Often, you see stories of idols “giving something back” to their fans, be it making noodles, giving away free tickets or holding charity events. However occasionally you see a story that touches you personally, and this week I just so happened to stumble upon one such story that involves South Korea’s Sweetheart, IU, who has been recently made an ambassador against school violence.
While I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan of IU, I do like her music and can appreciate her wholesome and friendly image, and I believe that they made a good choice in selecting her to be ambassador. Sweet she may be, having made such a name for herself at such a young age must have required some seriously strong will. It is often said in show-business you need a thick skin, but I think that in fact the opposite is true. Especially in a culture that has a Confucian set of behavioral guidelines, everyone has a heightened need to be aware of others’ feelings and show respect to everyone. I think that is something that IU does well, and should be commended for.
Although they picked the right girl, I admit there are a few others I might have chosen — I bet G-Dragon and Seohyun would be great choices too. But mostly it just warms my heart to see a young person with such influence using it well. I’m no expert on bullying in Korea, but the huge pressure on young people to achieve academic success and look good can mean they take their frustration out on each other.
Yes, Korea may be top in terms of exam results worldwide, but take a look at some darker statistics and you’ll see how high the price is for that title. Korean students often study 6 days a week, attend cram school and private tutors, all for a few results they are told will make or break the rest of their lives. I feel uncomfortable criticizing an entire educational system, but with Korea also holding one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world, and children so stressed they would rather kill themselves instead of take the pressure of an exam, maybe it’s time something changed. Dr. Bae Joo-mi, a specialist at the Korea Youth Counseling Institute said of Korean secondary schools,
“At school, students don’t see their peers as friends but as competition and believe that they need to beat others.”
I’m of course aware that these are extreme cases and no country has zero-bullying. But while I am lucky enough to be growing up in a supportive and friendly environment where violence is virtually non-existent I have seen what schoolchildren can do. Korea has been accused of covering up cases of extreme bullying, but a recent surge in suicide among young people has meant new measures are being taken, and I really hope that IU can use her celebrity status to help that. She says in her statement that she has gone through trouble at school herself, and hopes she can “serve as a bridge between the police and schools, making sure that students study in a safe and fun environment.”
I wish her, and all the people involved luck in such a worthwhile project. It’s easy to be distracted by the glitter of K-pop, to forget that the majority of the people it is being made for live under a constant cloud of stress. I cannot commend IU highly enough for getting involved, and may we see some brighter statistics soon.