University is truly a melting pot where students from nationwide gather. Some speak dialects, some speak foreign languages. Students from different age groups also add diversity. Regardless of their age, students participate in the same courses, in the same classroom. Nevertheless, the titles that Koreans use to address older and younger people sometimes hinder friendly relationships among students.
Choi Yeseulgi (Korean Language, 2) got into university after her second trial. She is one year older than most of students in her academic year. Choi says, “I think only the students of the same age get along with each other, until they get used to students of a different age. Probably they are uncomfortable with students of a different age group.”
Lee Soo-ra (Fashion Design, 2) is one year older than most students in her class since she spent one year more preparing for the university entrance exam. She does not have a problem in associating with those students. However, she says she catches certain uneasiness that younger students have in talking with her. “Some younger ones call me unni, a title that Korean women use when addressing an older sister, and use casual language, but others use honorific expressions when they are talking to me,” Lee says. “Both kinds of students are friendly with me. But I still feel that they have some difficulty in dealing with me.”
Although there are cases when students with slightly different ages hang around together, they still face the hurdle that titles generate. Han Ji-eun (International Studies, 1) agonizes over the fact that some of her friends born earlier than she was want her to call them by their names, while others want to be called unni. “When we are all together and have a conversation, unless we speak in English, I am put into a dilemma then whether I should call everyone unni or just call everyone’s name,” says Han.
Students of the same age also have problems being friendly with each other because some are seniors while others are just freshmen. “I want to be a friend of a senior who has is the same age as I am, but I can’t because I don’t know what I should call her,” laments Chang Soo-jung (International Studies, 1) who is one year older than students in her own class because of graduating from a foreign middle school.
Awkward title use can also impede comfortable relations among team members working on projects together. Lee Ji-eun (Korean Language, 3) entered Ewha one year later than other students her age because of extra university preparation. Lee is disturbed having to use a formal title when addressing a senior in her project group. “Friends in my own year call me unni but when I have to work with her, I have to call her unni. We are all in the same group, so this confuses me so much,” says Lee. “This kind of subtle problem always worries me when I am assigned to group work.”
However, Ham Soo-Kyong (International Studies, 1) said, “When we get along well, age difference is not a problem among friends. It is virtually nothing. Some might say the age discrepancy blocks familiarity among fellow students but I don’t think it is an obstacle to fostering a friendship.”