It’s not everyday you get to have breakfast with a South Korean sociologist. Over coffee, boiled eggs and watermelon we had the chance to talk to Professor Nho Myung woo from Ajou University south of Seoul, who generously helped to put our jumbled observation and speculation about South Korean society into perspective.
A drive for achievement has become synonymous with South Korea. It is what brought the country up from being battered by war to a global player. But Professor Nho explained that this drive was indeed having a detrimental effect on the psyche of the nation. What room was there for creativity, or even reflection, when so much pressure is put upon getting into the right school, the right university, the right company?
We asked Professor Nho if there was a growing emergence of ‘dissent’ to this competitive culture. Paraphrasing here: he said it was minimal, and even if parents-to-be claim they won’t put their child through such a system, they change their view once the child is born.
This approach, Professor Nho confirmed, is entrenched in Korean society, and is hard to budge: even though the economic miracle has occurred (actually not a miracle; simply a case of dogged determination), it is as if Koreans cannot stop.
And sometimes they stop in a tragic manner, with the country having the highest suicide rate in the OECD. The demographic most represented in this is the young, who suffer the ‘fierce stress’ of study and societal expectation. But the elderly also figure highly – Professor Nho explained how the nation’s wealth certainly didn’t spread far, and poverty among the elderly was acute. In this age group, females figured more prominently than males.
And what is the government’s perspective on suicide? Professor Nho explained that the Korean government sees it as a ‘personal matter’.
We thank Professor Nho for his valuable perspective. It was great to break bread with him, and delightful when he pointed out that he recently featured in a Big Issue Korea article.
Well that was the meat & potatoes part of the blog…NOW FOR THE WIZZ-FIZZ!
I don’t know how she swindled it, but Haejoo from KPF got us into a K-POP studio performance. We had to wait in line with other K-pop fanatics for about an hour. A selfie fest ensued…
But the wait was totally worth it to see up-and-comers Almeng sing their cracker song “Phone in Love“! We were explicitly told that no pics were to be taken. But, well, I took one.
For a better understanding, check out Almeng’s video: