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Comma for Life, a Journey to Find Myself
Kim Lim Minji  |  smt_kmj@sm.ac.kr
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승인 2016.09.04  14:01:09
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Have you heard the song ‘Journey to Myself’ by Buzz? The lyrics discuss a journey to find and love oneself.  People have fallen in love with the song since its release because it is cheerful and light, in direct contract to these days more common love songs.  The song led this reporter down a path of self-discovery and love. Everyone at one time or another has imagined turning back the clock or ending the daily routine of a hard life.  In fact, many students are now doing just that by taking a leave of absence from school to do activities outside of schooling like learning a foreign language and getting ready for employment.  They dream of setting out on a journey alone to find meaning to their life.  This dream is now being expressed by ‘Gap-year’.
 

  PHOTO BY KMJ  
PHOTO BY KMJ

Rest for Yourself Who Live Hard

Just to enter university, Korean students study 12 years from elementary to high school.  It is believed that this is the means of opening the doors of every opportunity in one’s life.  It is common belief that all students after graduating high school will go to university.  However, nowdays the number of young people taking a year off before entering or during their years at university has increased.  They claim to need the time to figure out what is best for them.  They are being referred to as the ‘Gap-year Generation (Gap year jok)’.  ‘Gap Year’ refers to taking a year off before entering post-secondary education.  Originally, it was used to depict high school students who would take a year off after graduating to do some personal undertakings like volunteer work or or travel.  This trend first started in Britain, but it quickly spread to the United States of America and Canada as a temporary escape from school.  In Korea, Gap-year differs slightly from the intent used in other nations.  It is a year of introspection that involves volunteer work or travel.  Not only are students doing it after high school, but people are ceasing their university studies or jobs to do it.
At first, Gap-year did not attract much attention in Korea, but after several well-known personalities like Malia Obama and Emma Watson admitted to taking time off, Koreans started to show interest in it.  Because of tough society living and the increasing number of entertainers who admit to having taken time off before fully pursuing their career, many people have become aware of the benefits and are taking a Gap-year.  According to Korea Gap Year, an educational consulting company, the number of people who participated in the Gap-year program offered by this company was 991 in 2013, 1987 in 2014, and 2559 last year, which represents a 158 percent increase in just 2 years.  Among the participants, 33.7% are university students and 15.2% are job seekers.  It is believed that the number of people taking a Gap-year is approximately ten thousand a year.1)  Young people, who have lived with competition their entire lives are full of doubt, question the meaning of life and working, and are easily swayed into being Gap-year persons.
 

   
PHOTO BY KMJ

Difficultes of Having Rest

However, some people believe that the chance to enjoy a Gap-year is not available to everyone.  They claim it is only enjoyed by financially stable families.  For instance in the U.S.A, a nation where Gap-year is firmly established, students go overseas to volunteer or travel. However, 71% of these students are financially supported by their parents.2) In other words, taking a year off to engage in these types of activities would not be possible without the help of one’s parents.  In Korea, it is common for young people to continue living with their parents until they get a job because they are unable to financially support themselves.  According to a report by University Education Lab, in 2015, the educational costs including tuition is approximately 15 million to 23 million won, and the total cost of a 4-year education is 81.5 million won.3)  Taking into account this fact, it would be impossible for them to afford to take a leave of absence for several months.  Realistically, taking a Gap-year is an extravagance.
Anxiety about taking a route untraveled is another reason people hesitate to take a Gap-Year.  People in their twenties in Korea are restless and anxious due to the pressure to get a job, and a great number of them suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders, which affects both the body and the mind.4)  Thus, if one is given the opportunity to have a Gap-year, the person is more than likely to use it as an opportunity to come closer to attaining employment.  Park Hyunjin, Department of French Language and Culture ’16, said “I would love to travel leisurely, but to enter university I had to study an extra year, so I’m already a year behind others.  I’m afraid, I’ll get lost in the crowd.”  Korean society is full of competition and it doesn’t permit relaxation periods for its youth.  To ease those kinds worries about taking a Gap-year, good support and policies are necessary.  Many foreign universities such as Harvard University recommend students take a year off to enjoy life before getting down to the challenge of their chosen major.  Other universities in foreign like Princeton University and North Carolina University have developed and implemented independent programs that allow students to enjoy a year away from school doing various activities either in or out of country.  These support systems should be adopted in Korea.
 

   
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Finding Myself

If people were able to enjoy a Gap-year without pressure or concern, they would be able to reflect back on their lives up to that moment and gain valuable experience. According to Daehaknaeil, Jo Yejin, who has travelled extensively, “Traveling all around the world, the phrase I most frequently use is “I am so happy.”  My dream of travelling around the world has come true.  So far, the most impressive place I’ve been to is Ganges River in Varanasi, India. I now think about death as natural after having been there.  I used to be scared of it."5)  Personal time alone allows one to reflect on themselves and thinking deeply about what it is they want from life.
A Gap-year could also increase academic achievement.  While some may argue that academic achievement lowers after a year away, others claim based on findings in other conturies, that the Gap-year has a positive effect on one’s grades and learning.  According to the Ministry of Education of New Zealand, the academic achievement of students who completed a Gap-year is over 15% higher than students who remain at school and study straight through their four years.  Also, according to the American Gap Association, most students participating in a Gap-year program claim, “The Gap-year was a great way to figure out their course in life and had direct influence on their future careers."6)  The Gap-year provides students with the time to reflect on their lives as well as relax, so when they return to school, stress-free, they are able to attain higher grades and make better choices for their futures.  Besides, the social experiences had during the Gap-year, students develop budgeting skills and global society awareness.
 

   
PHOTO BY KMJ


Journey to Myself

It is never easy to carry out one’s choices in life because each choice has plenty of ripple effects. Like the phase spoken by Jean Paul Sartre ‘Life is the C between B and D’, we make choices in life from birth to death, and the choice to opt for a Gap-year is never wrong.  However, if you decide to take a Gap-year, do not use it as a means of earning money or for powdering up your resume.  This is not the essence of a Gap-year.  The choice to stop school or work will not be easy, but if you sincerely believe you need a journey alone to find yourself or your true calling in life, trust yourself and go for it.




1) Ma Jihye, “”I am sick of competition”...Youth opting for Leaves of Absence”, Hankyung, June 6, 2016
2) Jo Jihyun, “’Gap Year’ by the President’s Daughter, Born with a silver spoon in her mouth”, KBS, May 5, 2016
3) Park Minho, “the umemployment rate decline because of depression, salary desired also decline”, News Tomato, April 13, 2016
4) Bae Mincheol, “People in their twenties worry about future, many suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders”, KorMedi, February 6, 2016
5) Kim Hyewon, “Weary people don’t need a short leave of absence; they need a Gap-year”, Daehaknaeil, June 3rd, 2016
6) Oh Seungju, “The Year that changed my life. Was it excessive?”, News1, April 21th, 2016

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