For most Penn students, the plan for college includes four uninterrupted years of exams, papers, extracurriculars and parties. But for College sophomore Seung-Yun Lee and several of his brothers in the Asian-interest fraternity Lambda Phi Epsilon, this is not the case.
All Korean males are required to serve two years in the Korean military upon turning 18 years old — a fact that both contributes to a unique culture in Penn’s Asian-interest fraternities and deters many Korean students from joining in the first place.
Lambda — which is part of the Multicultural Greek Council — is one fraternity that is in this situation.
Some time in the next few years, Lee will have to serve his country, and three other Lambda brothers just returned from their time in the military.
Lee’s fellow Lambda member Sang-Joon Kim said he was surprised more Lambda members were not forced to serve. Kim, a Wharton sophomore, was born in Korea but is ineligible to serve because he was raised in Hong-Kong.
“Being in an Asian-interest fraternity, I expected there to be a lot of brothers coming and going, but there are not a lot of internationals,” Kim said.
He explained, and Lee agreed, that many Korean students do not pledge because they know their time at Penn will be interrupted by military service. Thus, they do not integrate themselves into campus life the way other students might.
Because of this, the military commitment does not effect fraternity life as much as would be expected.
Lee said he made the uncommon decision to join Lambda despite his looming service because the sense of brotherhood that comes with joining a fraternity outweighed his hesitations.
He is leaning towards serving his time after sophomore year and before junior year.
“Junior year is the most important for my grades and classes, so I’d like to go before that,” Lee said.
He also explained that serving after graduation could hurt his chances of finding a job because of the two-year gap.
Although all 18-year-old males are required to serve at some point, they can chose which branch of the military they want to join. English-speakers also have the option of becoming translators.
Lee said he is interested in the navy, although he said many people are encouraging him to take the exam required to become a translator.
“When I was young, I thought serving in the military was really cool. Now it seems like too much of a serious responsibility,” Lee explained, adding that the transition from high school to college was enough of an adjustment.
Kim explained that even though there are not a lot of Koreans in Lambda who are eligible to serve in the military, those that are have a very close bond.
“They share the same fate,” he said.
“Koreans in Lambda have a very strong bond,” Lee added. “It can’t be broken.”
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