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Alum Builds Community and Supports Restorative Justice Efforts in South Korea

Hannah Salisbury ’18 is spending a year in South Korea working through the Mennonite Church’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program to “challenge social norms by living in a manner that glorifies God.”

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

June 19, 2019 | Noon

Hannah Salisbury ’18

Hannah Salisbury ’18 is spending a year in South Korea working with the Mennonite Church’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program.

At first, Hannah Salisbury ’18 felt uncertain watching how the lead teachers responded when their 5-year-old students fought or had an incident at Peace Building School, a South Korean “hagwon”—a type of extracurricular school. The teachers gathered the students and asked each to share how they felt before, during, and after the incident. Salisbury says her students learned the routine and would be ready to talk about the issues. “It decreased so significantly the trouble we had in class,” she says.

Salisbury, who majored in athletic training at Bethel, started a year-long commitment last August working with the Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program in South Korea doing peacebuilding and restorative justice work. The experience was one example of restorative justice in action.

Salisbury is serving in an intentional living community in Namyangju, about 45 minutes from the South Korean capital, Seoul. There, SALT’s work intersects with several organizations, including Circle Café & Bakery, a Mennonite church, the Korean Association for Restorative Justice (KARJ), the Korea Peacebuilding Institute (KOPI), and the Northeast Asia Regional Peace Institute (NARPI), which creates dialogue between Asian nations as a way of overcoming tense historical relationships. Salisbury largely spends her time as a barista in the café and as a co-teacher at the hagwon. She also focuses on creating community events and engagement opportunities.

Hanna Salisbury ’18

In South Korea, Hanna Salisbury ’18 has worked at Peace Building School, a South Korean “hagwon”—a type of extracurricular school focused on restorative justice.

But Salisbury admits it’s difficult to explain her and her peers’ efforts in South Korea, and even her family often asks, “What is it you do exactly?” In a way, it’s easy to describe: They focus on community to promote restorative justice. “We challenge social norms by living in a manner that glorifies God through our relationships and through our work,” she says. “It's life-changing in its own way.”

To fully understand the efforts, Salisbury says cultural context is vital. While many groups focus on relief work and aid within North Korea, South Korea’s needs are different, so restorative justice efforts are more common. The country developed from one of the poorest in the world to a developed, high-income country in a few generations; that caused cultural challenges, because different generations grew up in vastly different circumstances. And South Korea’s hierarchical culture brings many unique social norms and customs that apply to people of varying ages or people considered cultural inferiors or superiors.

For example, Salisbury says it can be considered insulting to make direct eye contact with an elder or superior, but at the hagwon, teachers urge students to make eye contact with one another and fellow students. A house that works with Salisbury’s community hosts frequent lectures, and one focused on Samsung Medical Center, which was criticized for its handling of a 2015 outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Administrators invited KOPI workers to lead discussions and training, and they found examples of the hierarchical traditions compounding problems. Someone viewed as an inferior would likely never speak their mind to their superior. In at least one case, that led to communication issues between a doctor and nurse. The nurse struggled with the doctor’s condescending attitude, but she didn't feel she could voice her concerns. Through KOPI, she spoke her mind, and the doctor admitted that he had no idea and was sorry. “Restorative justice is just learning to be more aware of other people and their emotions and interactions and caring for and loving people,” Salisbury says.

Having professors who prayed in class, who chatted about daily life and ask hard questions when I needed it; having employers [at Bethel] who mentored me as a person just as much as they were my boss, or simply just the faculty, staff or alumni who you encountered daily, was so life-giving.

— Hannah Salisbury '18
Salisbury, a Montana native, doesn’t know what she’ll do when she returns to the U.S., and she jokes that her plans fluctuate frequently. For now, she is focused on being present during her remaining time in Korea. She’s made a Korea bucket list of things to see and experience, and she looks forward to spending time with the people there. She’s already enjoyed many unique experiences. In December, Salisbury and a group of friends attended a prayer pilgrimage to the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, which is held by a community called Bargn Nuri. The group visits sites of massacres or political drama. Salisbury and her friends were even asked to speak about Mennonite history, the history of their organizations, and their opinions on peace once they arrived.

Salisbury’s twin sister, Madeleine ’18, is not surprised to see her sister in a mission field. Madeleine describes her sister as a hardworking person who intentionally listens to others to understand their uniqueness. Madeleine has seen that grow during her sister’s time in South Korea, as living in a different culture requires her to lean into God as she navigates the cultural differences. “It's challenged her to draw closer to God, and He has equipped her to become an even better empathizer, leader, harmonizer, and individualizer,” she says. “I think Hannah has grown further into who Christ has created her to be.”

Salisbury says Bethel prepared her for the work she’s doing now. She is grateful for the many people at Bethel—including Madeleine—who challenged, prayed with, and supported her. “Having professors who prayed in class, who chatted about daily life and ask hard questions when I needed it; having employers who mentored me as a person just as much as they were my boss, or simply just the faculty, staff or alumni who you encountered daily, was so life-giving,” she says. Salisbury values the time she spent at Bethel, and she sees the community-focused atmosphere has continued in Korea. “I grew a lot and changed a lot at Bethel, and I think it prepared me really well,” she says.
Hanna Salisbury ’18

Hanna Salisbury ’18 also works at Circle Café & Bakery in an intentional living community in Namyangju, about 45 minutes from the South Korean capital, Seoul.

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