The Granite Tower
FEATURECOVER STORY
Youth, Now and Before —Vulnerable Yet Resilient
Chang Hae Sun  |  esther92@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2014.03.04  11:20:39
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What comes to your mind when you hear the word “youth”? Mixed images that are too complicated to be put into words would perhaps dominate your minds with dim memories of laughter or a tingle of excitement. Is the young generation of our society truly living the ideal life that had been drawn in our minds?

 

 

By Chang Hae Sun (esther91@korea.ac.kr), Park Kyung Eun (daisypark94@korea.ac.kr), and Song You Jin (yjnsng@korea.ac.kr)

 

People seem to be totally free from any of the rules existing in the world, looking up at the sky together, plunging into the sea, or crossing roads completely naked. These images are what you can see in the photographs of Ryan McGinley, a renowned photographer who recently held an exhibition about youth. It is not only McGinley who depicts youth as a combination of freedom, passion, and a bit of confusion. This is indeed the conventional image that is generally perceived among the public.
 
Painful is the Growing, one of the continuously best sellers written by Professor Kim Nan Do, also depicts the period of youth in such a way. According to the author, youth is what gives people not only strong willpower and energy but also the pain of growing up from experiences of failure.
 
If you take a closer look at the lives of the young, however, youth cannot be simply defined by such few words. There has been steady change through the generations in many different facets of the lives of youth. Their college lives, their attitude toward studies and employment, and their perspectives toward history and politics seem to give us a more detailed view of their overall values and lives.
 

 

What College Signifies for Two Generations
More often than not, college-bound high school graduates are buoyant with expectations about college life. Indeed, after years of no fun, no play, and only college prep, they deserve every single moment of their hard-earned freedom. But here comes the bad news—twenty-something is not all about youth having freedom. It is not about their doing what they wish to do, or doing what parents tell them not to do. Constraints and confinements exist as strongly as they had in their teenage years.
 
   
▲ Ryan McGinley’s photos depict youth in their truest state. Photographed by Kang Hyun Ji
 
After years of rote learning in middle and high schools, Cho Juheum ('13, Political Science and International Relations) had expected that college education would be far from that. “I had anticipated lectures where students would participate in heated discussions and collectively find answers to open questions, but college was not much different from high school,” Cho says, “I had to memorize what professors would tell me.”
 
His college life is rampant with competition and starved of meaningful time outside of the classroom. “College students need to prepare for life after college during college,” Cho tells us. He continues, “Burdened with the idea that we need to outperform our colleagues in competition for a better-paying job, we allocate less time for leisure activities.”
 
Indeed, the hobbies of today’s youth take on very passive forms. Out of 50 students surveyed at Korea University (KU), 23 answered that their favorite hobby was surfing the Net. Other dominant responses included listening to music, watching TV, and movies. For the majority of them, time outside of school was reserved for winding down and taking a rest rather than for personal growth. College students simply lack the time and energy to spare on activities outside of their academics, overwhelmed by pressure over grades.
 
   

▲ 1 College holds much significance for those from thepast and present. Provided by welfare5.com

2 Youth from the 1980s were much involved in socialmovements. Provided by hanyang.ac.kr

3 Youth of today most often indulge in passiveactivities. Photographed by Song You Jin

 
Unlike today’s youth, those from the 1980s were more immersed in remedying the ills of society. Professor Shin Chang Ho of KU’s College of Education and the author of the book From Confucius, to Youth tells us about their endeavorsto solve society’s problems.
 
To understand why, take a glimpse at the 1980s in Korea—while it was experiencing high growth, it was under a military regime. There existed extreme suppression of personal freedom in the forms of a nationwide nightly curfew, frequent inspections by patrolmen, and censorship of the press. In short, two score years ago Korea was experiencing a period of great suffering.
 
“Many college students at the time were involved in political and social crusades against this oppression,” Professor Shin says. “And they integrated this commitment into their college lives under the belief that an ideal college life was a means to solving society’s problems.”
 
“Inside the campus, college students sought the causes of and solutions to society’s problems through club activities and seminars,” Professor Shin continues. “Outside of the campus, they were attending night schools, working at factories, and helping out farmers as a part of reforming society.”
 
Meanwhile, the youth struggled to balance their desires to reform society and to achieve their own personal goals. “I did not know how I could possibly achieve more feats in my field of study while being involved in social movements for the public interest,” Professor Shin recalls.
 
In short, today’s college life is defined by competition for employment; the 80s by struggle for social freedom. “To appreciate why these differences arise, understand that social frameworks differ from time to time,” Professor Shin explains. “In the past, we were hungry for democracy and freedom; now we may be guaranteed of those, but not of work or social status.”
 

 

Living in the World of Competition
“I am not sure yet what I want to become,” says Son Chang Woo (’13, Russian Language and Literature) with a perplexed look on his face. Instead of dreaming about their future careers every day with ambition, this is what many people are actually experiencing in our society—for practical rather than idealistic reasons. Factors such as financial difficulties or a low employment rate are greatly limiting their choices in school life and studies.
 
Instead of searching for their talents and interests first, students are busy managing their grades and looking for extracurricular activities in order to create a nice-looking resume in the future.
 
“Students are living quite different lives from when we were university students. They seem to be more occupied with their studies and careers in uite a competitive atmosphere,” says Kim Chun Jae (52, Seoul).
 
Such a trend is not an exception when choosing majors or second majors at universities. In fact, according to the 20s Research Institute, one third of university students choose their second major for the purpose of better employment. As a result, business management, which is the most acknowledged major in the job market, is the most popular choice for a second major, making up to 24.2 percent of the total.
 
Moreover, according to the survey done in February by The Granite Tower (GT) of students f KU, 22 students out of 50 confessed that the reason for them managing their grades is because they could be used as one of the “specs” for their career. Surprisingly, none of the students replied that it was for self-accomplishment. In contrast to the images of freedom or passion that were expected to be seen in the age of youth, people are now under the heavy responsibility of reality in their young ages.
 
   

▲ 1 Youth express their concern for political issuesthrough daejabos. Provided by mt.co.kr

2 Political interest has been growing due to theincreasing use of social media. Photographed bySong You Jin

 

From Political Apathy to Active Participation
Last but not least, one of the most peculiar aspects that differentiates the current generation from the previous ones is the general attitude toward political issues and activities. While the young generation of previous eras played a central role in achieving political progress by active and ardent participation, the current youngsters are mostly characterized by “political indifference.”
 
In a report issued in 2010, the Korea Social Research Center (KSRC) considered “de-politicization” and “political conservatization” as two core traits when describing the political awareness of the majority of those in their 20s. Also, according to a survey carried out by the 20s Research Institute, the words “individual” and “indifferent” ranked third and fourth highest among words that best describe people of today in their 20s. The survey was targeted toward random picks of Korean citizens who fall under the age range from the thirties to fifties.
 
Young adults today, including college students and the newly recruited, are almost entirely preoccupied with their own circumstances in order to guarantee their survival against the harsh competition in the world of employment. It is a deeply sorrowful picture with individuals trapped in their own circles, especially when compared with the once-passionate and ardent portrait of college students back in those gloomier days. Students back in that period of the oppressive leaders, closer to dictators, were the leading force for realizing the democratic society that the current younger generation enjoys.
 

 

How Are You All Doing?
But recently, there has been a sign of slight change in this widespread phenomenon of political apathy that seemed so chronic. Through a simple yet howling question—“How are you all doing?”—it became quite evident that youngsters of today are also eager to express their political convictions about both social and personal matters.
 
Surprisingly, it all began with a single wall poster that was displayed by a KU student. Following this initial poster, more than a hundred hand-written posters have been put on the wall at the back gate encircling the building of the Political Science and Economics department. In fact, for KU students, it might not be at all difficult to find the names of some or their acquaintances.
 
On December 13, a poster, or daejabo in Korean, written by Ju Hyeon Woo (’08, Business) was put on a wall at the back gate. The letter started with criticism about several political issues, including the privatization of KORAIL, a national railroad system run by government, the case of Milyang transmission power, the suspected conspiracy of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) related to the presidential election in 2012, and lastly the political indifference among college students.
 
An interesting fact that differentiates this particular movement from other protests of the past is that its successful expansion largely owes to the spread of social media, mostly Facebook and Twitter. The Facebook page with the same title gathered more than 20 thousand “likes” on December 14 within the very first day of the account opening.
 
The wall poster movement can be depicted as a significant political event. In fact, expressing one’s political opinion became more of a natural thing through social media, posting brief comments on Facebook and Twitter. In this sense, the current movement can be translated as a positive turning point to awaken the “sleeping beauty.” Now it may be our duty to nourish the possibility that has just sprouted for further political advancement.
 

 

The Essentials of Enriching Your 20s
Our 20s make up only one-eighth of our entire life, but they are seen as an important period that determines what we do for the rest of our lives. Nonetheless, they should not be spent only on studying and preparing for future careers. Heed the following advice to enrich your 20s:
 
   

▲ Romantic relationships can be healthful to today’s youth. Provided by mochimag.com

Travelling is a must-do for someone in his 20s. Provided by tourismarabic.com

 

1. Bring Some Romance into Your Life
Being involved in a romantic relationship is healthy, especially for those in their 20s—its spiritual values are immense.
 
“I see and talk to my girlfriend very often, so we are very intimate,” says Kang Duk Sang (’13, Russian Language and Literature). “I feel that my girlfriend always understands and supports me.” Just as it did for Kang, dating will bring warmth and happiness into your life, the kind you can only seek from your partner. You get to meet and interact with someone regularly, and so you come to know more about that person. Your partner will become a great source of companionship and support, someone you can trust and turn to in times of hardship.
 
Of course, relationships for those in their 20s are hard to keep for good. Heartbreaks are inevitable and the emotional investment required may simply be too overwhelming. Yet, as Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” After each relationship, you learn how to overcome emotional hardship; you pick up what kind of interaction is necessary for improving relationships; you find out what kind of person you should be falling (or not falling) for. Taking these steps will help you define who you are, and possibly help you find your marital partner in the future.
 

 

2. Find a Hobby as a Getaway from the Ordinary
Most people in their 20s do not have an activity, or hobby, that they are seriously committed to. They may be watching TV or surfing the Net to kill their leisure time, but they are constrained by the busyness of their lives from finding an interest in the first place, let alone pursuing one.
 
Still, hobbies are a necessary part for your 20s life. If you do not have one, it is advised that you explore and find one as soon as possible! Spending time doing something you have passion for will enhance the quality of your life.
 
Kim Ju Young (’11, Business) knows from experience how beneficial hobbies can be. Two years ago, she baked cookies for her friends on Valentine’s Day for the first time, and has been baking as a hobby ever since. “I forget about all my worries as I mix and whisk and stir,” Kim says. “Baking insulates me from my burden and puts me in sanctuary.”
 
Think of hobbies as an escape from your ordinary life, a getaway from all the stress from school and work. They are essentially something you can look forward to after a hard, stressful day. More importantly, hobbies serve as a means to discover your talents and explore yourself. It is crucial that you find out more about yourself in your 20s, because that probably is the last time you will be allowed to do that.
 

 

3. Travel to the Obscure and Unknown
Kim Jihyun (’13, Public Administration) traveled to Turkey all by herself after finishing her first year at KU. “I had to plan every single part of my trip on my own, from deciding which places to go, to booking the flights and hotels,” she says. “It was no easy job, but the rewards were so huge.”
 
One of the rewards she was thankful for was her personal growth. She learned to take care of herself for ten days in a foreign country where neither English nor Korean was a primary means of communication. She encountered a few hardships—for instance, she once stumbled upon demonstrators who were protesting against the country’s corruption and inhaled tear gas—but the difficulties she experienced compelled her to take risks and improvise where necessary.
 
Granted, traveling is not easy. It takes time and money. But traveling is a must-do in your 20s.
 
Go out there, and explore the world—wherever the road leads you. Take the time to see and experience new things that you otherwise would not have in your little city or town. It will broaden your horizon and help you see the world in a different light.
 
Tuck your fears away, and book a ticket to the other side of the world for your next vacation. Adventure into the obscure and unknown.
 
   
▲ Son Bomi shares how volunteer activities turned her life upside down. Photographed by Song You Jin

 

4. Get Involved in Volunteer Activities
Volunteer activities may seem like a cliché suggestion to everyone. Although the intention for volunteer activities is obviously worth being praised, it recently has tended to be accepted as a means for filling people’s resumes. “I wonder how many people participate with their purest heart. Moreover, when it comes to a volunteer trip, especially one which is held abroad, we cannot ignore the expensive costs for participation. Thus, opportunities are not being equally provided to students who cannot afford them,” says Kwon Myeon Chul (’13, Chinese Language and Literature), expressing his thoughts about volunteer activities.
 
However, taking a look at the book The Most Selfish Volunteer Trip in the World by Son Bomisuggests to us the genuine value of it, which canbe taught only through first-hand experience. As amentor who has been to six different countries forvolunteer activities and 25 different countries fortraveling over a period of five years, she conveysan important message for the young.
 
It was after two years of attending university that the author first went on a volunteer activity trip. Like any other student, she felt that there were so many things that she wanted to do while her time was limited. From time to time, she wondered if she was truly enjoying her university life. Then, she decided to take time off from school and applied for “Workcamp,” where she could travel, learn languages, and participate in volunteer activities at the same time.
 
As the title of her book also suggests, she explains that her participation in volunteer activities was “selfish,” for she had gained so many things through her experience. Not only did she meet so many friends from all over the world, but she also went through memorable experiences that led her to further maturity and growth. “I still remember when I met my friend again a few years after we first met on a volunteer trip. We talked about our dreams and she even supported me financially to join in a volunteer trip to Africa that I had always dreamed of,” she recalls with a smile on her face.
 
It was also meaningful in that it gave her a chance to discover her true talents and interests.
 
After endless interaction with different people and contemplation of her future dreams, she came to a thought that her original dream of becoming a doctor was not directly related to what she truly enjoyed or liked. As a matter of fact, Son was strong at communicating with different kinds of people and coming up with creative ideas to develop things in a better way. As a result, she came to the conclusion that it was in marketing that she could make best use of her strengths and decided to major in business management. She once worked for marketing in Johnson and Johnson and is currently the representative of Project AA.
 
“Less dreaming, more doing,” answers Son to the question asking for a message for the young. “I recognize that there are quite a lot of students who have grandiose plans for the future while having no specific plans to actually put them into action. Dreaming is what anybody can do. What is truly important is to experience it yourself.” Perhaps, through volunteer activities, you would see the world that you had never known before and find your dreams that you can enjoy realizing.
 
   
▲ Seo Deuk Hyun conveys the importance of reading classics. Photographed by Chang Hae Sun

 

5. Read Classics
When suggesting a powerful way to make the most of your precious yet irreversible time as youth, one of the most indisputable solutions is to read great classics. Yes, the answer is quite predictable, and even conventional. For some readers, it might even sound like a complete cliché with no new, fresh perspectives. However, as it often is in other areas, the most time-honored methods prove themselves to be the most effective strategies.
 
Seo Deuk Hyun, the director of the iON Liberal Arts Research Institute, emphasized the importance of liberal arts in reaching the state of true happiness when asked about a productive way to spend the time of youth to the fullest. With subjects similar to those of the lectures that he has devised, he picked “education, economy, and love” as the three key columns that we need to step forward into the world of liberal arts.
 
“A sense of self-regard, the ability to question and think critically, seem absent in the current system of Korean education,” Seo said with a tone of criticism. Then he went on, saying that “liberal arts can be a simple yet ultimate answer to both discovering and recovering what is vacant in the current educational system.” While liberal arts might sound quite dry and boring, in fact, it can and will be more educational, informative and entertaining, all at the same time, than you expected. This largely has to do with the fact that liberal arts, in other words, the humanities, is literally a field of study about the human itself. Besides, tracing it back to its historical origin, we find that it is the very first branch of academics, predating philosophy, geometry, and even astronomy.
 
Flexible, creative minds filled with curiosity and question marks can bloom as one thinks and ponders freely along the path of good old liberal arts. As for the two great classics Seo recommended as musts for any beginner, The Analects of Confucius and The Republic are basically composed of dialects between the teacher and his pupils. Seo added that “Conversation was the most widely upheld method of education in ancient times, regardless of whether talking about the West or the East. The blank spaces that lie between the lines of conversation will enrich and nourish the creativity and curiosity of the readers.”
 
Besides, there is another similarity that the two great books share. They are both books of philosophical thinking. As for why he so strongly recommended the two, Seo said, “While reading a biography is like tracing the life history of a great man, reading a work of philosophy is like logging into the minds of the greatest thinkers across all eras and nations.” This notion also runs parallel with what Lee Ji Sung, the author of Leading By Reading, asserted repetitively, “Reading the classics of liberal arts is like having a casual lunch or taking a private lecture with Nobel Prize winners.”
 
Liberal arts will help you establish your own criteria in terms of leading a fulfilling life as you get to know better of who you are, what makes you satisfied or dissatisfied, or when you are full of energy. By touching on the deep roots of the thoughts and feelings of humankind, the readers of great liberal arts books considered as classics will gradually build the muscles of insight.
 
“It will be more easily understood by taking the acquisition of the skill of coffee brewing as an example." Then Seo goes on to explain that if one really wants to know how to make a delightful, savory coffee, then the action he or she has to take is to go on a trip to a coffee plantation rather than taking a barista course. There, the person will be able to learn more about the history of coffee by experiencing coffee from its birth or origin, to full-blown brownish beans through seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting them.
 
As youth, it is unavoidable for us to bump into what may look like a thick wall throughout the stages of our lives. However, Steve Jobs famously left a saying at the graduation ceremony of Stanford University which goes, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future,” and things will become clearer and more understandable when looking back.
 
Yet, the good thing about accessing great works of humanity is that they provide you with the lenses for looking back: history, life, and origin. The ability to connect the dots will be gradually strengthened as you continuously water the seeds f potential. It will further develop your ability to weave dispersed fractions of facts and knowledge into an enormous yet beautiful tapestry.
 
All in all, after exploring the past, present, and future of the youth of Korea, the reporters came to a conclusion that the most important criterion for a fulfilling life seems to be leading an unregretful life. However, the specific, actual contents of that life will vary from person to person as each and every individual is born with his or her own unique soul. Thus, the final recommendation from us, the three GT reporters who are just another member of the young generation going through the period of youth, is for you to embark on the journey of “finding happiness.” Best regards and wishes for all of you. 
 
   
▲ Make the best out of your youth. Provided by biu.ac.il
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