[Foreword] To (Be Made to) See Boundaries

  • onJune 30, 2021
  • bySo Young-Hyun

Even as we traverse the hardships of a pandemic that has palpably blurred distinctions of borders and boundaries, humanity faces an ironic situation in which numerous other boundaries have been brought into sharp focus. For instance, there is an imbalance in procuring vaccines that is dividing the world’s northern and southern hemispheres, raising concerns about the reemergence of neo-nationalism. It makes one wonder whether advances in science and technology that make use of resources freely available to humanity create even more barriers. Perhaps imagining a future free of boundaries is nothing more than wishful thinking.

This issue’s Special Section brings together stories on the theme of Korean language education for foreigners. The stories of Kim Miwol, Ji Hyuck Moon, Park Min-jung, and Sujin Seo show us non-regular language instructors working under the pressure of having their contracts renewed, people in need of a visa—not knowledge of the Korean language—to work in Korea, people who profit from Korean language education, and people who wear out a part of their lives in the middle of all of this. With a focus on factors both internal and external that cut across capital and borders, these works examine the boundaries that become evident within the “teaching–learning” structure. Discrimination arising from the imbalance of power—in nationality, skin color, sex, gender, sexual preference, residence, and even citizenship and labor rights—highlights and amplifies these internal boundaries.

To “teach and learn” a language is to identify things that are common knowledge in a society evoked by one’s mother tongue, things that are obvious only to the community of native speakers, things that are universal only on the inside—things we’ve come to call “culture.” In the classroom setting where Korean language is taught and learned, the boundaries and divisions that cut across Korean society in the name of culture become visible, and are met with boundaries and divisions visible on a global scale. Although there is an exchange of what we call violence or hatred when cultures collide, a new universal can be invented when boundaries overlap; this is why we should consume such stories about boundaries.

The Featured Writer section introduces us to Gu Byeong-mo and Kim Hye-jin. Gu has stretched the limits of literary genres, making no secret of her skill as a storyteller; she has used her literary imagination to erase and extend the numerous boundaries that make up modern day Korea. Meanwhile, Kim focuses her attention on communities marginalized by society—the LGBTQIA+ community, the homeless, temporary workers, and so on—and reflects on the internal boundaries of modern Korean society that are central to the issue of urban redevelopment. By involving themselves deeply in issues related to housing, labor, gender, and so on, that pervade Korean society, both writers are contributing to the advancement of Korean literature.


So Young-hyun
KLN Editorial Board Member
Translated by Archana Madhavan