[Campus commentary]Learning to drink moderatelyA college freshman died earlier this year at MT — short for “membership training,” an overnight outing and initiation rite for freshmen with other students in their departments — in Chuncheon. His friends told police that they drank together until 9 p.m. and went to sleep, but he didn’t wake up the next day. The police investigation found he had drunk over five full cups of soju. He had told his friends that he was not a good drinker. The problem is that similar accidents occur every MT season.
As an orientation for freshmen, the training is supposed to provide broad information about college life and build strong ties between freshmen and upperclassmen. In Korea, freshman orientation seems to have a different meaning.
The problem lies not in alcohol itself but the central place that alcohol takes in these events. Under the pretext of breaking the ice, bonding and sharing information about college life, many senior students force freshmen to drink.
This shameful practice is so commonplace that it is considered part of college culture here. In analyzing why it happens, it is easy to see the problem as deeply rooted in the general culture. University students drink hard, as do Korean adults. It is not wrong to say that drinking is a large part of most gatherings here.
“To live in Korea successfully, you should know how to drink,” goes the oft-mentioned justification.
According to Professor Kim Dae-jin of Seonga University Hospital, one-fourth of Koreans have difficulty metabolizing alcohol. More than 25 percent of the population don’t have the constitution to tolerate alcohol, yet Korea registers the second highest per capita alcohol consumption rate in the world.
Alcohol eats up 2.9 percent of Korea’s GDP, more than most developed countries such as Canada (1.09 percent), France (1.42 percent) and Scotland (1.19 percent).
According to the World Health Organization, on average a Korean over 19 years old consumes 14.4 liters of alcohol per year. That is among the world’s top figures for alcohol consumption (Slovenians consume 15.1 liters on average).
Bars and grogshops surround university campuses; students encounter alcohol everywhere they turn.
A serious problem with freshmen, especially, is that they drink without knowing their limit. Some drink a lot thinking it’s something to be proud of.
It is understandable that many Koreans, stressed out from the competition to get into a university, want to relieve stress by drinking.
But without knowing moderation and their own drinking capacity, it leads to tragic accidents like the MT deaths that happen each year.
To prevent this, attitudes about drinking must change. People should know their limits and find healthy ways of enjoying a drink.
*The writer is a reporter for the Sejong Times newspaper of Sejong University.
by Hong Jung-woo