Published in Ewha Voice. December, 2000
It is 6 p.m. on a chilly Friday night in Shinchon and an embarrassed girl steps off the elevator as it beeps from being overloaded. Up on the 6th floor, the elevator door opens to reveal the packed waiting room of a popular family restaurant. “You’ll have to wait at least 40 minutes,”says the girl taking names.
She looks like she’s ready to jump into a parade, wearing a checked miniskirt and a vest covered with plastic buttons, topped off with a glittering tiara. Then you crane your neck to peer inside and wonder why the place is called a family restaurant, with hardly a person over 30 in sight.
Did someone say that Korea is on the verge of entering its second economic crisis? You wouldn’t know it from the bustling streets and crowded pubs in the college districts. Although the stock market has dropped to half of what it was last year and more people are being laid off each day, the financial worries doesn’t seem to affect many university students, especially those who attend “prestigious” schools.
“My parents talk about economic problems at home, but it does not effect my lifestyle,” says Shim Hyun-suk (21, Yonsei University). “I hear about it during classes but it doesn’t relate to me,” say Suh Ji-yeon (22, Ewha Womans University). Sensitive to trends and frequent victims of their own tendencies toward impulsive consumption, college students are still spending a lot of money. However, many are concerned that these students are developing poor saving and spending habits.
In a survey conducted by the National Mothers’ Central Committee, 79.5 percent out of 1,000 college students responded that they receive pocket money from parents on a regular or irregular basis. In addition, 76.5 percent of the same target group replied that they had a part time job. However, less than 10 percent paid for their school tuition by themselves.
“I’ve never saved more that 1,000,000 won. When money starts building in the bank I always think of something I have to buy,” says Chang Jae-young (not his real name, Seoul National University). Chang is just one of many that spend most of what they earn.
One of the most popular part time jobs that add to university students’ high income is tutoring. Paid an average of 200,000 to 400,000 won per month and working 4 hours a week, a college student can sometimes earn more through a part time job than an average company worker. Students in the music department can earn even higher sums. A student majoring piano can receive 50,000 each session for accompanying younger music students at lessons, concerts, competitions, and so forth. The pay, which is high considering experience and actual labor involved, makes students unaware of the pains it takes to earn money, and of its value.
“Part time jobs for college students should be of preparatory nature, before students enter society. However, the problem is that Korean students have only a vague idea about why they are doing their jobs,” says Lee Hyun-chung, director of the University Education Association. Cho Jong-hee, a professor of education at Hanyang University also criticizes students’ spending habits, saying, “Foreign college students do part time jobs to pay their way through college. On the other hand, Korean students use their money for leisure.”
Statistics show that shopping and eating takes up a large percentage of what Korean college students spend money on. According to a survey conducted by Fabianne, a large cosmetics company, female college students spend an average of 60,000 won each month on skin products. On top of that, students’ food tastes are also becoming more expensive as they frequently seek out Japanese cuisine, family restaurants, and Italian restaurants for meals which cost almost 10 times what it would take to eat in a school cafeteria.
It is not until after entering society and getting married, that many graduates realize the value of money. “I used to drive a car and chat with my friends at cafes in Apgujeongdong. Now, I take the subway to save gas and meet friends at home. Knowing what my income is, it’s hard to spend more than 5,000 won on a cup of coffee,” says Kwon Mi-jung (’96, Graduate).