[Weekender] Membership training breaks ice for campus life
Published : Aug 7, 2015 - 18:00
Updated : Aug 7, 2015 - 18:34

South Korean students tend to have high hopes about their campus life, giving them something to look forward to as they trudge through years of cramming and countless tests. Membership training is one of the campus events that boosts freshmen’s expectations.

The “MT” ritual is designed to help freshmen adapt to campus life. Staying at a simple resort, usually in the woods or along a river, for a day or two, students can make new friends and build rapport with each other, as well as exchange information related to their academic schedules, assignments and tests.  

Students from Tongmyong University in Busan are drawing pictures on the wall in Bok-dong village, South Gyeongsang Province during a “Volunteer Activities for Rural Communities” event on July 21. (Yonhap)

What’s notable is that it is fairly common to see college students organize MTs on a regular basis, mostly involving student unions. Student leaders work together to set up an MT budget, recruit participants, organize recreational events and make reservations. Participants pay the fees in advance to finance the event.

Wee Sung-jae, 22, a student union member at a Seoul-based university, said great efforts are made to meet the high expectations of freshmen. 

“Many MTs are scheduled at the beginning of the year, and drinking and playing games together during the event are the best way to break the ice among newbies,” said Wee.“For the student union, the most difficult challenge is to set up a creative program, while avoiding overlapping with other programs,” he added.

There are several types of MTs for Korean university students. An MT for helping freshmen learn the basics of campus life is called a “sae-teo.” Those who belong to the same department organize a department MT while the broader college-wide, massive MT is called “OT,” of just orientation.

While sae-teo and the department MT focus on forging close relationships among members, orientation puts more emphasis on conveying necessary information regarding university life, including registration for courses and the introduction of professors, classes and annual events. 

Students from Jeonbuk Science College‘s nursing department are checking blood pressure and glucose levels of the elderly at Chilbo Elementary in North Jeolla Province during a “Volunteer Activities for Rural Communities” event on July 23. (Yonhap)

Students also hold another type of group activity, called “nonghwal,” referring to their volunteer activities designed to help Korea’s rural communities during the summer vacation season.

“Aside from official MTs, we often organize unofficial MTs such as those planned by campus clubs,” said Lim Jee-eun, president of a university dance club. The enduring popularity of MTs among college students has to do with the dynamics of campus life. Students from across the nation with different backgrounds want to form a cluster of like-minded friends quickly, and MTs are one of the faster routes.

“Frankly speaking, it would have been difficult for me to find (like-minded) friends without the MT that I attended as a freshman,” said Lee Ju-young, 23, who is now a junior. The speed at which students form friendships is accelerated by the usual drinking parties coupled with group games.

Sometimes, students invite professional singers to grace the stage or present their own skits or live performances to fire up the atmosphere.

A drinking game called “X Man,” in which some seniors pretend to be freshmen until they are discovered, is especially popular.

“Our department has a game called Moonlight Dating in which randomly chosen boys and girls must carry out a random mission under the moonlight outside the resort,” said a freshman attending Hankuk Universities of Foreign Studies.

Considering the nature of such activities, it is hardly surprising that some students find their romantic partners at MT.

“It was impossible for me to imagine being in a couple so quickly, right after I passed the college entrance exam,” said Oh Sun-bin, a 23-year-old student who met her boyfriend during an MT session. “I never knew MT could play cupid.”

For all its advantages, MT also has its not-so-romantic side. Some students are exposed to sexual harassment during an MT, and some events have led to fatal accidents as a result of lax safety rules and negligence. 

Critics argue it’s time to abolish the MT custom saddled with problems, but proponents claim the MT has a positive function for college students as a bridge for forging networks in campus in an effective manner.

By Kim Yu-jin (