Man of many talents represents Seoul National studentsCabbage salesman, construction worker, dancer, kick boxer, singer, club D.J. and hapkido instructor ― these are just a handful of about 50 different jobs done by Hwang Na-yol, 29, since he graduated from high school. On April 12, the man of many talents added the position of Seoul National University student council president to his vast and varied resume.
Mr. Hwang is no stranger to academic life; he studied industrial design at Handong Global University in 1996 then entered Korea University’s medical school in 1998, although he dropped out soon after. He served as a marine for his mandatory military duty, during which time he took the Scholastic Ability Test, before entering Seoul National University in 2000.
His major was decided by his father, who submitted Mr. Hwang’s application on his behalf while he was still in the marines. Mr. Hwang had said any major related to humanities was fine with him so his father, a pastor, chose the field of religious studies for him.
Mr. Hwang’s experiences are nothing if not eclectic. While a freshman, he helped an army friend sell cabbages in Daegu for three months. Later, as a member of the band NOL, he released two albums, in 2001 and 2002.
He had earlier been a background dancer for boy bands such as Deux and Noise while at Daewon Foreign Language High School.
In 2004, Mr. Hwang saw an advertisement in a subway station for kickboxing, or muaythai, and signed up because he “wanted to exercise.” He has always been very athletic and was a level three hapkido master when he was in high school.
In 2005, he obtained a license as a professional kickboxer.
Asked what most stuck in his mind out of all the jobs he had done, Mr. Hwang responded, “The hardest work was the most memorable, such as carrying loads of clothes in Dongdaemun Market.”
He said he had tried everything he wanted to do while in his 20s and enjoyed it but now, “I want to do something that has a social impact and being a student president is one way to accomplish that purpose.”
Mr. Hwang was elected president despite standing against more politically oriented opponents. He said this was because he advocated basic student rights, such as installing water purifiers and vending machines in school buildings and guaranteeing a quiet environment for studying.
“There is this Acro square in front of the library and most protests were held in the square. That was a violation of students’ right to have a quiet environment in which to study. A proposal to prohibit demonstrations in the square was the most successful among my campaign pledges,” Mr. Hwang said.
Mr. Hwang said he did not agree with the idea of labeling student leaders according to political beliefs. No matter whether students took to the street to protest against the government or not, he said, they were not much different from each other.
“They may have different ideologies, but they all tried to lead students in one way or another to a direction they set themselves. I wanted to hand over the power to students. I wanted to start with a blank page, which was going to be filled by the students,” Mr. Hwang said. He added that by listening to what students had to say he could give them the opportunity to participate in decision-making and reclaim their rights and power.
Mr. Hwang said students traditionally depended on protests to initiate change and no effort had been made before now to find alternative approaches. For instance, on issues like increased tuition fees, instead of simply asking students to demonstrate, he said the student body needed to explain to students in detail why the fees had increased and whether the increase was avoidable. After that, the decision to demonstrate or not should be in the hands of the students, not the student body, he said.
Though he might seem relatively old to be a student, Mr. Hwang said students these days are not as young as they used to be. “Students are dispirited these days. They do not have challenging spirits,” he said.
Besides being a student and the president, he is also an executive of an online game company he founded a couple of years ago.
As to his future beyond that, he said he does not set himself long-term goals because that makes life too stressful. Instead, he lives day by day, he said.
He has no regrets about his life thus far, however, and said he would do it all over again if given the chance.
“I gained confidence. I learned I was able to do anything if I tried.”
by Limb Jae-un