Occidental students in Korea react to Seoul tragedy


Oct. 29, a crowd crush caused by a Halloween celebration with more than 100,000 attendees killed 154 people in Itaewon, a neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea. Alexander Holmes, a junior at Occidental on a semester abroad in Seoul, said he and his friends had gone out Oct. 27 and visited a club that only days later was the site of tragedy.

“Because most of us went out on Thursday, we were too tired to go out on Saturday,” Holmes said. “I’m grateful that we went on Thursday, but it is scary to think we were there days before this happened.”

Hunter Leong (junior) who is also studying abroad in Seoul, was in Itaewon the night of the stampede. Leong said he left the area of the tragedy minutes before it happened. Leong and his friends arrived in Itaewon to find a restaurant, but because of how crowded the area was, they were unable to find anywhere to go, Leong said.

“I didn’t know it happened until the next morning, when my roommate woke me up and told me to call my family back home,” Leong said. “He said it was urgent that I tell everyone I am okay.”

At the beginning of the evening the crowds seemed normal, but it grew dangerous as the subway and streets became increasingly packed, Leong said.

“When I got to the subway station people couldn’t move, it was becoming a gridlock,” Leong said.

Because Itaewon has such a cosmopolitan population and culture, it was a major center for young people to celebrate Halloween, Leong said.

Two students from Yonsei University, where Leong and Holmes are studying, died, Holmes said, and the tragedy has impacted everyone on the university’s campus. South Korea’s president Yoon Suk-yeol declared a national period of mourning.

“People are still going to work and school, but extracurricular activities are canceled, flags are at half mast, and there are many prayer sites and memorials for people to go to,” Holmes said.

Caleb Chung is the co-president of the Korean American Student Association (KASA) at Occidental, and began a discussion the day after the tragedy on how the club would respond to honor the victims. Chung recently spent a semester abroad in South Korea and visited Itaewon, which he said is a vibrant and busy place where many people go to experience the city of Seoul.

“Korea is such a safe country, so this was shocking to me,” Chung said. “The number of people who died and how they were killed just doesn’t feel like it makes sense.”

Holmes and Chung both said they never thought something like this would happen.

“It is a senseless tragedy,” Holmes said.


Contact Olivia Correia at ocorreia@oxy.edu.