Korean legal drinking age coincides with the year most students enter college. Entering a bar with a group of new friends with a shiny ID that barely had much use before is one of the aspects that most freshmen look forward to. Yet, the drinking culture in college can be overwhelming to the alcohol newbies.
According to Ministry of Health and Welfare and Korea Institute for Health Promotion, Korean college students have had higher drinking rates than adults both annually and monthly in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control (KCDC) has also recently released data which states that 32.8 percent of female and 44.1 percent of male drink more than 10 drinks at a time. This is respectively a 1.25-fold and 2.1-fold increase from the previous survey in 2009.
“I expected drinking culture in Korean college to be similar as in America – people get drunk, have fun, some get a bit too drunk and have to be taken care of,” said Angel Sagga, an exchange student from University of Iowa in her second semester of studying in Ewha. “However, I realize the drinking culture here is much more severe as a lot of them – such as drinking every week – can be seen as alcoholism. I know one Korean friend who had drank almost every day for at least a month, which was very concerning.”
A 2017 study about reasons behind excessive drinking behavior stated that 80.6 percent of college students drink to ‘maintain friendship.’
“I have to drink at least three times a week just to hang around with the people in my club activity,” said Ji Yoon-oh, a freshman from Sungkyunkwan University. “I feel left out when I don’t participate because drinking seemingly creates such a quick yet tight bond.”
Yet, students barely legal enough to drink who have yet to learn the necessity of self-control often face a bitter price as the aftermath of their actions.
“I’ve had hard times getting out of bed the next day due to extreme hangover and headaches,” said Park Se-eun, a freshman majoring in English Literature and Language. “But everyone was drinking at our department’s MT and I couldn’t miss out on that.”
Excessive drinkers are likely to continue their habit even after graduation. To prevent the spread of personal and social problems heavy drinking/alcoholism, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has decided to take action by recruiting Alcohol Prevention Supporters.
The Alcohol Prevention Supporters is a coalition composed of 50 teams from 44 universities nationwide and conducts field activities to create an “Alcohol Cleaning Campus.” HEWA, which stands for ‘Happy Ewha Without Alcohol,’ is Ewha’s team supporters
“It’s not easy to resist the drinking temptation under the culture where students bond over group blind dates, drinking games, and seemingly harmless ‘playful offers’ given by more senior students,” said Choi Ji-won, the team leader of HEWA. “They often overlook the problems it creates, from comparatively lighter troubles like the littered trash on the streets to extreme situations like drunk driving, violence, or even death. That’s why I decided to partake in this issue seriously.”
Last month, HEWA visited several parks in Seoul including Gyeongui Line Forest Park and Yeouido Park to inform college students and citizens of their plans to crack down problematic behaviors induced from excessive drinking, like damaging public properties. On May 8, they plan to set up a booth at the Convergence Festival hosted by College of Science and Industry Convergence to promote their campaign on drinking responsibly.
“HEWA will be monitoring alcohol selling booths during the upcoming school festival,” Choi said. “We hope to continue spreading the culture of self-control by notifying students the detrimental consequences of excessive drinking.”