As a ray of sunlight constantly caresses my cheeks, I try to raise my weary body from the mattress which is smooth as a kitten’s fur. When I finally manage to open my puffy eyes, I am staring at a pale face drenched with fatigue. Vivid dark circles remind me of Gollum and the momentary overlap awakens me. A piercing scent of alcohol pervades the room and a bitter taste forces me to retch.
A screeching of a bus passing by pulls me back to reality. As I stroll down the bustling alley, I scroll down through my Youtube recommendations. I instinctively click on a thumbnail that shows Dwayne Johnson flexing gloriously. With a usual majestic, adrenaline-pumping music in the background, the gorgeous bald specimen points at me with a hulking arm thicker than my thigh. He grandly declares in my earphone, “If you are watching this video, you are not satisfied with your life. Respect is not given; you have to work every single day to earn it.” I watched it a thousand times, yet I am always bounced back to my reality.
I see people outrunning me as I enter the moderately cramped subway platform and my heart tenses. As more of them sprint past me, my heart can no longer bear it. I am falling behind, which is the one thing I tried to prevent from happening my whole life. Life seems like an endless tag with a bundle of strangers where I can never stop regardless of my will.
As I proceed through a congested avenue, someone firmly grasps my arm from behind. A pair of youthful men and women whom I’ve never encountered before enthusiastically initiate a conversation. “Pleasure to meet you! Judging from your face, your soul seems severely oppressed and this can be a grave danger to your happiness. Something is obstructing your fortune. Would you give us five min…” I utter an apology and keep walking. As they see their game getting away, they begin to appeal with obnoxious warnings composed of personal attacks on my “ominous” face, but I already have my earphones in.
With a sigh, I contemplate on how everything used to be simple back in high school. Back then, life in college for me was a realm of “happily ever after.” I had thought I knew what I wanted in life, but now everything that seemed obvious is not anymore. Self-doubt crawls in when I cannot answer a question as simple as “who am I.” Freedom is too boundless that at some point, it begins to suffocate me.
While I skim through the UIC Scribe webpage on my phone, a short article catches my sight: “‘Dae-ie-byeong,’ the Puberty of Youths.”
I read bits of the article:
“This moody phenomenon which many university students in Korea are suffering through recently is referred to as ‘dae-ie-byeong’. It originates from a Korean slang, ‘jung-ie-byeong’, to describe the symptoms of puberty dominant among the middle school students. Only in this case, it depicts the lethargic, pessimistic state prevalent in university students who have made their first leap to society. Such a state arises from uncertainty towards the future and insecurity in one’s identity.”
The causes for this “illness” are manifold. One of the prevailing causes seems to be students’ discontent with their majors. The overheated competition in the college entrance examination leads many students to choose their majors based on their grades and test scores rather than their interests and aptitudes. Naturally, students then worry about how or whether they should make a living with their degrees. These initial concerns evolve into deeper emotions such as anxiety and fear about their career paths.
Another possible factor leading to this misfortune is the culture of over-romanticizing college life. Students believe they are entitled to success and happiness after entering college, when that is not the case in reality. While the early twenties are a privileged period with new opportunities that students should capitalize on, this period still remains a challenging time where one must proactively strive to improve. I chuckle as I look back on my own experiences and my fears of not improving too quickly enough. Surely though, there is no need for any rush. The key is to maintain enthusiasm and explore.
“Dae-ie-byeong” is not something that can be cured overnight or an obstacle one needs to overcome. In fact, one should embrace this time as the natural course of (college) life. In an age of uncertainty, developing fears of unemployment and career choices is normal and stress inevitably follows. But with a positive attitude, this time serves as a chance to reflect on life as well as spark transformation and renewal.
I finally feel a glimmering sense of tranquility. The answer was so simple: We should cherish every moment. In the end, wherever I walk paves a way to my life, whatever I see collectively constitutes a world of my own. As long as we maintain our drive and passion, we will discover our place in the world, and college is only a new beginning for the long long ahead.