Why Young Koreans Are Escaping Korea

Why Young Koreans Are Escaping Korea


Before moving to Korea, I loved the idea of living in Korea. As far as I was concerned, I was going to a land where food is delicious, people are beautiful, technology and products are amazing, and everything is cheap.  I can confirm that my thoughts were true. But as I looked around upon my arrival, fellow young Koreans aged 18 – 30 were packing their bags, filling out visa forms and dreaming of a one-way ticket.

Not all Koreans are going to this extreme, but more young people are planning on moving abroad. A lot of people agree that Korea is a fantastic country, but Korean youths who cannot seamlessly adjust to social expectations are migrating in the masses. For these people, Korea is Hell Joseon.

What are they so dissatisfied with?

Lack Of Individualism

Those who observe Korean society externally view it as a booming creative country. While the extravagant publicity by the entertainment industry creates such an illusion, in reality people are trained from a very young age to not stand out. Schools and employers do not encourage individualism (개인주의), in fact they criticise it. Don’t worry, it’s not as dystopian as it seems. In Korea, life is just easier if one fits the mold of society.

Small habits such as leisure, and life decisions such as when to get married and occupation, is largely influenced by society. Those who want to adopt an alternative lifestyle or unable to fit into hetero-normative expectations, will require a tough skin, withdrawal from mainstream society and live knowing their burden on loved ones.

Competitiveness And Stress

While it is normal to graduate higher education at the age of 21 and start living alone in England, in Korea some people finish education as late as 26 years old. They may continue to build spec, prepare for job exams, as well as build experience with unpaid internships after they graduate. Youth unemployment in Korea is now the highest in 15 years. Even if one is qualified, it is highly likely that they will get turned down from a job for the smallest flaw.

Smart and qualified individuals seek jobs abroad to escape the stress and competitiveness of Korean society. Many people have been disappointed by the job hunting and education system and want to live peacefully. While misconstrued idyllic dreams of the West are a different problem, they seek a better life for themselves and for their future children. As people’s ideas of lifestyle changes, many young people want their children to grow up playing in the grass, and don’t want them to undergo the gruelling system they have endured.

Working Conditions

It is expected of workers to work overtime (야근) sometimes without getting paid. It’s not a couple minutes, but sometimes hours of unpaid overtime, everyday which shaves away free time. I personally know a woman in her late twenties who worked for a famous electronics company. She worked from 7am in the morning to 1am dawn the next day. Sometimes she would be forced to work more or even sleep at her desk. She told me that on average she slept 4 hours a night during the busy seasons, and she didn’t see the sun for months which triggered depression. She quit after working there for two years, and the only reason why she didn’t quit sooner was because her work experience at that company increased her chances of moving to Australia.

Workers feel trapped by their requirements but dare not to speak out because they could lose their livelihood instantly. A lot of workers are dissatisfied with their low pay, poor working conditions, unethical requirements, and unstable job security, but ways to tackle these issues are limited. Work harassment and shady scandals have given young people a bitter taste of their future.

Comparison

For some, it may not be Korea ‘pushing’ them out, it may be other countries ‘pulling’ them in. In the past, Korea kept to itself and was so patriotic to the brink of being xenophobic. However, travel and the internet has made the world smaller and people started desiring other lifestyles. Korean modernisation has embraced westernisation, so transitioning from Korea to the US doesn’t seem like such a huge leap anymore. As young people learn more about other countries and open up to new possibilities of a new life; living abroad looks more appealing. After all, it’s natural to compare and want the things that others have.

 

If you ask students or working professionals taking extra language classes, why they are learning a second language, the most common response will be because they want to go abroad to travel or live. South Korea is not a bad country at all, there are many countries worse, but it makes perfect sense that hardworking people would want a better lifestyle. The ‘struggling-worker-who-sacrifices-everything-for-family-and-glory’ stereotype is wearing thin, and now people are realising that they are entitled to a better future.

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6 Comments

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  1. 1
    Francis

    I had a conversation with a friend in Korea not too long ago. I was telling her generalities about America and how the older generation seeks a stable and peaceful lifestyle while the younger generation is usually quite ambitious with grand visions of a bright future, that they can do anything, be anyone. I was shocked to hear my Korean friend tell me its almost the opposite here in Korea. That the young generation feel quite hopeless and rarely do any of them have grand ambitious goals. Just being able to find any type of employment would be a success. This made me sad.

    • 2
      Nicky Kim

      This is very true. It boggles my mind when I talk to fellow Koreans in their 20s and they just shrug away questions about goals and dreams. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bright, passionate and wonderful twenty-somethings here, but the overall impression I get from some is that they aren’t blissfully happy in their current situation, but have acknowledged and accepted it.
      (Then again…who is perfectly happy in their 20s nowadays?)

  2. 3
    norma

    I wish I can live in Korea and I wish I can speak the languish I know its just a dream, but I really want this to happen one day .

  3. 6
    Park

    Amazing post! The more I delve into the lifestyle of young Koreans, the more I understand their intense desire to travel or live someplace else. Personally, I’d love to study in Korea maybe because I feel like our education system here isn’t as rigorous. Also, I’d love to explore more of the beautiful country! Time to get my Hankukeo hat on and better my Korean! 🙂

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