The Returning "Fossil" Students
Sharing of their precious experiences
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The sensitivity to age not only constructs the basic hierarchical structure of Korean society but also engenders comical situations like calling older students fossils. Accentuating the fact that a student is old enough to be a fossil or ammonite, or even worse, petroleum extracted from the fossil, the supposedly good-natured banter usually applies to juniors, seniors, and returning students who have taken a break from school for various reasons. This interesting culture unique to Korea has generated numerous heartbreaking yet hilarious stories about the daily lives of the “fossil-seonbaes” (seniors).
Back from the army and off to a new start
Kim Byeong-gil (Department of Applied Art Education, 2nd year), successfully finished his first semester as a returning student. Although he just finished his sophomore year, he had taken three years off from school to travel, obtain experience, and serve in the military. The first thing he noticed was how different the campus culture was. “I felt like I was reborn as a freshman. People were more sensitive about the whole drinking culture and everyone, especially the hubaes (juniors), seemed to be very passionate about their studies. It really motivated me as well, and luckily, I was able to achieve the highest marks I’ve ever received throughout my school years. I’ve also found my new passion for this industry and wish to work in the design sector for art museums upon graduation,” said Kim.
According to Kim, he had heard many stories about how students returning from the army lived sorrowful lives, studying alone and eating pickleless kimbap while hiding in a bathroom stall. However, while Kim’s daily schedule was kept simple, it did not involve any of the fearful rumors told by many of his seonbaes. “I usually wake up, go to school, go to a café or to the library to work on my projects, and come home by ten. I think the image of the returning student really depends on how they act after they’ve started their semester. The extra experience and age can become a merit if used wisely, and I definitely try my best. I don’t think I’ve fully adapted to my new lifestyle as a student, but my New Year’s resolution is to focus on my school projects and to have fun.”
Coming back home from a “thug-life”
Kim Chun-woo (Department of International Studies, 3rd year), who just returned from studying at Virginia Tech University in America, was one of the top students in his major, yet he still wanted to feel sense of freedom in a different environment. As a result, Kim chose Virginia Tech because his cousins had graduated from that school. “Being an exchange student was one of the best experiences I’ve had. America was truly the land of freedom. Even their night life was vigorous, and it seemed like most students there were living the true definition of a “thug-life.” I lived my own version of a thug-life by working out and hanging out with my friends untill five in the morning, doing the very minimum in group projects, and so on,” said Kim.
Travelling never ends
Kim Min-seok (School of Business, 4th year) also just finished his first semester upon returning from his long travel. Like many others, Kim also wanted to break away from the load of responsibilities and expectations. His wished to do so before the end of his twenties which led him to fly off to Peru in October of 2017. From then on, he travelled to Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil for about four months. “The most impactful place for me was at Arequipa, Peru. I went on a tour for two nights and three days at Colca Canyon, which is the worlds’ second deepest canyon, twice the depth of the renowned Grand Canyon. There was a very kind, elderly couple in their 70s who always fell behind the group due to their age and health, but they never gave up. The day we finished the tour and successfully climbed back up the canyon, they hugged each other and cried. I would never forget that moment.”
Kim’s life while travelling was so mentally fulfilling that he was actually afraid that he would dread his life back in Korea. However, he realized that had gained the courage to willfully detach himself from the heavy stress of responsibilities and expectations. “I decided that my life in Korea is a continuation of my travels, instead of thinking that I am back to a gloomy reality. Someone had told me that you gain the most when you travel with a free mind. I did have the opportunity to learn and heal a lot as a person. My new goal is to travel again to Africa before my 20s ends.”
Park Joo-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Kang Cho-hyun
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