[CAMPUS COMMENTARY] Choose your passions, not just a paycheckA university student in Korea can easily get sidetracked professionally. Social expectations and the competitive nature of the Korean job market create a high-intensity, high-stress environment, in which students feel constantly pressured to be more successful, better paid and more well-known.
This, in itself, is not a problem. The problem is that many students end up choosing the path to social prestige and financial comfort over pursuing their true passions. They get sidetracked from their original goals and submit to the system. With this decision, they are guaranteed a hefty paycheck and envious looks from strangers at cocktail parties. What they’re not guaranteed is a lifetime of true happiness.
It’s December, which means college seniors all over Korea are giving out resumes like candy on Halloween. This also means that the application period for graduate school for the 2007 fall semester is underway, and the Korean bar exam is due in just two months. As a graduating senior myself, I am one of many people at an important crossroads in life. However, it saddens me that most of them seem to have hardly any passion at all for what they have been striving for.
The standards for choosing a college major and career have degenerated from a pure desire to work in one field to a matter of choosing a job that will pay better and look better on a business card. Too many aspiring lawyers have spent the past five years cooped up in the library studying for the bar exam (for which, by the way, the probability of passing has been compared to winning the lottery) simply because of the job security it will provide. Too many 20-somethings have gone off to American graduate schools because their family had the money and it “sounded good.” Some, even, have used their international status to get into the best medical schools in Korea without so much as taking an examination. After gushing profuse congratulations, what I received in return was a shrug and “Yeah, well... it was easy.” I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell hope that my doctor, who has the power to save or kill me, had a little more passion than that when he was accepted into medical school.
To a certain degree, this social phenomenon is inevitable. The basic rules of capitalism are at work here, and especially in a rapidly progressing country such as Korea, the competition in the job market is bound to get a little fierce. However, when university students, traditionally characterized by zeal and passion, are giving their entire lives to professions they couldn’t care less about, we must realize that the atmosphere has hit the “unhealthy” mark.
The student’s job then, as an aspiring young professional, is to not get swept away in this destructive cycle and devote precious time and energy on something worthwhile to them. After all, as Alfred Lord Tennyson once said, “The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.” What better time to start than now? What better moment to honestly and openly assess our likes and dislikes, our passions and hearts’ desires ― and turn them into the best possible lives ― not just in the eyes of others, but in our hearts as well.
*The writer is the editor of the SNU Quill, English news magazine at Seoul National University.
by Yoo Kyung-ha