5th Annual Dokdo History Essay winner :
Andrew Chang’s visit to Dokdo
“Inyeon” in Korean means relationship or connection. Since 2009,
I have had an unbreakable relationship with Korea.
That relationship began with meeting Korean students while studying Russian and during that meeting, the dream of visiting Korea began to take shape.
Setting my feet on Korean soil and breathing the air was my dream.
Nourishing that dream, I bought my own flag of Korea, the Taegeukgi.
However, it was not until 2012 that I visited Korea for the first time as an exchange student.
Excited beyond my wildest dreams, I did everything from participating in farmers’ music dance to learning Korean to Buddhist temple-stays to traveling throughout the country. Korea and everything Korean was my daily focus. My group project in Korean history class was even about Empress Myeongseong. Despite living an active Korean life, I never got a chance to visit Dokdo.
After returning to the United States in 2013, I continued to study Korean in college and for my class project in Korean class, I researched my topic on Dokdo and Korean sovereignty. The almost spiritual calling from Korea brought me back to Korea in 2014 as an English teacher in Gyeongsangbukdo Province.
This was my chance! Within one month of arriving in Gyeongsangbukdo, I signed up for a tour of Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Not knowing what to expect, I packed up my bags and traveled around Ulleungdo, going around the Coastal Walkway, visiting the Dokdo Museum and climbing up to Mount Seonginbong from the Nari Basin.
The climax of the trip was successfully landing on Dokdo Island and carrying the Taegeukgi flag that I had since 2009.
Experiencing Dokdo was like a dream come true and I learned many new aspects about the islanders and locals during my time there.
However, at that time, I knew that I could not make another trip to Ulleungdo or Dokdo because of my schedule. I thought I would never visit again or so I thought.
In 2017, through the intervention of my local Korean Catholic parish Korean school in Boston, I was introduced to the Northeast America Korean Teachers’ Conference and through this conference, I found out about the Dokdo History Essay Contest. Not backing down from this challenge, I put all my effort in the best essay I could write about Dokdo.
However, I did not have any high expectations of winning first, second or third, let alone the special grand prize trip to Dokdo. A certificate of participation was all I was hoping to receive. Oh, how I was wrong.
With heaven’s help, I was awarded the privilege of traveling to Dokdo and Ulleungdo for 3 days and 2 nights. As a full-time employee at my job, I was at first hesitant of using my vacation time but not willing to lose this opportunity, I gave up a week’s worth of vacation time for this trip.
Coming back to Korea was very emotional as I have not returned to Korea for over two years. I could not believe that I was returning to Korea but out of all the places I have traveled in Korea, Ulleungdo and Dokdo was one of the very few places I traveled to more than once.
Compared to my first trip to Ulleungdo, this trip was more intellectually engaging as we had intense discussions with university professors about Dokdo’s standing in Korea, Japan, and international politics.
The lectures balanced both Korea and Japan’s positions and it was a privilege to meet unbiased professors passionate about this issue.
And what a blessing it was to visit Dokdo twice in a row! As weather conditions can be unpredictable in the East Sea, there are only a certain number of days in a year when visitors can step onto Dokdo.
As the saying goes, “If the heavens won’t allow it, it won’t happen.” The heavens must have been smiling at our tour group. Overcoming the seasickness, I stepped onto Dokdo with my heart fluttering.
Armed with my Korean flag, water bottle and backpack, I wanted to complete my mission during the short duration on the island.
First, in honor of the teachers and students of my Korean Catholic parish Korean school who couldn’t come with me, I took a picture with my school’s yearbook.
Next, in the spirit of Korean unity and following the steps of my role models in One Night Two Days, I asked a Dokdo fisherman to collect some of Dokdo’s seawater in my empty water bottle to bring back to my Korean school.
Third, I took pictures all over the Dokdo dock with my huge Korean flag and asking the local policemen guarding the island to be in pictures with me and our tour group. Lastly, before leaving the beautiful islands and returning to the boat, I sang the first verse of Aegukga, the national anthem of Korea.
Even though the Dokdo lighthouse, Cheonjanggul Cave, and the Fishermen’s house were off limits to the general public, I hope we can visit them sometime in the future and experience the lives of the Dokdo locals and policemen. Overall, this was more than just an educational trip but also a spiritual journey to my soul’s home