Ever wondered what a year of a Korean university student would be like? For many Korean students, going to university means saying goodbye to the dull uniforms, taking off the minor badge, and being free from regulations! Of course, as the years pass Korean students have to jump into the fierce competition for jobs, but before that, being a freshman can never be more exciting! So let’s put off worries for a while and take a look at the fun side of what happens when you go to a Korean university. Here is an imaginary student A’s freshman year. For your information, March is the beginning of the first semester and the school year in Korea.
March is the year’s merry-go-round of meeting new friends, sunbaes (선배/upperclassmen), and professors. Although the atmosphere is different in each major and university, sunbaes taking care of hubaes (후배/underclassmen) is a long known tradition in Korea. It’s a first year students’ privilege to ask their sunbaes to treat them for meals and also a great chance to enlarge their friend circles, not to mention college survival tips!
March is also a month of flirtation. Sogaeting (소개팅/blind date) and meeting (미팅/described roughly as group blind dates between at least two men and two women) flourish. Head over here to find out more about all these dating terms. One thing to note though, meetings are mostly casual, so the atmosphere is really light and fun even though some girls and boys sweep each other off their feet and evolve into a romantic relationship.
Most of April will pass preparing and taking mid-terms. The highlight of April is the end of the exam week – going to an MT! Sounds boring? Although MT stands for membership training, it is actually a short group travel, where you basically drink the night away.
MT is an important event for sunbaes and hubaes to bond with each other and has been a major part of a Korean university culture. If you see a group of ten to a hundred people moving altogether with the same gwajam (a matching basketball jacket for each class with different colors and design for different majors), you can automatically tell that they are going to an MT. All or in a smaller group, students shop together at a nearby mart for food and drinks and they head to a pension.
After enjoying an afternoon of group activities, it’s time for the mighty Korean barbeque. When people have their bellies filled, they gather around in a large room for more group games or talent shows and the night ends with drinking games. Tip: try to stay awake as late as possible if you don’t want to wake up finding your face doodled by your peers!
May is the perfect time for festivals. After rigorous studying for midterms, it’s time to relax and appreciate the good weather. The dates for the spring festivals vary by university, so the whole month is basically packed with festivals popping from different universities. These festivals normally have famous Kpop stars performing, so some festival hunters fill their schedules hopping around university festivals. How awesome is it to see celebrities without having to buy tickets?
To fully enjoy the campus festivals, students are required to master their own school’s cheers and decorate themselves with their school color. The two biggest college festivals are Yonsei University’s AKARAKA and Korea University’s IPSILENTI. Known as Korea’s infamous rival universities, the two hold games at which students from both universities gather around to cheer for their school team. You can see an ocean of blue (Yonsei) and a group of red (Korea) on these days. Students from other schools are also welcome to buy tickets to join any group for feverish shouting.
Other than contests there are quiz shows, goods and foodies, and carnival stands; my favorite was throwing water balloons at my classmates. The most essential are jujeoms (주점, temporary bar/pubs operated by university peers) which are on-campus pojangmacha (포장마차/pop-up drinking spots). Yes, during the festival season, you can drink on campus! Every year, departments bounce around menus and marketing tactics to lure customers into their jujeoms, which is also the place where students from different departments or schools meet to have drinks together, and you can guess why.
Describing Korean university festivals is so hard to describe in short number of words because there is so much going on. You can see student bands and singers playing at different spots on campus, people with funny costumes roaming about, artists and science geeks exhibiting, and more. The best part of the festival is that everyone participates and everyone is having a good time.
When June comes it’s time to get back into a studying mode for final exams. Summer break starts at the end of June. First year students would do an alba (알바/part-time job), go on a vacation, go to hakwons (학원/private academy) for individual studying, participate in various extra-curricular activities hosted by big Korean conglomerates. Time flies fast for any university student. In a blink of eye comes the fall semester, and pretty much everything is on repeat, in a more or less low and toned down scale.
Hope you enjoyed your imaginary Korean university life!