Since the beginning of the semester, University of Seoul (UOS) students have seen female students walking around the campus wearing Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) uniforms. Most students must have asked themselves, ‘We have female ROTC Cadets at our school?’ Many students might have not known this because female ROTC students only began appearing on our campus this semester. They have gained a lot of attention. Because of this, I interviewed three female ROTC students from our school: Park Chang-hyeong (School of Environmental Engineering, 09’), Lee Ye-eun (Department of Urban Sociology, 09’) and Won Da-seul (Department of Sports Informatics, 09’.)
CAN’T WOMEN DO WHAT MEN CAN DO? AND CAN’T MEN DO WHAT WOMEN CAN DO?
This phrase popped up in my head throughout my interview with the female ROTC Cadets.
In 2011, eight female UOS students applied for the ROTC examination. Students are not selected independently from each school, but rather are selected by a group of other university students from neighboring universities. (UOS is included in the Eastern area of Seoul, along with five other universities.) Thirty-five female students were selected in total with three students from our university among them. The competition rate of female ROTC was 7:1. Therefore, our university’s ratio of accepted applicants was pretty high compared to other universities.
Motivation for Applying In Korea, it is compulsory for men to serve in the military for about two years. After graduating university, ROTC Cadets have to serve in the military for more than two years as an officer. The biggest question that most people have about female ROTC Cadets is why they joined ROTC when women do not have to serve in the military. Ye-eun said, “My grandfather was a man of national merit and he had a great influence on me. My parents and I believed that it would be better for me to evolve into a stronger woman. The older generation in Korea believes that young people in Korea lack patriotism, awareness of national security and overall interest in our country. However, after the sinking of the Cheonan naval vessel and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island, there was an increase in the number of people who volunteered to join the Marine Corps. This was also a stimulus for me to join the ROTC.”
If your primary goal in life is to become a military officer, serving in the military after graduation is no problem at all, but if it is not, female ROTC Cadets may feel like they are starting their dream two years later than their female friends. Thus, female ROTC Cadets may feel rushed. Da-seul said, “People should not consider the two years of military service as a waste of time. We do not fool around during those two years of service. It would be great if people see it as a preparation period for our future. It is a unique experience that no other women can have. So I don’t feel rushed at all.” Chan-hyeong said, “Look at it this way. These days, many young people engage in jobs for a short period of time and move on to another, different kind of job to have diverse experiences. ROTC is like that. It’s one of the many experiences that I will have.”
Life as a Female ROTC Cadet Since the three of them are the FIRST female ROTC Cadets at UOS, you may wonder if they are treated differently by their male seniors. Do their male seniors buy them more meals and coffee? Also, people are curious as to whether or not female ROTC students get less intense training. Their answers were, to some extent, surprising. Da-seul said, “There is no discrimination or treating each other differently since we are all the same ROTC Cadets. We actually reject that kind of treatment.” Ye-seul said, “Please do not have misconceptions about the life of female ROTC Cadets. We are treated and trained the same way as male ROTC Cadets.” They say that at first, senior male ROTC Cadets looked at female ROTC students with curiosity, but now they just look at the three of them, with indifference, as one of the many other ROTC students.
Many of you may think that since the ROTC at UOS just started selecting women about a year ago, that the facilities for women ROTC must be poor. I thought so. However, the ROTC facilities not only at UOS, but also in other universities across the country went through a major remodeling before female ROTC Cadets started their ROTC life. Da-seul said, “Our ROTC seniors have put a lot of efforts and time into making the ROTC facilities comfortable for female ROTC Cadets.”
If you have predecessors in your profession or in anything that you do, they can give you advice on what you should do. However, if you do not have any predecessors before you, then you have to deal with the troubles that occur by yourself. This is the case with UOS female ROTC Cadets. They do have male ROTC seniors, but they do not have female ROTC seniors to ask for advice on problems that might occur as a female ROTC. I asked them whether or not they feel scared by the fact that there are no female predecessors. Da-seul said, “There is nothing uncomfortable because all three of us believe that we can just do our best and become good advisors to those who come after us.” Ye-eun said, “Sometimes, when we are training, female ROTC seniors from Sookmyung University act as platoon commanders giving us advice and asking us whether or not we have difficulties in training.”
Being the first female ROTC Cadets at UOS, they get a lot of attention from UOS students. So they must have had unique experiences. Da-seul said, “Whenever I walk into a cafeteria at the Student Hall wearing my uniform, people look up at me from their tables at least once. I also hear them whispering.” Ye-eun said, “When I walk around campus, I hear people say ‘I did not know that we had female ROTC Cadets at our university.’”
Men always tell their friends and family the address of where they do their military service so that they will get letters. Military life can be pretty lonely so receiving letters is a great joy for men serving in the military. ROTC students get training twice a year; in the summer and winter. Though the training is only for a couple of weeks, ROTC students leave the addresses of where they are going to be trained, hoping that their friends and family will send them letters. Is it the same for women ROTC students? Do they also leave their addresses hoping to receive letters? “Of course we love getting letters,” Chan-hyeong answered smiling. “Everybody who goes to military training feels the same way. After our daily training, there is joy for those who get letters and sorrow for those who do not get any letters.”
Have the ROTC made changes to the uniforms for female Cadets? The overall color of the uniform is the same, but there are few differences. The color of the buttons on the upper uniform is different; for women, the buttons are gold, and for men, they are deep blue. The differences between male and female ROTC uniforms have the same differences as men’s and women’s formal wear: there are inside pockets in the men’s uniform and there is a waist line in the women’s upper uniform. There is also a skirt for female ROTC members, but female ROTC Cadets prefer to wear pants most of the time since they are more comfortable to move in. For that reason, they wear the skirts only on special occasions. At first, female ROTC students liked the fact that they had waist lines on their uniform, but as they became fit and developed more muscles after training, it became a little bit uncomfortable.
Last Words to Students Finally, I asked them if they had anything to tell female students who are hesitating to apply to become a ROTC. Da-seul said, “I believe that human beings should boldly try everything they can and embrace new experiences throughout their lives. Do not hesitate just because you are a female. Your colleagues and seniors will give you a lot of support.” Ye-eun wanted to earnestly tell the students, “People look at female students in ROTC uniforms and think how cool they look. They think that the intensity of the training that female students get is less demanding compared to that of male students. However, bear in mind that training, such as marching and carrying soldiers’ gear or gunnery exercise, is exactly the same for both male and female students. Please do not apply just because you want to be a member of ROTC. Join only if you are passionately going to participate.”
Though we may not see it, there is still gender discrimination not only in Korea, but all around the world. Because of this, some females are still passive towards actively taking part in society. All three female ROTC Cadets that I interviewed said that they gained a lot of confidence ever since they started their life as a ROTC Cadet. Becoming a member of the ROTC will be helpful for any females, especially those who lack confidence. Though the recruitment for new ROTC members ended in March, build up your physical strength and consider joining ROTC next year!