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Today’s Solitary College Students

Posted November. 01, 2005 03:01,   


Restaurant Musubi One, which opened in front of Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul last year, recently removed many of its individual tables. Now, a dinner table shaped like a long board, which looks like it surrounds the windows, greets its customers.

The owner of the restaurant, Cha Nam-jun (39), said, “There are lots of college students who eat food alone and read magazines or listen to music now, instead of dining with other friends. So, I put in more bar-type tables so they can sit alone looking toward the walls or out the windows.”

Café Bonsol nearby has discovered the same thing and has set up bar-style seating for the 40 percent of its total customers who dine alone.

In university towns, the word “babtudy class” (bab means rice in Korean, and "tudy" comes from "study") was first coined. Just like how students form a study club to study together, that word refers to students forming an eating club to have meals together. There was a time when students chatting and eating together was common. However, the “babtudy class” is being pushed away because a new culture, dubbed the “me, alone” culture, has emerged in university towns.

Universities are busy renovating spaces to catch up with the new culture’s demands. Seoul National University recently set up a multimedia room and information search room in its new library building with tables for computers and monitors that are designed to give the impression that they are for individual use only. Lecture room arrangements have also changed to ones where students can sit facing others or around a table.

A Seoul National University official explained that they emphasized the new designs to give the university’s learning spaces a more independent and freewheeling atmosphere because they noticed that students are seeking their own space more.

You cannot see big tables anymore in the lounges of Korea University. The school’s lounges are filled with tables with narrow widths and curved shapes that are meant for individual users.

Korea University student Park Hae-sang (24) said, “I am often absorbed in solving problems alone rather than in a group. These types of tables are more efficient for spending time alone.”

Residence spaces are also changing. Dormitories are gradually shifting away from the standard two-person dorm room to single rooms.

Konkuk University is building a dormitory scheduled for completion next year with 130 single rooms out of 1,080 and the rest for two-person use. Kim Jong-pil (44), manager of the Konkuk University development and strategy team, explained that according to a survey result, today’s students want to have more private space, even though it costs more, and that “their wishes have been reflected.”

Real estate agent Kim Ok-yong (38, female) said that multi-station-type independent spaces are in strong demand.

In contrast to the previous generation of students who pursued a more communal life, current college students prefer spending time alone and actively establish their social networks through digital gadgets instead of in person. From that perspective, they can be called “digital cocoon class.”

Jae-Young Kim jaykim@donga.com