2019 Sejong Writing Competition

Essay Winners


  Adult Division Senior Division Junior Division
First Young Eun Kim
Los Angeles, CA
essay
Michael Athanassiadis
Miami, FL
10th grade
Miami Country Day School
essay
Kevin Sohn
Irvine, CA
8th grade
Sierra Vista Middle School
essay
Second Isabella Cho
Wilmette, IL
North Shore Country Day School
essay
Allison Lee
El Segundo, CA
11th grade
South High School
essay
Enni Harlan
Los Angeles, CA
7th grade
Girls Academic Leadership Academy, Dr. Michelle King School for STEM
essay
Third Rachel Park
San Marcos, CA
essay
Rachel Hur
Palisades Park, NJ
11th grade
Bergen County Academies
essay
Anderson Lai
Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
6th grade
Chadwick School
essay
HM* Katielyn Kantaris
Magna, UT
Utah State University
Simone Hoekstra
Chicago, IL
10th grade
Whitney M. Young High School
Abigail Bumgardner
Honolulu, HI
7th grade
Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School
Grace Oberst
Marietta, GA
Georgia Institute of Technology
Lulu Xu
Ridgewood, NJ
9th grade
Ridgewood High School
Anish Chowdhury
Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
6th grade
Chadwick School
Camryn Neches
Port Washington, NY
8th grade
Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School

*Honorable Mention - Friend of the Pacific Rim Award

Adult division

Young Eun Kim

adult division, first place

My name is Young Eun Kim and I am a writer based in Los Angeles. I was born in Korea but grew up in Vietnam, attending international schools where my mother taught Korean literature. I studied English & Creative Writing at Emory University for my undergraduate, and I have a MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University.

I first heard about Sejong Cultural Society from a student I tutored, and when I read Pyun Hye-Young’s “O. Cunuiculi,” I was struck by Pyun's strange and surreal world. Having lived most of my life as a foreigner, I am fascinated by stories about institutions that explore the rules and culture that hold the system together, and how they are shaped by the people in it, yet also shape them in return. I think Pyun’s terrifying encapsulation of our contemporary society will continue to haunt me. But it was truly a pleasure reading and studying this work, and I am grateful I got the opportunity to write about it.

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Isabella Cho

adult division, first place

My name is Isabella “Izzy” Cho, and I am currently a junior at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois. As a Korean American, I am constantly striving to find new ways to engage with my dual heritage. I was especially excited about the Sejong Writing Competition because it afforded me the opportunity to learn more about contemporary South Korea through the lens of literature, one of my primary passions. Reading Pyun Hye-young’s “O. Cuniculi” allowed me to challenge my preconceived notions regarding the human capacity for personal agency, change, and empathy, as well as how the capitalist structure so deeply entrenched in contemporary society inherently informs the ways in which people perceive one another.

Next year as a senior, I will be pursuing an interdisciplinary independent study that explores South Korea through the dual lens of history and literature, parsing formative events in the nation’s history including the Korean War, the nation’s remarkable post-war economic growth, and more contemporary social developments including the #MeToo movement. My role models are most definitely my fabulous parents, older sister, and twin. In my free time, I love reading and writing poetry, playing tennis, working as a teaching assistant at my local Korean school, and spending time with my family.

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Rachel Park

adult division, third place

My name is Rachel Park and I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Comparative Literature. I am currently a second-year graduate student researching the intersection between war, gender, and culture. I am particularly interested in postwar Korean women's literature and creating a transnational framework to explore women's experiences in wartime and how literature and art can become a way of reclaiming agency against atrocious and pervasive violence. I also work as a freelance translator, having most recently won a grant from the Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI Korea) to co-translate Cho Seonhui's Three Women. My translations and other writings have also appeared on the Verso blog, Korean Literature Now, and the UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal. 

I first heard of this opportunity through various colleagues and am extremely grateful to the Sejong Cultural Society for providing this opportunity and for making important works of Korean literature accessible to the rest of the world. I hope that in the future, through my translations and studies, I can continue promoting Korean literature and culture in a manner that does not erase cultural differences, but works towards an empowering collectivity and solidarity. 

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Katielyn Kantaris

adult division, honorable mention

My name is Katie Kantaris, and I am a junior attending Utah State University. I am a current member of the international English society of Sigma Tau Delta, and I attend a variety of school clubs in addition to volunteering in and around my college community. Being an English major, I strongly believe in studying a large variety of literary works. The intertextuality and metaphorical layering of the story "O. Cuniculi" provided a rich basis for narrative material, and it was a pleasure to dissect some of the hidden meanings behind the story’s representation. Writing competitions are a great opportunity for me to practice my literary analytical skills, and I feel humbled to be recognized as an honorable mention.

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Grace Oberst

adult division, honorable mention

My name is Grace Oberst, and I am an engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. I became interested in Korean culture and politics after I started learning the Korean language in high school, and I am currently also minoring in Korean.

I enjoyed reading Pyun’s short story “O. Cuniculi” and was quite surprised that it was written in 2009, since Pyun’s criticisms of society are directed towards issues that are very apparent today but were not as widespread ten years ago. I think that many people can relate to at least one aspect of the story, which is what makes its messages so powerful.

Creative writing is one of my hobbies, so I enjoy reading all types of literature and am thankful to the Sejong Cultural Society for introducing me to Korean literature through the writing competition. In addition to creative writing, some of my other hobbies include hiking and learning to cook new dishes.

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Senior division

Michael Athanassiadis

senior division, first place

My name is Michael Athanassiadis and I’m currently a sophomore at Miami Country Day School in Miami, Florida. My fascination with the politics in East Asia from the Cold War and beyond, coupled with my English teacher’s suggestion, led me to the Sejong Cultural Society’s essay competition. Yi Mun Yol’s An Appointment with his Brother opened my eyes to the many layers of tension and societal differences found in the Korean peninsula. Yi was able to capture familial qualities in the narrator’s brother, a North Korean, which really made me think about the fact that, although a government may inculcate ignorance upon a citizenry, individuality is always present. A great thanks to my mother, who has taught me to live as a global citizen and think of cultures outside my own, and the Sejong Cultural Society for this opportunity to read and write, which has given me depth in an area I once found black and white.

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Allison Lee

senior division, second place

My name is Allison Lee, and I’m a junior at South High School in California. I related to many of Yi Mun Yol’s characters in An Appointment With His Brother and their struggles with cultural identity. However, I felt unfamiliar with many other characters’ vulnerable sentiments surrounding Korean peninsular relations, which demand more consideration by the Western media than they do presently. I hope to read more literature by Korean authors in the future, especially during such a turbulent time in Korean history. Thank you to Ms. Shannon Cho for introducing me to the Sejong essay competition, and thank you to the Sejong Cultural Society for this opportunity to deepen and present my understanding of such an eye-opening piece.

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Rachel Hur

senior division, third place

My name is Rachel Hur and I am currently a junior at the Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, New Jersey. As a Korean-American, I have always been interested in the political affairs of both the Korean Peninsula and the United States of America. Over time, I have noticed that the reunification of the two Koreas has become an increasingly popular topic in the worldwide media. In fact, before submitting to the Sejong essay contest, my knowledge on the Korean regional divide was largely limited to what was written in different newspapers and articles. Although I am familiar with the excitement and spectacle associated with this kind of news, Yi Mun-yol's "An Appointment with His Brother" encouraged me to take a more critical perspective in viewing reunification and its potential implications. I would like to thank the Sejong Cultural Society for this opportunity, and I am looking forward to further continuing my journey in exploring Korean literature, as well as what the future holds for the reunification of the two Koreas.

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Junior division

Kevin Sohn

junior division, first place

My name is Kevin Sohn, and I am an 8th grader at Sierra Vista Middle School. My hobbies include fencing, clarinet, and coding. Reading books is something that I do frequently as well. My favorite books currently would be Name of the Wind and When Breath Becomes Air. While those two books are pretty much at the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to genre, I still enjoy them and switch back and forth between them depending on my mood.

As a Korean American, I feel that I need to get more familiar with traditional Korean culture as well as its contemporary movies, music or products provided by mass media. Reading a folktale was a good place to start and writing about it helped me appreciate more. I thank the Sejong Cultural Society for this opportunity.

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Enni Harlan

junior division, second place

My name is Enni Harlan and I am a seventh grader at Girls Academic Leadership Academy, Dr. Michelle King School for STEM. I have been playing piano for nearly ten years, and I aspire to become a concert pianist. I feel that I am drawn to music and writing because both allow me to express myself without speaking. I love to read, especially classic literature. My favorite authors are Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Louisa May Alcott. Many of these authors’ books portray headstrong, defiant women as their protagonists, not unlike themselves. Since female authors were uncommon in the 18th-19th centuries, these women had to fight to get their books published and recognized, and I find that very inspiring. I am also very passionate about the environment, and am actively learning and fighting for climate and environmental justice. Currently, my personal hero is Greta Thunberg, who inspired me to follow her movement, School Strike 4 Climate.

I am biracial with Korean heritage, and have been introduced to two different cultures. Although I was familiar with traditional Korean folktales growing up, participating in this contest allowed me to dive deeper into the philosophy and culture of ancient Korea. In writing my essay, I realized that the morals and concepts woven into these stories are still deeply embedded into our society today. I am grateful to my English teacher, Ms. Knopfler, for introducing this contest to me, and to the Sejong Cultural Society for providing this unique experience.

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Anderson Lai

junior division, third place

My name is Anderson Lai, and I am 12 years old. I am currently a sixth grader attending Chadwick school in Palos Verdes, where I have lived for more than half of my life. In my free time, I enjoy reading a variety of interesting books from all different sorts of unique genres: fantasy, science fiction, and realistic fiction. I also am a very active person who enjoys playing and trying out new sports like basketball, soccer, and football. I have always hoped to grow as a writer and eventually discover something that could challenge me to think outside of the box and stretch myself to find the deeper meaning of unique folktales that reflects its unique culture.

One of the many goals I want to continue doing is to make a change in the world to benefit the lives of others who are less fortunate. I am inspired to do these things in order to achieve morality and character. Making a significant impact on people who in need is one of the goals that I am trying to aim for. Some people do not get such a fortunate opportunity to be able to go to a great school and be able to express their feelings and ideas through writing. Nothing is taken for granted and that’s a lesson I want to teach myself. Therefore, I am very grateful for my opportunity to have such a great education and to have my teacher, Ms. Schneider, introduce the Sejong competition to me.

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Anish Chowdhury

junior division, honorable mention

Hi, my name is Anish Chowdhury and I am currently a 6th grader at Chadwick school, Palos Verdes. My favorite hobbies are robotics and debate. My favorite subject in school is science and history. I found about the Sejong writing competition when my 6th-grade English teacher Mr. Meisel told my classmate and me about the competition. I ended up writing a small essay on the Golden and Silver Ax. My essay was about how the morals of the Golden and Silver Ax can still be meaningful in our modern society. I think the Sejong Writing Competition was a very fun competition and a great way to spend time during Spring break.

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Camryn Neches

junior division, honorable mention

My name is Camryn Neches, and I’m a graduating eighth grader at Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School in Port Washington, New York. I have loved to read and write my whole life, so I always go out of my way to find intriguing writing opportunities. My English teacher, Ms. Portmore-Davies encouraged me to give this contest a try, and I’m really glad I did. While writing my essay, I found common threads in the folktales I read, and the books I read for fun everyday. It is amazing that every culture wants to enforce the same morals- it reminds me of a quote from To Kill A Mockingbird, when Scout says that there’s just one kind of folks- folks. I’m very interested in pop culture overall, and learning about Korean folktales meant that I got to enjoy a whole new side of culture. In terms of American pop culture, I really feel as though the classics are best- my favorite movies are the original Star Wars trilogy and Indiana Jones. My goal is to be the best student and person I can be. I’m honored to have been recognized in this competition, and I look forward to learning all sorts of international folk tales.

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