03/19/2011, 00.00
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Young South Koreans, children of the 90’s financial crisis, rich but unhappy

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Money emerges as the primary goal in life. Competition is fierce even at primary school. The stress and pressure from parents leads to an increase in suicides. Growing attachment to the Navy after the Pyongyang attack last November. The projects of the Catholic Church.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Money the main aim in life, pride in their country but little willingness to sacrifice themselves to defend it, tolerance towards immigrants and a general sense of unhappiness compared to their Chinese and Japanese counterparts. This is the portrait that emerges of young South Koreans, who still hope in the reunification of the peninsula - separated since the Korean War in 1950 - but fewer and fewer see it as "extremely necessary". November’s attack by Pyongyang on Yeonpyeong Island - four dead, including two soldiers - has instead led to a stronger attachment to the navy, which has seen significant growth in recruitment.

National Youth Policy Institute under the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family shows that young South Koreans are less happy than their Chinese and Japanese counterparts. In particular, polled some 4,579 middle and high school students in the three countries and found that 71.2 % of Korean students say they are happy, compared to 92.3 % in China and 75.7 % in Japan. Asked whether they feel they could achieve their dream jobs, 97.5 % of students in China said yes, followed by 80.8 % in Korea and 55.7 % in Japan.

The competitive pressures in schools and from parents are a source of stress and unhappiness for young South Koreans. The problem arises as early as primary school level and drags on to university. Many children also spend most of the day from early morning to late evening, six days a week in "hagwons" - private schools. Little time remains to devote to recreation and family and it is parents who apply the greatest pressure to excel in their studies. However, the first signs of change are emerging as increasing numbers of fathers and mothers call for "less stress and competitiveness" in study and an "evaluation" of children not only based on grades, but on the "quality and creativity of each "person".

For the majority of young South Koreans, money remains the main objective to be achieved in life. Affected in childhood by the Asian crisis of the late 90's, now young people are increasingly interested in money - compared to past generations - in response to personal problems. They consider that happiness is a direct consequence of wealth.

To stem the materialist drift of young Koreans, the Archdiocese of Seoul has launched a series of targeted intervention programs. Among others, the Catholic Scouts, organize camps and events to spread the spirit of solidarity and friendship among peers. Every diocese in the country is planning specific projects for young people so that they can know the love of God and encounter the faith.

Meanwhile, the obsessive search for wealth and a greater physical and psychological stress has led to an increase in suicides. Until 2008, the number of suicides ranged between 100 and 140, and in 2009 it exceeded 200 and it continues to rise unabated. Proud of their country and more than willing to welcome immigrants than their Chinese and Japanese peers, the young South Koreans seem at first unwilling to sacrifice their lives for their country. However, the North Korean attack on the island of Yeonpyeong on November 23 has resulted in a rapid increase in enlistments in the Navy. A professor of psychology at the University of Seoul said that "the deadly attack has prompted people to judge the members of the navy as real soldiers," stimulating "pride in belonging to the [Navy]."

On the issue of North Korea, the number of young South Koreans - nearly two-thirds – who consider reunification a “requirement”, remains high. However, only 23.3% judge it "extremely necessary", a sharp decline compared to 2008. 43.7% believes unity between Seoul and Pyongyang "quite necessary".
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