South Korea’s military conscription has long been a sensitive topic for its countrymen. As stated by law, Korean men between the ages of 18-30 are strictly required to serve the nation’s military for 20 months or approximately two years. Due to detailed accounts of how physically and mentally rigorous it is, news of young Koreans attempting to escape the service have been reported on multiple occasions from normal citizens to celebrities alike.
The law does hold an exception for women, although they may choose to volunteer for the military off their own accord. Other South Korean nationals spared from compulsory enlistment include medal-winning Olympic athletes, and musicians such as pianists and violinists who’ve garnered notable awards in their respective fields. Actors, directors, and K-pop stars, however, don’t fit the bill for exemption—even if it means taking a leave from the spotlight for two years. This fact was reiteraed heavily back in 2019 after a heated debate divided the country over whether members of internationally acclaimed K-pop boyband BTS should be exempted from the program or not.
Gene Kim, a South Korean who enacted his military service between 2009 to 2011, personally gave Insider a rundown on what enlisting was like during his time. In the video below, he first brings up the initial five weeks of relentless training every soldier must go through. “This five weeks of training was one of the most intense experiences I had,” he tells Insider. “You can only do what you’re told to do and nothing else… You learn to move very fast….and you re-learn things you thought you already knew.”
Curious to know more about South Korea's mandatory military service? Watch the full video below.