Young Adult Life as a South Korean

We had two newly graduated Korean students speak to us on Wednesday about what their daily lives are like.

A Man’s Perspective:

After graduating high school, most students go to college. A man goes to college for 2 years before entering his compulsory 2 year military service, then comes back out to finish school. Women may also do military service, but it is optional. Post-graduate, men have four choices: 1) They can enter the workforce and get a job, 2) They can sit for a public service office exam, which includes any level of government jobs, 3) They can work abroad or work on emigrating, or 4) They can attend grad school to work towards a Master’s then PhD. The job placement rate for full-time positions is really low in Korea (~15%), so there is growing interest in public service jobs but the exam is super hard to pass. Additionally, government jobs, like in the US, offer better retirement packages, job security, and shorter work hours. If people choose to emigrate to find work, most likely they will have to have a PhD first and most go to Scandinavian countries.

We watched “Northern Limit Line“, a new movie based on a true story about the North Korean navy attacking South Korea in 2002, on Thursday. First off, their movie theaters are so much nicer than in the US. Anyways, while the movie was in Korean without subtitles, it wasn’t hard to follow the plot and grasp the emotion behind it. Literally every girl was bawling at the end. If you can find the movie on the internet somewhere with subtitles, I HIGHLY recommend watching it. NLL gives you a realistic idea of what it is like for young men to serve in the military, with the story following one who died serving his 2 year compulsory service. All of the Korean men in my class have already served their military service and said that the movie was pretty accurate to real life. While it is mandatory, they all grew up knowing that they would have to serve so it wasn’t as daunting as you would think. Regardless, it was still scary for them to leave their family and friends behind for 2 years with no communication. To them, serving in the military brings a sense of honor to their country, just like in the US. A news article read 8/10 Korean men would rejoin the military if a war broke out between North and South Korea.

A Woman’s Perspective:

In today’s job market, all young Koreans are giving up their social lives and relationships to find a job. A good resumé includes high scores in one foreign language proficiency test (usually the TOEIC for English), Korean history exam, computer skills, work experience, volunteer hours, and personal awards and accomplishments. When you are a senior, colleges do one on one job counseling with you, which includes CV review and interviewing skills. But most surprising is that it also includes a physical assessment. Most commonly, men and women are encouraged to bleach their skin to look whiter, lose weight to meet height and weight requirements for jobs, get plastic surgery, or change their hair or facial appearance. It’s not mandatory to do these things, but it is common for young adults to take this advice. The woman who spoke said they told her to reshape her eyebrows, which she did, and get plastic surgery to make her nose pointier, which she did not. Her friend was told to lose a substantial amount of weight, which she starved herself to achieve. Another few hours is dedicated to studying for the personality and aptitude test that all jobs require. This test is like a logic test and problems must be solved within a few seconds; she showed us some questions and I would have surely failed. Then you have to squeeze in some more time to exercise to be stick thin, like employers want. She gave a clock of how many hours a day she spend on each area, and I think she left herself zero downtime and maybe five hours of sleep.

On average, college students apply for 20-30 jobs per semester. They form career study groups to share company information they find to prepare everyone for interviews. It’s hard enough to do your research on the few jobs you apply to now, let alone 20-30 per semester and continuing if you can’t secure a job.

Being a woman, sexual harassment in the workplace is common practice. She detailed her first internship for a small company as a sophomore and how her coworkers would make sexist jokes to her, and her boss would make her serve them tea at every company outing because “it was the woman’s job”. After a year, she quit and started working for a cosmetics company thinking it would be all female. Except this job required her to work from 9am-11pm every day plus being on call for the weekends. With the lower pay, longer hours, and money spent taking taxis home late at night, she quit that job too. Now she is working for the university, which follows sexual harassment laws more strictly, but cannot offer her a full time position. In regards to sexual harassment, she said that all jobs practice this except if you work for a major corporation – usually an international company. Only, like in the US, those higher jobs are hard to come by fresh out of college. Her friends have worked in places where men physically harass them, and you either endure it for the work experience or quit and be jobless for a long time. There are government laws against harassment, but they are not enforced. So a lot of women emigrate as well. But emigration is neither easy legally or emotionally. Most adults have to leave their families behind in order to find work elsewhere. Also, many students prolong graduation because jobs can discriminate based on age. They prefer “students” because they are young; once you graduate college, you are considered old no matter what age you actually are. Crazy right??


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