Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.
This piece of news struck deep within me.
I am a mother of three teenage daughters. I am trying to raise my children to be the best they can, to not necessarily go with society’s flow and to do things that will keep them motivated and thankful in life, while contributing to the good of the society in which they live.
Since young, I have always been interested in youth welfare. My day job involves working with young people, with whom I easily interact with and who I dare say, are comfortable with me. And I consider myself friends and a mother-figure to a couple of young Koreans – MJ and JM – who are in their late 20s.
MJ who is 28, graduated with a degree in electronics and communications engineering from one of the nation’s best maritime university. When I first got to know him, MJ was a year out of university and like any Korean youths, were job-hunting.
In Malaysia, job-hunting means looking out for wanted ads and submitting an application should the job interests you. Then you wait.
But in Korea, job hunting is a big task all on its own. I don’t really understand the process because I avoid asking MJ about it. Furthermore I know that job hunting itself is a stressful task to these youths. It is, to all youths I am sure. So I am not about to add to that stress by asking MJ about job-hunting in his country.
So what does job-hunting entails for Korean youths?
Lots of ‘studying’.
I remember MJ telling me many a times that he needs to ‘study’ for his numerous interviews. ‘Studying’ means to research extensively on the job to which he applied, to educate himself about what the company does etc as a preparation for an interview. All these is done just so that he is one up against the other candidates. And that is, if he gets selected for an interview at all.
And typical of anything Korean, this ‘studying’ is taken very seriously. Constant visits to the library. Lengthy time spent in cafes for discussion with friends. Meetings with university seniors or with others from whom he could potentially get more information from.
During this time, MJ would be out of contact for a period of time. If there are any form of communication with him, it would be somewhat brief.
Until one fine day, I would get a text from him.
“I am on my way to (name of city) for the interview”. After several hours, I would get another text. “I’m finished. Going home now.”
I never ask “how was it?” or “did you do well?” I think that would be too much pressure on him.
So my reply would just be, “Good. Text me once you reached home.”
This process was repeated many times when MJ was job-hunting.
The MJ I first got acquainted with is an easy-going riding enthusiast and the proud owner of the Four Rivers Bike Trail certificate. But as the demands and pressure to secure work descended on him, his bike rides was limited to the occasional weekends only.
Fast forward to August 2016.
After months of erratic communications, days of studying and even days of silence, I received the text below from MJ.
MJ had secured himself a nifty little job working for an agency under the nation’s Ministry of National Defense. All his hard work had paid off. And as proud as MJ’s eomma is, I am sure MJ has increased his personal value in the eyes of many young girls. 😉
I got acquainted with JM at the same time as I did MJ.
JM, who is two years older than MJ, was already employed in the computer systems industry. JM is a computer systems analyst and a graduate from one of South Korea’s top ten universities.
I know of some computer analysts but somehow, JM’s job seems more stressful. There are times when he is on a project that he doesn’t leave until past midnight, only to have him return to work again the next morning.
Initially I thought it was the oh-so-familiar Korean work culture. But JM seemed to have it worst.
Other than the long hours, he often laments about how the clients fail to understand what they really need and refuses to accept an analyst’s proposal. He constantly tells me that his job don’t allow him much leisure time. On top of that, JM volunteers in a weekly Big Brother program. Every few months, JM has a test to sit for. For promotion? Salary increase? I am not sure but it seems he still need to study too, at this stage in his life.
Right now, JM is working on a project that, as usual, is keeping him working till late.
I am no longer surprise when I receive a text from him at 2am telling me that he is just leaving the office. Or a selfie-text of him in the gym with the caption “I can finally come here”. If not for me being asleep when he sent those, I would probably call him and give him a ‘motherly advice’ about work-life balance.
Last spring, JM went on a 4day vacation out of the country. That was the first, and last time I know of him taking a holiday. He has not gone away from that city since then.
The JM I know is a rather reserved young man with a wicked sense of humour. He don’t normally initiate a conversation and when he does, it is usually light-hearted news or something that he finds amusing and wants to share.
But when I receive a text like this, I know he is feeling the pressure.
So what do you say to a young person who is feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders? This…
I know I could have said something better. But with JM, its best to say it as it is.
He gets it. He understands. He knows that he needs to give his all in order to achieve whatever his goals in life are. He also knows he needs to be realistic.
Right now, all he needs is to know that someone understands and empathize with what he is going through.
This brings me back to this story. There is a photo at the end of the article. Like MJ and JM, he is young. Just starting his life out in the world.
So many young men, and women, are putting their best foot forward in order to contribute to the society they are in. Through their upbringing and education, they have proved themselves. To families. To society. And that is why they are where they are now.
Is it necessary to make them feel unworthy of praise? To feel unappreciated? To be ridiculed for their so-called inexperience? Don’t we, as parents and elders, trust that we have done enough with the upbringing and educating of our children for them to lead the nation?
I am a mother of three school-going daughters, and two ‘sons’ who are just starting to contribute to society. I pray they will continue to be motivated and thankful for what they have, and to give back to society.
Because we certainly didn’t nurture them just to watch them leave before us, did we?
Footnote: Cover photo was taken by MJ during his Four Rivers Trail bike ride from Busan to Seoul in winter of 2013. 📷 credit to SMJ/Busan/2013