Increasingly popular overseas travel often whets young Koreans’ appetite for a new life abroad, and dreaming about it can offer respite from the grim realities at home.
The main reason is that a growing number of younger people spend time overseas studying, traveling or getting job experience on working holiday visas, which opens their minds to other places and cultures.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of youngsters between 11 to 20 who travel abroad grew to 1.52 million last year, to some 3.82 million among 21-30 year-olds, and to 4.4 million among those aged 31 to 40.
The Education Ministry says the number of Korean students who went to school abroad has risen by over 200,000 a year since the year 2000.
One young person who has caught the travel bug is Park Sung-eun (25), a freelance writer involved in a crowd-funding project through tumblbug. Over the last three years, Park has been to Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Italy and Switzerland, where he took pictures for people longing to return to these places themselves.
The photos are then turned into postcards, posters and other materials, and already 106 people have contributed more than W2 million over the last two months (US$1=W1,129). “I planned the project to share my happy memories while traveling through Europe and I was surprised by how many people contributed”, Park said.
Chat rooms have mushroomed on social media where people who have spent time abroad can reminisce and share their experiences. One 27-year-old who is looking for a job said, “I can often forget the depressing reality and reminisce about my days studying in the U.S. as I chat with other people who have experienced life overseas”.
Ham In-hee at Ewha Womans University said, “Young Koreans want to remember, even for a brief moment, happy experiences they had overseas as they are faced with a tough job market and bad news on TV every day”.
And Hyun Taek-soo of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs said “People in their 20s and 30s, who grew up in an age of globalization, are much more open to foreign cultures than older people and are quick to absorb new practices and beliefs. Many of them feel more comfortable in the U.S. or Europe”.