After reading this book, I could not help but relate Hans to Korean university students today. In high school, I fantasized about college life like other students. I had expected that I would be free to explore various fields, to deepen my understanding of my major to be a professional intellect, and also to have fun with my friends and relax. However, the reality was quite different. Although students in Korea have more freedom in college than in high school, they soon confront a new burden: employment. We see many seniors stressing themselves with the so-called “spec”: TOEIC exams, extracurricular activities, GPA, etc. Although I am a freshman, I have noticed that many of my peers have already started to prepare for their paths after graduation. We even see a lot of students delaying their graduation to be more “prepared” for employment. Thus, college students devote themselves to be the candidate that corporates want.
Last semester, I volunteered as a tutor at Ewha E-Lounge and had the opportunity to meet students trying to practice speaking English. To my surprise, about 80 percent of the students that I had met were seniors. Most of the students were there to practice speaking English for official English exams or to prepare for English job interviews. Talking with them, I figured out that they were very busy and stressed out about job preparation. As a freshman, it was an experience that let me sneak a peek of the hectic senior life.
Watching so many college seniors stressing themselves with their ever-insufficient spec, I have noticed that college life is not so romantic after all. Students are suffering “beneath the wheel,” and universities are no longer a place where true learning takes place, but rather a place that helps students get employed. Students are stepping into society thinking that quantitative achievement is the most important tool to survive in the competition. Even though there are precious lessons that can be learned only in college, students are reluctant to take them in because they are busy with the battle between “the wheel.” I would like to quote a short excerpt from Beneath the Wheel when Hans makes a true friend for the first time in his life.
“He regarded this not as a loss or obstacle but a treasure worth everything he was missing in school – an intensified, warmer form of existence to which his previous sober and dutiful life could not hold a candle.”
From this, I realized that even though we are living in a society where everyone is running forward, we have to look around once in a while, to see what is meaningful to us. I truly hope that our society would let students find this treasure before they graduate and tell them that there is something more than competition in society.