I came across an article on CNN about something on the rise in South Korea: loner culture. As a certification student at Yonsei University, I’ve come across the topic in my cultural studies course, but I didn’t think that the article would seem so… peculiar… to me.
“Culture” is an interesting word. A formal definition states that it is a set of values or social norms that are tied into a societal characteristic. It’s the beliefs and material traits of a group. Academically, 1-person households and the needs of single individuals were presented to those of us in the certification program as a shift in the needs of Korea’s people. I’m nerdy and I’m likely looking too much into the article’s title, but it’s not an uprising that comes from wanting to shatter the status quo.
Many of the single people in Korea are not happy to be alone.
Almost everywhere that you look while living here, you will see that your singleness — your individuality in some cases — aren’t what the doctor ordered. From couples outfits to restaurants not allowing you to dine in without at least a part of two (despite the FACT that you can inhale the 5,000 won all-you-can-eat grilled meat better than any group could), Korea values its long history of togetherness.
Is it right to call it a “culture” when people are killing themselves here over because of the isolation? Ah, I know what my problem is. I’ve associated the word “culture” with only the positive aspects of its existence. This is a…oh, that’s awful. I couldn’t see past my selective singleness. (Yeah, I’m not going to edit this aha moment out. Subconsciously thinking that everyone exercises the same choices in the same capacity is my ignorance on display. #LearningMoment)
How is this fixed? How are the individual needs of a changing society met? How many people in my apartment building are alone and don’t want to be? And no, I’m not solely speaking about intimate partners. We all need a friend, someone to lean on.
When does “this is how we/I do single living/loneliness/friendship from where I’m from” a foreigner help without harm?
[Anonymous contributor, teaching in Changwon near Busan]