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More and More Isolated 30s Find Solace in Studying

Posted February. 17, 2003 22:24,   


A Mr. Lee (33) has recently decided to take the Korean bar exam. His applications have been rejected by various companies due to the "age-cutoff" policy, a policy under which companies do not hire people over a certain age limit. Lee has graduated and earned a master`s degree from a prestigious South Korean university. For the two years upon receiving the degree, he furthered his education overseas and had, although for a short period of time, worked for a company. In the process, his age got to exceed the limit. Now, no company wants to hire him. Financially assisted by his wife, who is teaching art at a private institute, he has settled in a Gohshee-Won in Shillim Dong, Seoul, a business entity that provides a small isolated room for studying and lodging purposes. In Shillim Dong, business entities of that nature have mushroomed. In the Gohshee-Won Lee is "living" now, about 20 people out of the total of 50 are the guys in a position similar to Lee`s and, again like Lee, in their 30s.

Another person, Mr. Hwang, has been "isolated" from society for the past 6 years. He has earned a MBA from a US business school. Nonetheless, except for a short period of time he worked for his father`s company, he has not earned a dime. He just studied in the library and at a private language institute. Coming back to South Korea, he got a job at a foreign bank in Korea. But his "tenure" ended after about 4 months. He resigned due to the problems in "the working environment." Now, he is preparing for going back to the United States for a doctorate program, making his living through tutoring. His voice indicated his expectation for a rosy future. He said, "Some of my college guys are rising up fast in promotion. Some are vice presidents. Looking at them, I feel the pressure. But, when I have a doctorate degree, I may have an opportunity somehow. A school or a company will make an offer, I believe."

Like in the cases of Lee and Hwang, lots of people in 30s are studying alone, insulated from society, and obsessed with desire or fantasy for studying. They are called in South Korea "study lumpens," or in English study bums. The lumpens, failing to get a job or to survive in a company, are resorting to education to pull back their life from behind. In most cases, they try to go aboard or pass exams like the Korean bar exam to stand on their own feet.

Some experts are worrying about the "side effects" from their studying as a means of escaping from reality. The experts point out that the lumpens are pursuing a dream of "studying = jackpot" without any sense of reality, losing a chance to become a middle-level leader in society.

People in 20s have ample opportunities to get a job. But, companies do not bother to hire prospective employees in 30s due to the age-limit, fostering more and more lumpens.

In fact, quire a number of people in 30s are trying to go back to college. At an institute in Seoul, which usually prepares high school graduates for the college entrance exam, a class has, out of 35 total students, an average of 5 "students" in late 20s and early 30s. A counselor of the institute confirmed, "The `old students` are trying to enter medical school or major in designing, for example. In those areas, personal ability comes before anything else. I think that is why."

Song Kee-hong, executive of a headhunting company, opines, "People in 30s are the group that has to work most aggressively. More and more of them, however, are deciding to walk an isolated path. Without a specific plan, they are idling around in the name of studying. Companies, aware of their isolated tendency, exclude them in hiring."

Psychiatrist Hong Jin-pyo of Seoul Asan Hospital warns, "[Study lumpens] seem to believe studying will bring them everything. That`s definitely wrong. They are just afraid of taking responsibilities following their social status. They dream of living a life in a mindset they had in their early or mid 20s. The attitude could bog them into various social disorders."