Teenagers voice rage at a society they feel has abandoned them

Posted on : 2014-04-26 16:13 KST Modified on : 2014-04-26 16:13 KST
South Korea’s young people post messages communicating their sense of having been betrayed by the grownups they’ve trusted
 Gyeonggi Province
Gyeonggi Province

By Kim Ki-seong, Kim Il-woo and Hong Yong-deok, staff reporters in Ansan

“Friends, I hope you aren’t reborn in a country like this.”

“Good bye! I will keep fighting with the bad grownups to make sure that sad things like this never happen again.”

Rage is building among teenagers as they think about their friends whose promising lives were tragically cut short in the sinking of the Sewol ferry. As they gazed at the smiling young faces in the funeral portraits, they brooded over the inept and irresponsible behavior of the government and grownups.

The messages that teenagers started putting up around Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, immediately after the ferry sank have ranged from hope to mourning, and now they are turning into rage. The students’ emotional state is clearly palpable at the message board located in front of the Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall, where the temporary collective memorial altar is set up.

The messages immediately after the accident were hopeful, saying, “We’re waiting for you,” “You have to come back,” and “We have to study together and go to university together.” But as the government contradicted itself and bungled the rescue process, these notes began to boil over with rage.

“Korea sucks. I’ve never been so embarrassed,” said a note left by a third-year student at a girls’ high school. Another student wrote, “Think about the students who were crying, terrified in the cold waters of the ocean. I really hate to think that people in the government may have covered their ears and closed their eyes.”

In the eyes of young people - who have plenty of information at their fingertips thanks to the Internet and social media such as KakaoTalk - the government is bound to look feckless, insincere, and unreliable.

These students also scorn the social atmosphere that only considers making money. “Our society is one where people only look out for themselves. Because of grownups’ greed, these students’ lives were lost in the blink of an eye,” wrote a second-year student at Singil Middle School in Ansan. “What is the reason that we study ethics? I really wish grownups wouldn’t live so unethically. I wish that our precious young lives could be made safe,” another student opined.

The notes also record frustration with the slow rescue operation and the government’s incompetence. “The government keeps telling lies. They just say that they are rescuing the students, but it doesn’t seem like they are doing anything,” wrote a third-year male student surnamed Yoo at Donong Middle School in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province.

Another message said, “This is a country that can’t fix the barn even after the cow has escaped. There are so many tragedies, and I just don’t know why we can’t snap out of it.”

“Probably the worst thing for the students on the ferry was that they did nothing but study before they died. They were just trying to take a break from their studies,” another student wrote.

“Teenagers are basically raised to be ‘studious animals,’” said Yun Cheol-gyeong, a senior researcher at the National Youth Policy Institute. “Grownups ought to be criticized for failing to teach adolescents how to make their own decisions in a crisis situation and how to escape from danger. While it is sad to see teenagers responding to the accident by expressing their distrust of the established generation, this is a completely natural reaction.”

Over the past year, a total of 265 teenagers have gone missing or perished in large-scale disasters. On July 18, 2013, five high school students at a privately run marine boot camp on Anmyeon Island in Taean County, South Chungcheong Province, were swept away and never recovered after they were sent into the water without wearing life vests. On Feb. 17, 10 incoming students at the Busan University of Foreign Studies were killed and 124 wounded when the auditorium at the Manua Ocean Resort in Gyeonggju, North Gyeongsang Province, collapsed. And 250 students at Danwon High School are dead or missing after the sinking of the Sewol ferry.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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