Voices and faces from Seoul American Elementary School

Contributor: Coco Cugat for Yongsan legacy

” I will miss the library where I spent so many hours going through books, and you know what? There is where I learned how to read!” 

Topic: community, Education, People, School, Yongsan Legacy
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Voices and faces from Seoul American Elementary School
Cutouts are on display of students, teachers and alumni of the recently closed Seoul American Elementary School (SAES), during a closing ceremony of the school on June 3. / Courtesy of Yongsan Legacy_ Suyeon Yun

By Coco Cugat

“I wish they keep the Dolphins theater and my classroom!”

” I will miss the library where I spent so many hours going through books, and you know what? There is where I learned how to read!”

“Will the playground of the school still be existing when this place becomes a park? I am sure all the kids will love coming to play here where we played at recess time with my friends.”

These are some of the comments students said to the Yongsan Legacy team in interviews.

June 14 marked the end of an era for Seoul American Elementary School, Middle and High schools (SAES, SAMS and SAHS), three of many U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) that serve the dependents of the U.S. military and civilians who support the military.

A playground is empty at Seoul American Elementary School (SAES), during a closing ceremony of the school on June 3. / Courtesy of Yongsan Legacy_ Suyeon Yun

The history of the school began in September 1959. For over 60 years, SAES, SAMS and SAHS have educated thousands of students. SAES handled kindergarten to 5th grade, helping them to and learn about West and East, America and Korea.

School is the setting for most memories of childhood and teenage years. It is the place where we spent most of our weekdays and where we made most of our first real friends. School is indeed a very remarkable place in the basic formative years of our lives, a place that for most people is difficult to forget.

To preserve the memories of the schools inside Yongsan Garrison, the Yongsan Legacy project, aiming to keep focused the human aspects of the base, conducted over 127 interviews of alumni, current students and teachers, the contents of which were displayed inside the base on the closure ceremony.

Many civilians in Korea are not aware that, besides the military, inside the base families live and have their daily routine activities like kids going to school. As education is such an essential aspect in the peninsula we believed it was important to exhibit at the Yongsan Park Gallery the faces and voices of present and past students from age 3 to over 60.

Yongsan Legacy believes the human and intangible aspects of the base cannot be ignored and forgotten when the garrison is turned into a public park for everyone to use. It is important that people are also aware that on this particular site, children of American, Korean, Swiss, Canadian and many other nationalities from the U.N. Command learned how to read, write, subtract. Many of them attended school here from a young age until they were teenagers ready to attend college.

A soldier walks past cutouts on display of students and alumni of the recently closed Seoul American Elementary School (SAES), during a closing ceremony of the school on June 3. / Courtesy of Yongsan Legacy_ Suyeon Yun

Last Friday, Yongsan Legacy unveiled to the public the first exhibition to commemorate the closure of the elementary school, in a display set up at Yongsan Park Gallery in Camp Kim, inside the former USO Building built by the Japanese. This exhibition features the memories and experiences of some of the students through portraits, voice recordings and community mapping.

A series of future exhibitions are also planned.

Coco Cugat is an architect from Spain tracing the history of Yongsan Garrison. Visit YongsanLegacy.org to read more about the history of Seoul’s disappearing U.S. garrison or to contribute your own memories. 

Article from The Korea Times  http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2019/08/177_273536.html