ANSAN, Gyeonggi Province ― About 70 second-year students returned to school on Wednesday for the first time since the Sewol accident took away most of their classmates and teachers on April 16.
Fully aware coming back was just the beginning of a long, emotional battle, the surviving students of Danwon High School held a press conference and resumed classes, as teachers and parents tearfully embraced, and reporters quietly observed.
A male student, only identifying himself as a “second-year student,” read aloud a statement that asked fellow Ansan citizens, the government and reporters to treat them just like other teens.
|Danwon High School’s second-year students who survived the Sewol disaster return to school for the first time in 71 days on Wednesday, as parents of both survivors and those killed look on in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
“We are very tired from the unwanted attention we have been receiving,” the student said. “Please, just treat each of us like any other 18-year-old.”
Toward the end of the statement the student’s voice quivered.
“I heard that a person really dies, when that person is forgotten,” he said, before sighing, and taking off his glasses to wipe his tears. One mother finally ushered him away as a father read out the remaining words. Reporters and photographers stayed silent, with only occasional camera flashes interrupting.
It had been 71 days since the Sewol had sunk, killing more than 240 of their classmates and teachers. The surviving students had been staying with doctors and family at the Small Business Training Institute in Ansan during the recent weeks to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We are still suffering,” the student had said in the statement. “At first, we couldn’t shower. We couldn’t sleep.”
“There even have been people who have asked us, ‘Are you happy you’ve survived, after leaving behind your friends on the boat?’”
Surviving students could not move when they heard a fire alarm on Sunday night at the SBTI, because the siren reminded them of the accident, according to a family member.
But these students decided it was time to go back to school.
“These kids have chosen to return to our community, and we are here to support their decision, despite everything,” Park Seok-sun, the father of a survivor, said.
After the statements were read aloud, students lined up to embrace the teachers and parents of their departed classmates. They walked up the hill leading to their school in single-file, as fathers and mothers lined up to meet them.
Mothers hugged the students as they let tears slowly roll down their cheeks. Fathers turned their backs in silence, to rub watery eyes. A female student broke down in tears when she stood face to face with a lady who seemed to be a friend’s mother.
“Adults we meet tell us to forget the accident, our friends and teachers,” Wednesday’s statement read. “But we will not forget. Because it’s the best we can do.”
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org