University has such a huge meaning in Korea. “Which school do you go to?” is a common question that young people in their 20s ask when they first see each other. In the 2000s, universities seem to have become a means to represent the identity of young people, more than a place to learn. “I’m a student at 00 university,” says young people in their 20s to define themselves. In this kind of society, a youth who is not a university student is sometimes treated like a lost person.
One friend of mine, who had an experience of failing a college entrance exam, told me that he considered himself to be a failure at that time. He had faced an identity crisis from the fact that he was an adult, but not a university student. In a way, this phenomenon seems to be so natural since entering university has been deified to Korean high school students. It's as if you become a university student, your level 0 fun life will suddenly turn into a level 100 fun life with a booster item called “university”. It’s almost like a spell – that you must go to university to be happy. Hence, the term “entering university” feels like a prerequisite to true freedom, and many come to college to satisfy this condition and gain freedom.
But the ideal and reality are different. After entering university, many face boredom and lose their way of life as they find out that the university was not a guaranteed check to freedom. The only goal that they used to have - entering university - vanishes as they realize that it’s nearly impossible to achieve a fun level 100 university life.
Perhaps, this is because our society has implicitly determined what university students should do and the students are demanded to follow that in order not to be a failure, loser, or laggard. Under the name of freedom, university students are asked to acquire certain credits, have extracurricular activities, official English scores, and various certificates. Along with all of these "specs" being taken care of, the society even wants university students to be “In-ssa,” a person who’s outgoing and good at networking, and to have a "unique" storyline. Accordingly, we work hard to adjust ourselves to those standards to become masters of self-management and become the talents that society asks us to be. Because it’s so easy for the society to stigmatize the individual as an incompetent person and treat one as a failure, university students are often left with no choice but to adapt themselves to the required standards to survive in this endless competition.
People tend to follow what others do without knowing what they want, because of the anxiety of falling behind. This anxiety, which is planted by the society, is deeply rooted in our unconsciousness that we dare not to blame society, but blame the individual for not being productive enough. The idea that if you don't act within a desirable frame, you will be treated as a misfit, has been fixed over time and the so-called “spec competition” has been intensified as well. In this society where even dating has become a "spec", I wonder if it’s ever possible to get off the track and be free from this race.