College is more than studyingA question came to me one day. How do Koreans understand the meaning of going to university? I understand it as a step for higher education and a time to prepare for the real world. Of course, not everyone thinks so. When I was in high school, I expected that university life would be like the journey taken by Santiago, the shepherd boy from the book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, who goes off to travel the world and finds his dreams. I thought I would be able to follow my dreams when I went to college, just as the story tells us.
The book leads us to ask ourselves how many people in the world actually know what they really want. And even if they do know, how many people have the will and endurance to push toward that dream? Then the author makes us believe that if you really want something to happen, the dream will come true.
Like many other ordinary students here, my dream in high school was to enter a top college. As high school students, we desperately concentrated on passing the college entrance examination. For this examination, we stopped thinking about anything else in our lives. Entering college was our only goal.
Upon entering university life, however, students realize that their next dream is already laid out for them ― to look for a job. Our elders tell us that our college years are the only time when we can think about the meaning of life and find out our talent that we should pursue. Our college days are an important period, a passage between youth and adulthood. Only by going through this time thoughtfully can we expect to have rewarding adult lives.
These days, however, most university students can’t seem to manage going through this process. It seems both academia and society are trying to straightjacket us by pressing on us their dreams instead of allowing us to have our own.
It has not been long since Korean colleges introduced a faculty system, where all freshmen study liberal arts before being divided into specific majors. But the majors are allocated by grade point average, so the competition begins once a student enters college. Sometimes those who get good grades end up with a major that’s popular and competitive though it may not be what they want to study. Students who do not get good grades are likewise shunted into other majors.
To survive the grade competition, students compete to sign up for courses known to be relatively easy and take them in spite of their interests or aptitude.
If some are lucky and get the major they want, the competition is not over. They must study incessantly for yet more tests ― to get a job. We can’t expect these crammers, who cannot think about their own lives because they spend most of their time in the library, to know what they want to do in the future. Much less will they be able to develop good relationships with others.
Acquiring knowledge and skills is important, but that’s not the only purpose of higher education.
A well-rounded university education should foster the life skills required to become real adults who are responsible and self-confident leadership with the capacity for prudence.
*The writer is a reporter for The Argus, a newspaper at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
by Mun Hyeon-gyeong