Canadians in South Korea unfazed by North’s threat of nuclear attack

The Canadian Press

A set of Patriot missiles of South Korean military is seen deployed at an unidentified location in Seoul April 11, 2013. (YONHAP/REUTERS)

North Korea’s latest threat of a missile attack against its southern neighbour is not rattling Canadians living and working in South Korea, who say Pyongyang’s war talk is nothing new.

Andrei Cherwinski, 29, an English teacher on his third contract in South Korea, said nobody is taking the threat seriously.

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“Everybody’s still going to work, everybody’s still going out on the town, nobody is concerned,” said Cherwinski, who is from Ottawa but now calls Seoul home.

Tensions in the Korean Peninsula continued to rise Thursday as North Korea hinted at a missile launch, claiming it had “powerful striking means” on standby.

Earlier this week, it warned foreign governments to evacuate their citizens from South Korea.

But observers suspect North Korea’s actions are meant to stir fear abroad and bolster the image of the country’s young leader Kim Jong Un. And the risk of an attack similar to the one that started the Korean War in 1950 is considered slim.

North Korea’s suggestion that the two countries are on the verge of a nuclear war doesn’t appear to faze locals in Seoul, and that attitude is rubbing off on expats, said Andrew Sachs, 28.

“I kind of follow the people around me, how everybody acts. I don’t see people getting upset,” said Sachs, who is from Haliburton, Ont.

He said an American co-worker who mentioned stocking up on emergency supplies was laughed at by his Korean father-in-law.

Among expats, the ongoing threats are a common topic of discussion and debate, but over all, “we don’t get too, too concerned,” Sachs said.

Ottawa isn’t advising against travel to South Korea, though it urges tourists to be vigilant in case the situation worsens.

There are more than 20,000 Canadians living in that country, including more than 5,000 English teachers, according to data compiled by the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea.

Several agencies who recruit Canadians to teach English in South Korea said they’ve fielded questions about the tensions from current and prospective teachers, but stress those familiar with the region are taking the latest developments in stride.

“We’ve been in business for almost 13 years now and it’s part of an ongoing cycle with North Korea,” said Shane Finnie, director of Toronto-based agency Canadian Connections.

“It’s pretty much business as usual. The teachers that are kind of on the ground in Korea are definitely just going on with their day-to-day life,” he said.

“It’s more so the people who are thinking about going in the next few months that have some questions and concerns,” he said.

Still, the next group of teachers is heading out Tuesday and so far, none have pulled out, he said.

Another recruitment company, Gone2Korea, said teacher applications had decreased slightly compared with the same month last year, but it’s unclear whether the change is due to turmoil in the region.

Those who sign up “don’t really seem to fear it too much,” said co-president Kirk Verdoold.

“A lot of Americans and Canadians as well, they’re taking it with a grain of salt, they’re a lot more educated than we expected on the subject, they’ve obviously done research,” he said.

In fact, it’s typically relatives back home who worry and flood teachers with concern after hearing the latest news in the media, Verdoold said.

Sachs said his weekly Skype sessions with relatives often include them quoting newspaper articles about the evolving tensions.

“They are a little bit worried but this hasn’t been the first time they’ve asked me. North Korea’s been in the news before, a year or two ago,” he said.

“I say to them that it’s nothing to be worried about.”

With files from The Associated Press

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