Student councils shift from activism to service

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Student councils shift from activism to service

During the politically charged 80s and 90s, student councils at Korean colleges were primarily known for their participation in democratization and social reform movements.

These days, however, with students suffering from the pains of high rent and unemployment, student councils have shifted their missions and now provide practical services such as help with housing and meals. One student council even arranges educational internships.

A medical school student at Seoul National University surnamed Kim said he was surprised when he heard that one of the school’s student councils offers a medical training program at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, a Boston-based hospital that ranks in the top five for cancer treatment in the United States.

“I was really surprised that our student council signed this tremendous agreement with the hospital,” Kim said. “I was once only able to access the hospital’s research through books and the Internet, but now there is a chance I could study there.”

Sohn Bong-yeon, president of the SNU student council overseeing the program, told the JoongAng Ilbo that it got the agreement signed by providing the hospital with promotional materials highlighting SNU students’ talents and academic credentials.

Sohn said that the first six-week training program will begin in January and that the final three to five participants will be selected soon.

In addition to supporting students’ academic pursuits, student councils now also provide welfare services. A student council at Yonsei University called Yes We Can offers a free real estate consulting service that provides information on rental housing near the school.

Another student council at SNU called Slug Union helps students move once they find housing. The council said it provides free packing boxes and then sends council members to help with the move. This saves the student from having to hire a mover, which can cost more than 100,000 won ($86) including transportation and boxes.

Meanwhile, the student council at Handong University wanted to help its students pay less for meals at local restaurants, so it opened a social commerce business called H Social Commerce at their council office in September. The council buys coupons in bulk from local restaurants near the school, which enables them to pay a lower price, and then sells them to students.

“We purchased 100 coupons from a local pizzeria and sold more than 70 of them in just one week,” a member of the Handong council said. “We will try to provide more welfare services with the profits we’ve earned.”

Among the other interesting services provided is one at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in central Seoul, whose student council recently purchased 100 military uniforms and is renting them out to student army reservists for free. Another student council at Yonsei University offers a baking class.

By Lee Han-gil, Jeong Won-yeob []
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