‘Those were the days’

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‘Those were the days’

The author is a P Team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Men over age 14 who did not fulfill military duty and women.

The government once openly banned them from traveling abroad, and the reasoning was that the national economy was struggling.

In 1968, President Park Chung Hee ordered a ban on unnecessary travel. The purpose was to save foreign currency, so Koreans needed the government’s permission to study abroad. Even when a Korean did go abroad to study, it was impossible to invite a spouse or family members along. By today’s standards, that’s simply ridiculous, but that’s really how things were at the time.

Around that time, a law was legislated that when an educational civil servant goes abroad for research, a leave of absence should be processed and salary and research allowances should not be given. The professors at Seoul National University were affected by this law. After 71 professors were put in a leave of absence in 1966, their families complained that their livelihoods were threatened.

Going abroad was a privilege for the elite, a symbol of wealth. Unapproved overseas travel would make news. Newspapers reported that students at a private elementary school in Seoul went to Japan, and the Korean national tennis team was reprimanded for not returning home for over 10 days after attending a match in Malaysia.

Couples couldn’t even dream of traveling abroad. It was only in 1980 that married couples were allowed to travel abroad together. Nine years later, in 1989, overseas travel was freely allowed. According to the National Archive, more than 1 million people went abroad after the travel ban was lifted. But the government put a condition that all Koreans traveling abroad had to pay 3,000 won ($3) per person and spend a whole day to complete “anti-Communist education.”

Overseas travel will be made possible again if restrictions from Covid-19 are eased. As early as July, tourist groups will be allowed to travel to countries in the “travel bubble” with vaccination and negative test results. But overseas Koreans are not allowed to meet families and friends in Korea, deviating from the designated tour route. When can we enjoy the freedom of borderless travel again, look back on today and say, “Those were the days”?
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