In the second installment of my interview series examining the high-pressure nature of modern Korean society, I talk with Kwon Ji-Hoon, a 25 year old university student who shares his views on the causes of stress in his culture. As a student, Ji-Hoon is in a unique position to comment on the pressures Korea’s youth face as they prepare to enter a highly competitive job market.Note: None of these people speak English as a first language. They are of varying English proficiency levels from beginner to very advanced and in some cases translation was needed. To improve readability and cohesiveness, some gramatical edits have been made where necessary. In no way has meaning or context been altered.
Kwon Ji-Hoon, 25 – Student
Where Does Pressure in Korea come from?
When I was a high school student I had a lot of pressure because if my friends or kids in my neighbourhood went to study math or science, my mother also felt like she also had to send me to an academy. So it is a bad circle. A lot of children go to academies to study, and it makes them competitive with each other. Students especially have a lot of pressure.
Many parents want their children to go to a good university, but as you know the universities choose a limited number of people. So that’s why we compete with each other, my friends and I.
I think students feel pressure from their parents because their parents expect them to always do better. I also had a lot of pressure from my parents. When I took an exam and got a bad score, but I had tried to study hard, my parents didn’t care about that. Just the score. So I got depressed. Some parents pay a lot of attention to their children. If the parents expect more than their children’s skill allows, maybe they will have a lot of pressure.
I think in our country there is a lot of pressure because it is small, but the population is so much compared to other countries. But the jobs or university places are limited. So our country has a lot of angry ill (aggression disorders) because of the stress. 30 or 40 percent of people have this anger.
Is there a solution?
I think that it is impossible for the pressure to stop. If the education system totally changes, maybe the stress can be reduced; but I think it’s impossible. To totally change the education system is too difficult. So in my country it is like a bad cycle. It is impossible.
I’m a university student. I have pressure to get a good job. I think maybe all university students are worried about getting a job. 10 years ago when we went to university, people would get together for drinking or activities, but nowadays many people just study. As I get older, I have to be responsible for myself.
When will the pressure stop?
The only time I felt no pressure is when I was young, like in Kindergarten. Also…no, just kindergarten. The pressure started in elementary school. But nowadays the kindergartens also have pressure.
Sometimes I don’t feel the pressure. I try to do my hobbies, like travel or exercise with my friends or relax. But just during this time [I don’t feel pressure]. After that I am getting the pressure back.