What should university students do with their lives? When high school students graduate and enter university, they are often disappointed because of the difference between what they imagined and reality. However, most adapt and continue with their disappointing university lives. In recent times the focus of university has changed from the pursuit of critical thinking and knowledge to employee training. Should we accept this change in university culture? YNO hopes to find the answer to that question.
A cradle of critical knowledge through action: University in the 1960s-80s
From the 1960s to the 80s, universities acted as cradles for knowledge and civic action. As a result there were many student movements. In particular, there were four big student movements. 4.19 revolution in 1960 was a response to the corruption in presidential elections. This movement led to a change in the controlling regime. 5.18 Movement on Gwangju of 1980, was one of the most influential movements of this period. This protest was against the military coup. After the movement, many social communities for enlightenment and progress were organized by the people. These actions made people recognize the necessity of democratization. This movement reached its peak in June of 1987, and the result was a truly democratic nation. Most students in university are aware of these historic facts, but in their minds they are just part of the past. What has been lost is that at the heart of all these movements were university students. The hallmark of these past ages was autonomy exercised by universities and their students.
Present focus of universities
The present conditions at universities differ greatly from this age of activism. University students are now undergoing hardships in getting jobs. According to statistics from Statistics Korea, the youth unemployment rate was 7.2% in 2007 and 8% in 2010. In addition new terms like '6 spec set' have been created by students who are looking for jobs. This set includes TOEIC scores, licenses, internships, language study abroad, volunteer work, and plastic surgery.
On the other hand, there are complaints on the part of human resource directors. Some statistics from job portals publish these complaints. They rated their satisfaction with new recruits at 65 points out of 100. Knowledge and enthusiasm about tasks was cited as the main reason why interviewers were not satisfied with new recruits. Employees are also dissatisfied. Among 683 respondents, 60.8% replied they were dissatisfied with their jobs. 30.1% of them cited their main issue as unclear vision. Only 30.2% of recruits were satisfied with their situations, and just 27.2% said they were content with their jobs because their jobs correspond to their aptitude.
Why university students need a community
As mentioned above, university students need to find a vision, knowledge and passion for success in getting a job. This process of discovery must be pursued through their individual autonomy. It also means that to build a career with no goal has no meaning. LG places a premium on finding employees who possess a challenging spirit based on experience. Currently, university students usually go abroad or volunteer overseas to enhance their career opportunities, but it is also hard to find definite meaning in these activities without definite goals.
University students creating their own communities can be one solution. In these communities students can study and contemplate the state of society. This can help students to better understand their place in that society. The work these communities undertake are entirely planned and executed by students. The activities can make students more confident and independent in the face of social pressure. They also provide students a forum in which to discuss their future with other students in the community. In addition, a large community can have a wider impact than a small community. Finally, sharing ideas and opinions will make members more considerate and creative.
CUM: A model of university student community
YNO has discovered an excellent example of a university student community. CUM is a student community that acts in the Seoul area. CUM translates into “together” in Latin. CUM’s three purposes are knowledge for people and societies, knowledge gained together, and acting on the knowledge that is gained. They have one national representative as well as primary executives dealing with education, desk jobs, projects, and marketing. CUM also includes many branches in several universities like Ewha, Chung-Ang, and Konkuk. Each branch has managers. They recruit new members and manage studies, discussions, seminars and other events at their respective branches. Under the direction of these managers, there are many students who want to act as CUMers.
CUM’s programs usually consist of lectures, self-study, discussions, and seminars. If some CUMers want to pursue other work, they can carry forward with their ideas. However, they are asked to report on their activities to their branch managers or the executives. Sometimes CUM sponsors special projects dealing with journeys or reading books, as well as other things CUMers might want to pursue.
CUM gathered fully for the first time on August 30th, 2008. CUM has developed rapidly since that day. During 2010, CUM undertook many projects. At the beginning of the year, there was a winter season workshop for management groups covering four subjects. The subjects dealt with social analysis, analysis of capitalism, an analysis of labor problems, and rules for CUMers. Managers attended lectures, analyzed studies, had discussions, and made presentations about the contents of these activities. CUM’s first big project of 2010 was 'the First Real University Made by University Students.' This project consisted of two parts and one big ending event. One part of the project was composed of various lectures about media, education, economy, dream, and philosophy. The former president of KBS, announcers, reporters, superintendents of education in Gyeonggi-do, writers on the economy and education materials, as well as some other famous lecturers were invited. The other part was named 'Big Run for Knowledge Revolution.' This part of the project consisted of 16 teams and 60 participants. Each team conducted a seminar on their specific subjects like photography, society, economy, and other things members wanted to study once a week over nearly two months. There was also a closing festival based on the 16 content areas produced by each team. The contents were presented at concerts, exhibitions, experience spaces, presentations, and screenings. Many university students and not just CUMers studied together and shared their results.
CUM also periodically holds general meetings and athletic meetings. Through general meetings, CUMers propose new projects or modifications to schedules. Athletic meetings serve to make better relationships for members.
The second big project of CUM is the creation of an alternative forum for university students. In 2010, the second alternative forum took place. This forum also included lectures, seminars, and discussions about alternatives for society and economic systems as team projects. The second alternative forum consisted of 22 lectures and 6 programs focused on real culture which was partially sponsored by CUM.
During the last break of 2010 CUM held a winter season training session. The process became more concrete by dividing education for the main executives and branch managers. The main executives focused on creating educational content by studying themselves. Then they had a teaching practicum to lead seminars and discussions. Branch managers went through a similar process as the executives, but they primarily discussed their areas of expertise and prepared a 2011 study plan.
As mentioned above, all of CUM’s systems are managed by university students referred to as CUMers. These students take pride in being CUMers, and they have the independence to do what they want on their own. They present one example of what it means to be a real university student.
Myung-Suk Song, the first representative of CUM
Q) What made you establish CUM?
A) I was a member of 'the Capitalism Research Society.' This society studies, analyzes and discusses the structure and principles of capitalism, as well as the problems which have been caused by capitalism in Korea. The society also held alternative economy camps which allowed many university students to discuss economic alternatives.
When I was on the camp’s planning team, I met many participants. They were not just concerned about the broken economy, but also the community culture of universities and the basic culture system. Their speeches made me think about establishing this kind of group. The lack of places where students could study and discuss humanities and social sciences like history, philosophy, economy is the reason why I wanted to be involved in CUM.
Q) How did CUM get started?
A) At first, I got a lot of guidance from mentors at the Capitalism Research Society. I also sought out people who had similar ideas as me. Then we decided to establish CUM. In the beginning, our community had no name, and it was just a humanities and social community. We tried to organize the community’s purpose, goals, and slogan. After that, we established a curriculum. During this process, we found teaching materials and came up with subjects for discussions. Then we printed 1,000 posters that included all the content we developed and hung the posters at universities around Seoul. Finally, about 300 members joined and eight teams conducted one seminar every week during the second semester of 2008. After that, we elected a management group from among the members and continued the projects like establishing a curriculum.
Q) Did you have a hard time while you established and managed CUM? If so, what were the causes?
A) There was nothing especially difficult. Of course, I was sometimes physically tired while CUM prepared for big events like alternative forums. During the preparatory period, I was also very happy personally. This is because I was able to share my passion with other participants and planning teams.
When members and friends left CUM because of personal problems, I had a hard time mentally. I was distressed because it was possible that CUM couldn’t provide enough of a vision for them.
Q) How have you felt as you managed and worked as a CUMer?
A) I feel that a fundamental community is necessary. University students should have time to discover their own values through study and discussion with other students. This is not true just for me but also for all the CUM members. Therefore, CUM has tried to hold alternative forums and met with many other university students.
Q) Do you have any worries about jobs or credit? If so, how do you address them?
A) After I started CUM, credit has never been a problem. I realized that my attitude when facing my life is important not only in getting a job and receiving credit but also everything else. During my CUM work, I have tried to meet many people. It made me faithful and that faithfulness was reflected in the credit I have received. Actually, the schedule for CUM work has not seriously overlapped with my university schedule.
Issues regarding my career have also been solved through my CUM work. When I was concerned about career considerations like whether or not I would be a PD or a civil servant. I couldn’t find any solutions. But my thinking has changed. Now, I focus on questions like, “What is necessary for our society?” This way of thinking has made my career vision wider. I decided that I would not be locked up to prior stereotypes of job choices any more.
Q) When you first planned lectures, how did you develop them?
A) We tried to bring in writers for our teaching materials. Therefore we got phone numbers and e-mail addresses through publishing companies and sent recruiting messages to the writers. After the lectures, we explained the lecturers about our purpose and asked for consultants. Later we were able to make connections with other lecturers through publishing companies, and professors’ recommendations, as well as consultants’ networks. Many lecturers readily answered “OK” after we explained our purpose thoroughly.
Q) What contributed to CUM’s fast development?
A) Most of all, the advices of mentors were very helpful in organizing the system and programs of CUM. I also had two friends who wanted CUM to become better. They took time off with me and really worked hard for CUM. I think our sincerity won the sympathy of other members. Then they also have established a strong foothold to develop our community.
Q) Do you have any advice for students who want to establish their own community like CUM?
A) First of all you have to get started. If you are on your own, make posters to recruit starting members. University societies really have sought forums where they could discover their own values. I think the main problem is having the courage to try something new. If you want, accept the challenge and start it. Don’t agonize over everything. Read one book every week and discuss it with other people or students. Two of the most important things are that members keep appointments with other members and that they appraise their work for a better community.
CIP (Challenge in Passion): One of starting student communities in the Daegu-Gyeongbuk
There is a new community for university students in the Daegu-Gyeongbuk region. The community’s name is CIP (Challenge in Passion). They began recruiting members from January to early February in 2011. The first members totaled a little over 50. CIP has three elements: management, planning, and outside cooperation. They have tried to enact four long term projects and twelve short term projects. They want to complete a short term project once a month. Between these projects, they will organize teams for contests or art, and culture appreciation.
CIP reflects its members’ opinions and feedback through their activities at a general meeting once a month. They also operate an anonymous message board on Cyworld to gather complaints and new suggestions.
Jae-Sung Lee, president of CIP
Q) What do you think about the university students’ communities in the Daegu-Gyeongbuk region?
A) I think they are really inferior to Seoul not only in number but also in quality. This is not a problem created by a lack of participation on the part of university students in the Daegu- Gyeongbuk region. The problem is a lack of information. If we improve marketing, the students will reply, and communities can be developed by them.
Q) What made you establish CIP?
A) I established CIP’s motto from “101 things that they have to do before they die” which is the slogan of the program 'Qualification of Man.' After I saw the slogan, I thought it could be applied to university students. So I adapted it for CIP. CIP’s motto is “101 things that university students have to do before graduation.”
Q) What is the purpose of CIP, and does CIP have a goal for 2011?
A) CIP’s purpose is the same as the motto mentioned above. And our goal for 2011 is to expand CIP from the Daegu-Gyeongbuk region to the Seoul area and the Busan-Gyeongnam region in 2012 based on our work in 2011.
Q) How did you feel while you started CIP?
A) The Daegu-Gyeongbuk region’s university students are definitely passionate and challenging not only compared with other Korean students but those worldwide. They are really concerned about extracurricular activities. The fact that there are many students who understand and collaborate with me makes my heart flutter.
From the 1960s to the 80s, university students were intellectuals who acted on their beliefs and became symbols of independence. However, these days, students spend too much energy on getting a job. Of course getting a job is important and the problem is also serious. However, the solution to these problems should be based on a greater understanding about society and students themselves. There are many students who have tried to solve these problems by themselves. Universities and students should make their own communities as a first step of building original cultures which differ from high school.