Reporter Choe Sang-hun graduated from YU in 1989 and then studied at Graduate School of Interpretation & Translation at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies for 2 years. After that, he worked as a reporter at The Korea Herald from 1991 to 1994 and served as AP’s Korean correspondent from 2000 to 2005. Now he is a correspondent of the NY Times to Korea. When he was working at AP, he won the Pulitzer Prize which was called the “journalists’ Novel Prize” for reporting “No Gun Ri Massacre.” “No Gun Ri Massacre” was about American soldiers massacring innocent Korean civilians who fled from the Korean War at NoGun-ri, Yeongdong-gun, and Chungcheongbuk-do in 1950. He was doing the investigative reporting on it for more than one year.
What were you like as a college student?
I was just like any other college students: easy going, self-confident but self-conscious at the same time, not really concerned about anything in life until the last year in school when the prospects of life outside the campus descend upon them and they suddenly have to grow up and start looking like odd creatures not belonging to either side of the wall. The 1980s, when I was in college, was a time when many students spent more time demonstrating against the government than studying. I was not an activist but I still remember the earnest, idealistic and somewhat polemical energy that hung over the campus back then.
Your major was Economics in university, but why did you study English Translation at the graduate school? Was there any reason?
When I entered college, I had a vague notion of becoming an economist, but that changed when I returned to the campus after my military service. I was no longer interested in economics. I didn’t know what to do after college. The country was about to play host to the 1988 Olympics and there was a great push to learn English. Everyone seemed to study English. At every library desk, you saw a student cramming for the TOEFL. I was never good at English in high school, but I thought I had better catch up. I began studying the language alone. I could only make a slow progress, teaching myself the grammar and vocabulary others attained in high school. But from early on, I could see a whole new world opening up, with its rich archives of books and other literature, if I learn a foreign language. I never intended to become a translator or interpreter when I enrolled in the graduate course. I went there to give myself two more years to think about what to do with the rest of my life.
When you were a university student, were you interested in reading newspapers or books, and writing essays? If you were, how often did you write essays or read them?
I never wrote anything other than papers -or “reports,” as we called them - for the classes we took. I didn’t read newspapers. There used to be a magazine called “Changjakgwa bipyong.” The government banned it for carrying stuff it didn't like. But you could buy the old copies of the magazine as one encyclopedia-size package and pay for it in installments. My sister owned one and I read through it. It was my most serious reading in college. As its name suggests, the magazine carried both fiction and criticism.
What caused you to report on the “No Gun Ri Massacre?”
For years, families of the victims had been asking the U.S. and South Korean governments to open an investigation. As a reporter working for an American news agency at the time, I thought that American newspaper readers should read about what these Korean families had.
How did you prepare to write this article?
It took many months of reporting and research both in South Korea and in the United States. Among other things, my colleagues and I have interviewed both Korean victims and American veterans and our team studied many thousands of pages of historical documents from the American national archives and other sources.
Which article was the most difficult to complete? Why?
When you understand something well, you can write about it clearly, with logic and confidence and even with a tone and voice. If you don't grasp your topic through reporting and research and thinking it through, you will find it hard to write about it.
What word was the most ambiguous to translate from Korean to English? How did you explain it?
It depends on the context how you can best translate such words. For instance, what does a Korean politician mean when he says “유감이다?”
These days, many students have difficulty in writing. Can you give any advice for them? Do you have any advice for students who want to be reporter?
Learning to write well takes time, just as learning to play the piano well takes years of practicing. It's not a skill you can master after a certain number of years of trying. I would suggest that you read a lot - and when you come upon an essay, a passage, a sentence or even a turn of phrase you like - think hard about what made it so good and pleasing to read. That is the first step. Then you should write a lot - and try to be as good as you can each time you write something, be it an email or school term paper.
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