EKU students in South Korea react to growing tension

By: Tim Johnston Email
By: Tim Johnston Email

RICHMOND, Ky. (WKYT) - The picture shows a lot as Kentucky natives, Elizabeth Austin and Lora Ballard, make the most of their study abroad trip to South Korea.

"Everything about it is just a huge cultural shock because I'm from a very rural part of Kentucky, very small city," expressed Austin, who calls McKinney home.

The Eastern Kentucky University student has been overseas since February and in the few months she's been there she says she's learned a lot.

"I'm just hoping that I get to continue my stay here!"

What the photos don't show, is the growing tension in the area as North Korea has made a threat warning all tourists in South Korea to leave before the nuclear attack he has promised.

"Some of the international students are really worried. I think a couple are thinking about going back to their respective homes," described Austin, adding, "but the majority are just like, 'okay.'"

Even though she is half-a-world away, the student says she finds herself having to comfort her family back in Kentucky, especially after the recent warnings.

"I know she's worried and I just want her to relax," Austin said of her mom.

"Well, my fingernails are shorter than they used to be!" scoffed Bernadine Austin, who said she calls her daughter via Skype twice a day to check on her safety.

"So I'm on there everyday, 'What have you heard today? What are they saying?'"

Don't get her wrong, Austin's mom is thrilled for her daughter, but with each headline from overseas emotions flood her heart.

"Her father was in the Korean War and, now, here she is in Korea when it's on the brink of war again. That's on my heart a lot," said Bernadine Austin.

For Elizabeth Austin, she says she's finding comfort in those around her.

"The Americans here are freaking out because we hear news from home. The Koreans are not freaking out they're like, 'We live next to them all the time.'"

A comforting thought for Austin, but at the same time she finds the difference in information between news in South Korea and the United States to be frustrating.

Still, this student says she'll continue living it up until it's time to leave, whether that's tomorrow or much later.

"I'm in it until somebody tells me I have to go home," Austin said with a laugh.

The U.S. Embassy in South Korea released earlier this week a statement saying "there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens."

The release later says, "The U.S. Embassy takes as its highest priority the welfare of American citizens in Korea. Should the security situation change, the Embassy will issue updated information."

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