[IN&OUT KOREA] Inside the minds of liberal arts grads facing a hopeless future

Apr 29, 2016, 10:28 am

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"You better go to science college.
You won't get a job with a liberal arts degree."


"Mun-song hamnida" Interview #1 - 'A', a 28-year-old translator 


The buzz-phrase "Mun-song hamnida" has become something obvious these days, but not to this extent when 28-year-old translator, 'A', had to choose between a liberal arts track and a science track in high school.

1. Mun-song hamnida (문송합니다): It is short for "I'm sorry I'm a liberal arts grad."
2. In-gu-ron (인구론): It is short for "90% of liberal arts grads are jobless."
3. Woo-moon-mal (우문말): It is short for "My mom told me not to go to liberal arts college."
4. Opo Generation (5포세대): It refers to the generation that gives up five major life events, such as dating, marriage, raising children, social life, and owning a house.

The barriers liberal arts grads are facing are reflected in their self-depreciating language. Last year, abbreviated shorts terms created by liberal arts grads were popular among them.  

She barely found a job as a translator. However, by the time when she was a job seeker, the voices of her high school teachers kept ringing in her ears, saying, "You won't get a job with a liberal arts degree."

"I couldn't do something that wasn't right for me. But when I look back, I regret it."

She chose to study English literature because she liked it, naively thinking she could get a job without a problem with good grades in university. As graduation approached, she submitted job applications as much as she could. But overall, few jobs were outside the reach of a liberal arts grad.

Even so, most of her job applications were rejected. As a result, she went on only two job interviews. In fact, most of liberal arts grads must have suffered similar experience.

More than half of liberal arts majors seeking for a job said they would not choose their major again if they can go back to the past.

Looking at the enormous employment size gap between liberal arts and science majors in the job market, 'A' thought having tough times during four years in school is better than being doomed to a lifetime of unemployment and poverty.

Several statistics last year backed up what most job seekers have long suspected: Liberal arts majors have a harder time finding jobs than science majors.

It is much more difficult for liberal arts students to get into universities, and their future income against the money spent for university tuition and job search activities was relatively unfavorable to them. This trend is expected to worsen over time.

A study by Korea Employment Information said Korean industry will need 270,000 engineering graduates over the next 10 years while there will be a surplus of 60,000 humanities and social science graduates.

"Working is tough for liberal arts degree holders."

'A' is grateful for being able to work as a translator, but she doesn't like the perception that anyone who's learned second language at school can work as a translator."


"You first have to be a good writer. Therefore, you need to have a linguistic sense and specialty in order to rewrite ideas expressed in the source language in a way that feels natural in the target language as fast as you can. I hope people don't think it's an easy profession."

"When I come home from work, I feel empty."

"Mun-song hamnida" Interview #2 - 'B', a 29-year-old office worker


Here is another liberal arts graduate who is yelling for "Mun-song hamnida." A 29-year old office worker, B, feels empty as a worker. She is smart and speaks English well. She went to one of the top universities, chose a fine major, and got pretty good grades. But she was a liberal arts graduate.

Currently, she works in a prominent publishing company of English teaching materials. Now she turned 29 years old. To be honest, she feels empty and lonely. Hobbies? Dating? She barely lifts a finger when she gets home after work.

She frequently works overtime and even works during the weekend. But that doesn't mean she earns enough money to spend. She feels lost and lonely.

"A daily routine of an ordinary
overworked 29-year-old office worker"

'B' gets up at six in the morning because she commutes between Gyeonggi-do and Seoul on weekdays. In general, she works overtime around 7 in the evening, and arrives home at 9. Once she gets home, she takes a late-night snack and watches TV all night to relieve stress from work, thinking, "I can't help it. I live my life like everyone else."

"My colleague who couldn't stand spending three hours travelling to and from work every day like me, got a house near the office and he was easily called away on weekends. I can't move out of my parents' house because that gives me a good excuse for leaving the office before midnight."

"I think I belong to Opo Generation."

"Fortunately I got a job in a strong medium enterprise with my liberal arts degree. But I have to supplement living expenses of my parents because they have recently retired. I'm not saving money for a wedding or a house. I want to hang out with my friends, but I don't want to overspend. So I try not to hang out twice a week.

But I think everyone is having a hard time and I shouldn't complain about it. There are still examples everywhere of people in worse situations than myself. Some of my friends are still applying for jobs while those who got a job look busy paying back their student debts."

"If I had money…"


Her short-term career goal is to get promoted to an assistant manager. The next goal is to shift to a company with more benefits packages. For her long-term career goal of entering graduate school of English education, she is studying at her spare time.

But she confessed, "To be honest, I'd like to live comfortably while earning a living with rental properties."

"Wouldn't it be nice become a building owner and earn a living with rental properties? Working without stress is my wish."

Despite everything, they have their own ways of coping stress.


For 'A', it's "chatting with friends in a beautiful café."

Visiting beautiful cafes with friends on weekend. I relieve stress from work by drinking delicious coffee and chatting with friends. This is the best thing that I can afford.

Here are photos of the cafes that 'A' went to visit.

For B, it's "having a good time with her people."

My people help me get through hard times at work. My biggest strength is having a good time with the people whom I love and who love me most.

When I meet my friends, I tell them everything down to the last detail and I feel much better.

Both 'A' and 'B' wanted to maintain anonymity. But they wondered if they were living like everyone else, or if everyone was living life to the fullest like their Facebook lives. Maybe 'B' is not the only one who feels empty and lonely after work. We are waiting for your information. And let us know about your life's little pleasures.


#liberal arts graduate #science major #Opo Generation #unemployment #Korea Employment Information Service 
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