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(Yonhap Feature) Young S. Koreans embrace YOLO (You Only Live Once)

2017/05/17 09:00

By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, May 17 (Yonhap) -- Park Sora, a 23-year-old nail artist living in Seoul, has no plans to find a stable job, get married or leave her parents' home.

These life goals of many South Koreans mean little to her, as she has no interest in living a long and "happy" life with a husband and kids.

"I once went abroad and met a group of foreigners there who found more happiness in drinking a good cup of coffee, for example, than in increasing their savings," Park told Yonhap News Agency on the subway to work. "I completely agreed with them."

   For Park, it's the here and now that counts more than the future, which is why she can spend all of her income on daily necessities, and ultimately, on travel.

This file photo shows the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France (Yonhap) This file photo shows the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France (Yonhap)

The young woman is among a growing number of South Koreans who have embraced the popular American motto YOLO (You Only Live Once), which was first featured in a song by Canadian rapper Drake in 2011. It was made famous again by former U.S. President Barack Obama, who uttered it in a promotional video for his health care reform law last year.

The phrase soon caught on here after appearing on a popular reality TV show.

"I don't consider this to be my lifelong job," Park said of the nail parlor where she has worked since January. "I worked on movie sets for about five or six years, and then quit, and spent a total of about four months abroad last year."

   Park's motivation for going to work that day lay in the thought that come December, she would be in Paris, traveling and doing what makes her happy. If she ran out of money, she would come back to earn some more.

But Park was quick to admit that Korean society leaves her with few other options.

"Even if I saved more money, I'd only have enough to travel," she said. "I have no interest in buying a house, but even if I did, I don't think I'd be able to with the money I make."

   Park's conclusion is shared by many of her peers. As house prices soar, there are estimates it could take 12 years for an average office worker to buy an apartment in Seoul without spending a penny. Then there is the chronic problem of youth unemployment, which has discouraged many people from getting married or having children.

This file photo shows travelers at Incheon International Airport, South Korea's main gateway. (Yonhap) This file photo shows travelers at Incheon International Airport, South Korea's main gateway. (Yonhap)

Jeong Ji-yoon, a 30-year-old journalist, was what she called a "standard" South Korean who sacrificed her passions to meet the expectations of her parents. Although she loved to draw, she gave it up at a young age to focus on getting into college, finding a job and then getting married.

When that was done, the question struck: What have I been living for?

   "I want to live for me," she said, recalling the moment.

Six months ago, Jeong began preparing for an around-the-world trip with her husband. After quitting their jobs this summer, they plan to kick off their travels in Indonesia before heading south to Australia and then across the Pacific to South America.

"I'd always wanted to do an around-the-world trip, but the turning point came when work started to get unbearable," she said. "I realized that a happy life for me would not be an extension of my current life."

   Jeong also took up drawing again.

"My parents worry and advise me to look for another job instead," she said. "In the past, I thought their advice was always right, but I don't anymore."

   Focusing on the future didn't lead to much, according to the journalist. "If I switch paths and take the one I want now, maybe I'll find an answer. If not, I can change course again."

   YOLO has become the new trend in TV programs and consumer goods too.

"Non-summit," a popular talk show on JTBC, recently dedicated an episode to discussing the manifestation of YOLO in different parts of the world. tvN's "Youn's Kitchen" also shows the life many viewers want to emulate by following the day-to-day activities of a group of actors who open a restaurant on an Indonesian resort island.

This compilation of images shows scenes from tvN's "Youn's Kitchen." (Yonhap) This compilation of images shows scenes from tvN's "Youn's Kitchen." (Yonhap)

"Businesses are also unable to predict the future because trends are fast changing. Items that are able to beat that uncertainty have a competitive edge nowadays," said Kwak Keum-joo, a psychology professor at Seoul National University.

Young people are increasingly concentrating on the present because of anxiety about the future, according to Kwak. That sense of anxiety was recently fed by the political turmoil surrounding the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye and heightened tensions created by North Korea's threats of war.

"I think YOLO is a positive trend because it means people are enjoying themselves within the boundaries of their budget," the professor said. "If it continues, I think it will breathe vitality into our society as long as it doesn't lead people to go broke or become jobless."

   But much of it will depend on whether the job market becomes flexible enough to ensure people who leave it can later return. That would also require the backing of government policy.

"When you are more faithful to the present and concentrate on it, the present will become the future," Kwak said.