Lessons from the North and South Korean Women’s Ice Hockey Olympic Team

After the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, Korea was officially divided into a northern and southern region. North Korea, occupied by the Soviets, had established more of a communist government; South Korea, on the other hand, occupied by the United States, established more of a democratic and capitalistic government. Attempts at reunification ultimately failed, resulting in the Korean War in 1950 and uneasy tensions up to this day, with North Korea garnering a reputation as a reclusive country that has committed many human rights violations. As of recently, tensions have still been high, as the United States, a diplomatic ally of South Korea, announced just this past week that it planned to impose its toughest sanctions yet on the city of Pyongyang, while many also wondered whether North Korea’s participation in the Olympics would violate international sanctions punishing them for their nuclear weapons development. However, Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, sees the Olympics as an effort to coordinate with North Korea and persuade them to enter into negotiations regarding its nuclear and ballistic missile program, resulting in North and South Korea competing on a unified team for the 2018 games.

As a daughter of Korean ancestors, I have grown up well accustomed to the debates surrounding the 38th parallel. My great aunt doesn’t often talk about her homeland, but has shared that her fiancé was killed by North Korean soldiers during the Korean War, sparking a passionate hatred that she speaks of loudly and harshly when asked. In a conversation we had earlier this year, she expressed strong disbelief that the Koreas would ever be one again, saying “It will never happen. Never.” Growing up in a war torn Korea and in a family virtually torn apart by conflict between the neighboring parties, my aunt’s views are not without justification. As much as she loves her country, she despises North Korea. So seeing the two Koreas marching into the Olympics under the same flag was something she, nor the world, was prepared for. North and South Korea walked under the same flag and played on the same women’s ice hockey team at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, sparking conversation regarding what it means to be a team, and the future of the Koreas.

Lexi Hurwitz, a junior member of both the Varsity soccer and lacrosse teams, shared, “I think teams are like a big support system: everyone is there to cheer you on when you’re at your best, and pick you up when you’re down.” Similarly, senior (bad) tennis player Krishnapriya Tirumala believes that being on a team means dependability and support.

North Korea and South Korea have been at war for decades. They have incessantly threatened each other with nuclear warfare, and continue to be separated by a demilitarized zone. As a result, the world is receiving some mixed messages. Tirumala says she sees this move as “…standing for one common goal that holds everyone together no matter what their individual differences are.” The team was able to overcome conflict and compete for a common goal, on a united team, under a united flag. Decades of hatred, bloodshed and threats seemingly disappeared when the team competed together.

Hurwitz saw this move as hopeful, perhaps lessening tensions between the two countries in the meantime. Her speculation has proven somewhat correct, as, for the first time since Kim Jong Un came to power, South Korean officials visited North Korea for a diplomatic dinner. According to the BBC, the atmosphere of the meeting was quite “warm”. Tensions have lessened between the technically warring countries since the Olympics, and the South hopes the conversation will continue.

In the meantime, the world is able to watch and learn from the Korean Women’s Ice Hockey team. Hurwitz says she has learned to “cooperate and reach out with kindness” when dealing with conflicting sides. Similarly, Tirumala sees the importance of setting aside personal differences in order to work with people she may disagree with in order to achieve a common goal.     

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