From long ago, people have always pondered life. "What Men Live By", a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy in 1885, explored this idea without coming to any conclusion. Even now, in the twenty-first century, people are still asking to figure out the answer to ‘What is life?’, ‘What does it mean to live a 'happy life?’, ‘Am I headed to the right direction?’ Students at Sookmyung Women’s University, struggling with these questions, founded a special project with the sole purpose of resolving these questions. SMT reporter visited café LAZY ANT to discuss with Kang Juwon, Head of Ggum Talk (Dream Talk), a youth culture planning group to find out how it plans to confront the questions.
Before getting started, I’d like to thank you for granting The Sookmyung Times this interview. Would you first like to introduce yourself and the group to our readers?
Yes, thank you. My name is Kang Juwon, and I am the head of ‘Ggum Talk’. ‘Ggum Talk’ is a project group for young people. Its original name was 'Counseling Center with Low Threshold'. At that time, group members gathered at cafés to discuss life. Slowly the gathering grew and so did the talk. It started to resemble the talk show 'Ggum Talk Talk Show'. Over time, the name just evolved into 'Ggum Talk'. With growth in membership and growth in talk discussion, members felt the group needed its own space. In order to raise funds that could be used to rent a formal place to host the group, Ggum Talk started 'Ggum Talk Red Clip Project'. The project’s purpose was to barter; that is, to trade up. At first, even I doubted the group would see success. However, surprisingly, we managed to exchange a book for postcards and post cards for a set of tea cups. Our beginnings were humble, just a small book, but our results were huge. We managed to trade all the way to a café—café LAZY ANT.
What types of activities does Ggum Talk do?
First of all, Ggum Talk hosts ‘Ggum Talk Talk Show’. The show was first held in 2014, and 2017 will mark its 25th anniversary. On the show, young people—generally people from all walks of life, and typically not having any particular expertise in life studies—tell stories from their life to other. After listening to their shared worries, others on the show express empathy. Second, members of Ggum Talk found another subgroup called 'Action Support Group'. This group is relatively new. 43 members of Ggum Talk donated 5,000 won each to establish the project aimed at helping young people, who do not have the means to support their aspirations, achieve their dream. Members are not concerned about ‘how’ the money is used, only that it is used to work towards the person’s dream. Besides these two main activities, ‘Ggum Talk’ members participate in projects like hosting the Youth Independence Festival.
I am impressed by the group’s name, 'Ggum Talk'. How did you come up with the name?
Unfortunately, there is no overly touching secret story behind the name 'Ggum Talk'. To be honest, one of my friends suggested the name and I liked it, so the group adopted the name Ggum Talk. While it has good intentions, I worry that some people might misinterpret the meaning of 'Ggum Talk' as being too forceful. It could sound like we are forcing young people into a certain expected dream. Personally, I don’t feel it’s necessary to form a dream. Everyone has their own route to happiness, and the dream of success to one person will most likely be different from the dream of another. However, many people have already come to know us as Ggum Talk, so we are sticking with it. (Have you ever thought about renaming the group?) No, not really.... hahaha…. Perhaps we could have gone with something like 'Hang Talk (Happiness Talk)'?
You have heard from various 20-year-olds on the show. What do you see as common worries? Do you have any solutions?
Most often people would speak of worries about their future. They were not sure what to do. However, we are trying to convey the message that one’s dream does not equate to one’s career or job choice. People are too often deluded into thinking that happiness will be achieved if they follow a path that is stable and ordinary such as entering a ‘good’ university, getting hired by a large scale conglomerate, or earning a high salary. Too soon, they realize that path in life is not a happily travelled road. I recommend having various experiences. In my case, I took a variety of job ranging from working at a major company to being a short-term part-timer. Never did I think any of those were a waste of time. I valued those times as they made me recognize I was not cut out for that type of work. Some people firmly believe they know the right path in life, so they don’t have time for other things. Those people sometimes dream too big. Take for instance the person who dreams of living a life dedicated to serving humanity by establishing an orphanage. Instantly, the person would come to the realization that without funds or knowledge in rearing children, it is impossible to establish an orphanage. Instead, the person could first volunteer at an orphanage to gain experience and firsthand knowledge. Big dreams start from small beginnings.
Having worked at Amore Pacific, been a pharmaceutical company salesperson, spent time on a working holiday in Australia, and worked as a police officer on special assignment, it must have been hard to walk away from each of those tempting life long careers. What really prompted you to start 'Ggum Talk'?
Life for me in my early twenties was not easy. As a high school student, I was sure entering a ‘good’ university would seal my success in life. However, I soon realized that was not the case, so I wandered about lifelessly and agonized over what to do daily. Those were days of heavy anguish for me. I tried to find a breakthrough by reading classical works of literature and hosting a project similar to the project ‘Counselling Center with Low Threshold’ on campus. Funny, one day, on a blind date, I discussed happiness and my future with the complete stranger. My anguish continued after obtaining a job with Amore Pacific. Work colleagues saw me as a strange person because I was constantly depressed and often expressed the desire to talk about the way to happiness. Eventually, I left that job. I discovered that I enjoyed listening to others’ stories and working with youth suited me. Even though a number of people around me viewed this as insignificant, it made me happy. Ggum Talk fuels my life. To raise funds for the counseling program and the 'Ggum Talk Talk Show', I had to do a lot of things, which included hard physical labor, but I did it pleasurably knowing I was establishing Ggum Talk. My past work experiences made me know myself and my calling in life. I am happiest when I’m doing 'Ggum Talk' work.
Nowadays, you are often on the road to lecture in other places. What speech as a guest lecturer remains in your mind?
I recently visited Yeogang High School in Yeoju. One of the teachers at the school attended the 1st airing of Ggum Talk Talk Show, and twice a year brings students from the school to one of the shows filming. The teacher invited me to guest lectures at the school because one of the teacher’s students had established a sort of mini-Ggum Talkclub at the school. I agreed to visit because I was intrigued to see it. It was wonderful. The student’s youthful charm is clearly evident in the club, and it is indeed a good start to a form of Ggum Talk. Three students presented before me and I also gave a short speech as requested by the school’s teacher. However, what I said during my speech will never be surpassed by the acknowledgment of my work though the forming of a mini-Ggum Talk. It was both impressive and touching.
What are Ggum Talk's future goals? And what future goals do you have for yourself?
I’m not one to make specific future plans. Have you read the book, 'How to Be an Existentialist'? The idea of being an existentialist best characterizes me. Existentialism emphasizes: freedom, choice, and responsibility. I want to live free. Sometimes, a specific plan or focused dream can back to haunt oneself. There are people who will continue down the wrong road in life just to achieve that plan or dream. They are living a lie. I don't want to be restrained like that. At the moment, I am happy communicating with young people. However, if ever the time comes when I no longer feel driven to continue my work at Ggum Talk, I will leave the group and move forward onto something else. Of course, before that day arrives, I will have gotten all my affairs in order and passed on the responsibility to someone capable of carrying on the work to fulfill my duties.
Would you like to leave some final words for Sookmyungians struggling to find happiness?
Imagine there are two cars, a Korean vehicle and a foreign import. Which car would you like to own? A number of you might opt for the import, but I’d like to say this to you. Which car you choose is irrelevant. What matters is whether you are a driver or not. Life is like the purchase of a car. Its type is of little importance. You need a car that makes you feel comfortable behind its wheel so that you can go forward without fear of being hit. You need to drive down life your own way in your own car. I hope students at Sookmyung Women’s University are all able to take the wheel of their own car and drive it comfortably down the road of life. Later when asked, “Are you happy”, you will be able to smile and say “yes”.
- Head of 'Ggum Talk (Dream Talk)' - Graduate of Dongguk University