(background: I have a really really bad GPA(2.7) but decent LSAT(167), which I plan to take again december for a theoretically higher score. I also plan to write a diversity statement for schools that take them. Or use this as my diversity statement. Hmm...)
January, 2009, Cheorwon, South Korea. I stood naked in line among a dozen other men, waiting my turn to get splashed with a bucket of cold water, then to quickly soap up and move to back of the line to splash off the soap. Due to the number of recruits that month, the 6th Division Recruit Training Battalion was running low on water but a small outbreak of meningitis made hygiene a top priority. Located in the northernmost part of South Korea, the 6th Infantry Division of the Republic of Korea Army guards a portion the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean Peninsula between the North and South. Wrought with both glory and defeat, the 6th Division is among Korea’s oldest, and due its location and history, has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the roughest.
By law, it is required that all able-bodied South Korean men serve in the military for approximately two years. Though the military experience is varied, depending largely on where one is stationed and one’s position, it is rarely looked forward to. I chose to serve after completing school, the obligation looming over me for much of my college career. In hindsight, my experiences in the military have inexorably changed me for the better and I deeply regret not having served much sooner, after completing my second year of college, as is typical in Korea. I had thought having spent most of my life moving from country to country as the son of diplomat would have prepared me for most anything. I realized quickly that I was wrong.
After the six weeks of basic training, I was assigned to Alpha Battery of the 77th Field Artillery Battalion. The battalion maintained eighteen 101A1 towed-howitzers (six per battery), an unsightly piece of machinery, first put to service in the Second World War. The two and a half ton gun required at least five men to lay and fire, everything done manually. The battery consisted of roughly 70 men, few of them college educated, three of the five assigned the battery with me being high school dropouts. The Battery garrison was a one-story building consisting of two long rooms, housing about 35 men each, with an elevated floor where the men lived and slept. Not much was permitted in terms of personal goods. Cell phones, computers and outside clothing were all considered contraband, books and toiletries about the only personal items allowed. The only source of contact with the outside world was letters, a few pay phones and a half-broken TV. Initially, adjusting the rigid hierarchy of the Korean Army was somewhat difficult, my unique background being source of much attention, positive and otherwise. I recall writing in my journal as a Private 2nd Class that this was my “baptism by fire”.
The usual work day consisted of standing post and maintaining the base, which included weeding, cleaning, repairing facilities and keeping the guns in running order. As the Korean Army very rarely contract outside labor, the majority of the manual work was done by the men. Every other month or so there were field exercises, where we would spend several days on field, towing the guns from one position to another (sometimes firing live rounds), setting up perimeters and camp. We would joke that at base we would miss home but on the field, we miss the base. But the one thing from these field exercises that I will never forget is the cold. Spending several days outdoors in temperature ranging from -20 to -30 degrees Celsius is not something to be taken lightly. At points the cold is no longer cold, but becomes so painful and one is met with a morbid desire to cut off one’s digits.
But despite the hardships or because of them rather, the army has permanently changed my perspective. Eating, sleeping, living with men of all backgrounds taught me how truly blessed my upbringing had been. Though my days of manual labor had an end, I realized some men, very possibly many serving in my battery, would spend their whole lives doing similar work. With this came the painful realization that most of my failures were self-inflicted and all the opportunities that I had thrown away were ones never offered to many. I realized that I had been a spoiled, self-absorbed brat.
The person that was conscripted on January 2009 was not the same person that was discharged November 2010. My experiences in the Korean Army have taught me humility, perseverance, and discipline that I might have never known. Gone are the days of self-pity and excuses. With my newfound confidence and outlook I want to become everything that I have the potential to be, and I believe through XXX school of law, I will acquire the crucial skills necessary to make that a reality.