By Elena j. (with insights from Angel R.)
Click here to read PART 1
Although Korean college life is famous for the excessive drinking and partying, student life does not always revolve around these activities. Studying mostly in high school and partying in college is an anachronistic dichotomy, a tale from our parents’ era. 과제 (“work”) never fails to keep students busy. During the semester, 과제중…(pronounced gwa-jay-joong) stands as one of the most popular lines of the day on MSN or Nate On, (Korea’s most popular instant messaging program). Many Korean students, myself included, have had an especially hard time with hands-on projects, weekly reports, and group work that the courses demand because they had never done such work in high schools. Though most high school students study, study, study, this “studying” consists of rote memorization of facts in every subject, and does not require much cooperation or deep contemplation. Besides, Korean high school teachers leave homework to be assigned by the hakwons, or the private after-school academies. In this respect, many high schools fail to adequately prepare their students for higher education; many freshmen are badly informed about avoiding plagiarism and formulating bibliographies. What was once fine to copy and paste off of Google can now result in a failing grade.
7. Campus Festivals!
Every spring, Korean universities hold their own festivals and concerts. Students are advised to wear the school color and be familiar with k-pop—as well as the school the school cheers—to fully enjoy the spring fling. Classes may end early during the few days of the festival (depending on the professor) and students take time to relax after midterms. The two biggest college festivals are those of Korea’s most infamous rival universities: Yonsei University’s AKARAKA and Korea University’s IPSILENTI. On the last day of Yonsei’s festival, some Korean University students clad in red t-shirts infiltrate Yonsei’s amphitheatre, an ocean of blue, and proudly cheer for their own alma mater. Though these cheers always meet with jeers from their Yonsei counterparts, everybody is in a good mood, and both crowds unite in their fervor in front of the performing celebrities. On the last day of the three day festival, each college department or club goes out to drink on campus and to have a good time.
8. “Mee-TINGs” and “So-gae-TINGs”
“Meetings,” in the Korean sense, are not just any equivalent to any gathering; they explicitly refer to group blind dates. Sogaetings are one-on-one blind dates, which sometimes can become more intimate or awkward. In a Meeting, one of the most popular events among freshmen, one mediator, or broker, introduces his or her group of friends to another group of friends of the opposite sex. The two groups meet for dinner, introduce themselves, and head for a bar after the meal. At the bar, everyone opts for drinks and after a few glasses, the mood lifts and people start to feel closer. Though some people may receive “Afters,” or continuous calls from a person who is interested, in general, meetings are considered very casual get-togethers. At women’s universities, however, meetings are sacred events that can never be missed. A friend from Ewha Women’s University joked about how some Ewha students nervously clench their phone during class waiting for a text message from a mediator recruiting new participants for a Meeting, usually based on a first-come-first-serve basis. At times, knowing basic information about the other group before the meeting is helpful, because sometimes rudimentary profiles help the most when meeting someone for the first time. For example, one who cannot drink so well would have to be wary of engineering or science majors. Meetings with science majors from Korea University, dubbed the “Makgeolli University,” would require some serious thought if one had classes the next day. While at a meeting with Seoul National University Engineering students, one of my best friends from high school ran out of the bar after only an hour, because she could not stand the Engineering majors’ pompous attitude towards any student that did not attend SNU. Though labeling and stereotyping is dangerous at times, f8un ways to get together and become acquainted with new people, Sogaetings and Meetings have become ingrained in Korean college culture.
9. Pre-frosh, MT
Similar to many English terms used in Korea, “MTs,” or “Membership Training” signifies a completely different event in Korea. A few weeks before the spring semester starts, Sunbaes and a few department professors take freshmen on a pre-frosh MT, in which freshmen become acquainted amongst themselves and with their Sunbaes. There are group skit competitions, recreational activities, and most of all, heavy drinking. Sunbaes, comprised of mostly sophomores, haze freshmen with drinks mixed in punchbowls which they are required to drink down in one sitting. (Afterward, however, some Sunbaes help their younger brothers and sisters drain the alcohol out of their systems). Regular MTs that take place during the school year are not very different; they are similar to the U.S. frat party scenes full of partying, BBQ-grilling, and excessive drinking.
10. College is what you make of it
Sometimes, while looking around the class during a lecture, I ask myself, “Was college really worth all those sleepless nights poring over textbooks and the endless note taking done all throughout high school? Have my family’s efforts and expectations come to fruition? What’s next??” During high school, college seemed like the end of my journey, the final destination. However, now I am forced to prepare for a career, to hone my skills to compete in the job market, and worry about my possible status as an old maid… Many assume that Korean college kids go on crazy drinking binges, party, and socialize—rights all denied to them until now. Though these assumptions hold true for many students, college, as well as any phase in life, does not fail to give life lessons and help an individual learn.
Like the Spanish saying, “Lo que en los libros no está, la vida te enseñará,” (That which the books do not teach you, life will), Korean students, and parents, should remember that life sometimes offers wisdom that can be obtained only through experience. For many Korean students, college may be the first step towards living a life full of responsibilities, choices, and enjoyment.
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Elena J. and Angel R. are currently freshmen at Yonsei University. Though both are quirky ENFPs that make up only 4% of the Korean population, they do not differ from typical Korean college students that seem to find creative inspiration mostly at coffee shops.