Hell Joseon: Is Korea hell on earth?
Several media outlets recently carried stories about “Hell Joseon,” a newly coined term referring to how tough life in Korea is. A survey reportedly showed that eight out of 10 Koreans wish to emigrate. A young schoolgirl in a video interview trending on Facebook proclaimed that she would rather live in “any country beside Korea.” “Jinjja [really]?”
But let’s excuse her knowledge of global affairs. You see, many people around the world continue to have more appetite than food or overwhelmed by sleep but no place to lay their heads on. If you asked me, there is a lot of struggling out there.
But let’s be fair. Korean young people’s concerns about rigid systems and related social pressures are genuine, yet not hellish - in my opinion. I have read about Korea in the 1950s and ’60s. I also have heard from people who ate one meal in three days after the 1950-53 Korean War.
Globally - and this is unfortunate - conflicts, poverty, corruption and lack of economic opportunities continue to drive millions of people to devastation. Yes, young Koreans deserve to be listened to, nurtured and empowered to respond to the actualities of the so-called Hell Joseon open-mindedly.
From an educator’s point of view, having studied in Korea and now teaching here, I can easily echo what is already in the public domain: Korea’s education is riskily competitive. As I argued in this newspaper before, a worldview which outlines education’s purpose as making money and living happily thereafter is not only misplaced but also fallacious. Such a view is tantamount to commodifying education instead of training learners to respond to the needs of the society in which they live.
In my opinion, Korea needs to have a conversation with herself. As I see it, such a conversation is a responsibility of all the stakeholders - parents, students, teachers, the private sector and the government.
On campus, I always relish the conversation in our Mentoring Program, a platform where a few students meet with a professor for guidance, questions, discussions and yes, to talk about real-life struggles. With my students, we talk, we laugh, we shout, we eat and sometime go silent reflecting on what the society has made education to be, and our role in it. If our education does not inspire us into a reflective conversation about our bliss and struggles in society, I wonder what will.
by Dr. Benson Kamary Assistant professor at Tongmyong University and chairman of Kenya Community in Korea He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.