration has done in response to fears of U.S. service members being tried for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan (www.state.gov), or outright withdraw from the treaty itself such as in the case of the Philippine response to ICC investigation of alleged crimes committed under the guise of its “War on Drugs” campaign (www.icc-cpi.int). 

 

The latter situation presents some interesting legal challenges on the issue jurisdiction, specifically on whether or not the ICC would still have jurisdiction to investigate crimes within a former signatory country that occurred while it was still an active member of the ICC. This view is argued by the ICC itself with respect to the Philippine situation, as it asserts that under the rules of the Rome Statute, any investigations that were undertaken by the ICC while a country was a signatory of the treaty, will not be affected upon a country’s written declaration of its intent to remove itself from the Rome Statute (www.icc-cpi.int). 

 

For all of its strengths and weaknesses, the ICC still stands as an important experiment. Is our current system of globalization and international law strong enough to support a system that has the unilateral power to try those who are accused of violating international human rights laws no matter what country they occurred in? We are not quite there yet it seems within our current system. There is still progress to be made, but progress is indeed currently being made in many areas of international law. However, time will tell if this current iteration of the ICC will keep its teeth long enough to become a cornerstone of the international law of the future, or if it will be stripped of its effectiveness before it can make a lasting mark. 

 

About the Author
Garrett Booth was a digital resources intern at the IRC for the Summer 2019 term. He is a senior at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas, majoring in History and Political Science. He intends to use his education to pursue a career with the U.S. State Department or the Foreign Service. 


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The Complexity of the South Korean Age System

Posted By IRC, Monday, August 19, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, August 20, 2019

“How old are you?” In a country with a deeply-rooted set of honorifics based on age, this question not only acts as a basic formality or curious inquiry, but as a method to create a foundation of a relationship. Age will determine various levels of respect and how one person will address the other. This is South Korea’s situation surrounding age. For me, as an American studying abroad in South Korea, answering this seemingly simple question became a challenge. That is because South Korea has its own unique way of calculating age that differs from most western countries. In South Korea, when you are born, you are already a year old. Then, on New Years Day the following year, everyone’s legal age increases by one year. Therefore, a child born on December 31, 2018 would turn two years old on January 1, 2019. You may be able to see my conundrum. In the midst of learning about and adapting to this new culture, I couldn’t even figure out my own age; however, South Korean people have developed a simple formula to ascertain what their Korean age is: 1 + Current year – Year of Birth = Korean Age.

Despite utilizing this special age system, the people of South Korea do, in fact, also recognize and use international age, which is the age system used by America for example. In daily society, South Koreans will use the Korean age system, and the international age system is mostly reserved for government-related regulations, such as the age to start school and the age of consent.

As I mentioned previously, age plays a very important role within South Korean society. The culture utilizes a system of honorifics based on age and the Confucian idea of respecting one’s elders. Therefore, there are certain niceties and behaviors one must adhere to if they are the younger party. For example, during group or business outings or dinners, the youngest of the party typically sets the table for the older members and will also pour drinks for the others. Additionally, it is seen as respectful to let the eldest person begin eating first during a meal. Once two people become closer, they can drop these formalities, but when initially forming relationships, these age-based honorifics seem to be the standard.

Recently, in January of 2019, politician Hwang Ju-hong suggested a bill to encourage the eradication of the Korean age system in favor of the international system. “It is aimed at resolving confusion and inefficiency caused by the mixed use of age-counting systems,” Mr. Hwang stated when he proposed this shift in legislation. Though nothing has come of his proposal yet, there is said to be many political and public discussions on the matter in the making, so we will see if South Korea will continue using both age systems or if they will adopt the international age system as the primary way of calculating age and how this decision will affect the age-based social hierarchical system in the coming years.

 

About the Author
Sydney Logan is a recent graduate from KU with her Bachelors in East Asian Languages and Cultures with a focus on Korean language and culture studies.

 

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