“I think they think I’m a bit odd, you know. Some people call me ‘Loony’ Lovegood actually,” calmly spoke Luna Lovegood, a character from “Harry Potter,” a novel that has enchanted billions of hearts. In the book, both Lovegood and her schoolmates seem uncomfortable with mingling with each other because of her somewhat quirky personality, which makes her spend most her time by herself. If she were such a student on a Korean campus, she would be called as an “Assa.”
This slang word had been widely applied to a person reluctant to socialize with others due to a certain event or circumstance. The meaning, however, changed into a broader application, and many people even call their own as such. In order to illuminate the source of this phenomena, The Argus shed light on the Assas, whose various reasons triggered them to be the minorities in campuses.
Assa is a Korean pronunciation of the abbreviated term of the word, outsider, referring to people who do not socialize, spending most of their time alone. Rather than the term’s dictionary definition, it is understood as the meaning of “a loner.” The buzzword has been mostly used by university students in Korea, which is now also popular among teens.
“Inssa,” on the other hand, is a derivative from a word, “insider,” which harbors a rather different meaning to the original, “someone is involved in a situation.” The term is used for those who belong to the center of social circles on campus.
In the recent past, Assas were recognized as those compelled not to socialize due to a certain reason or event. One remarkable change is the expansion of the meaning of the term, subsuming “deliberate Assas.” These new figures are rather different to those who had been called as Assas before, deliberately excluding oneself from the others.
“I am not really fond of meaningless social interactions,” claimed a student of Business Administration, who calls himself as a deliberate Assa, unlike the majority. “I think it is a waste of time hanging around with people I dislike and coming up with topics to talk about while wearing a plastic smile,” he claimed.
The emergence of deliberate Assas is indeed of impression, considering the prevalent sense of community. The number of the deliberate, opting out the opposite route to the mainstream, is remarkable. The birth of the new usage of this due to the recognition of such a trend by the public raises questions about what the essentials of an Assa lifestyle are.
On top of the deliberate, another form of loners has emerged, who had to be Assas so as to arduously pave their future career paths.
Lee Seung-hyun, a junior of Chung-Ang University, preparing for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination said, “Since the exam is both difficult and high stakes, I do not have a chance to participate in various activities on campus.” On top of that, he claimed, “All of my friends who are preparing for the same exam tend not to spend their time on those as much as they did in freshman and sophomore years.”
It has been prevalent for senior students in universities to gradually recede from social circles. Such a tendency, however, also can be witnessed in a few freshmen as well nowadays. Campuses are now rife with new students who hold back from social activities, embarking instead on rather premature and lonely journeys on their yellow brick roads.
“In order to transfer to the college of pharmacy, I am currently investing a great deal of time in the Pharmacy Education Eligibility Test (PEET),” claimed a student of Korea University. “And the number of freshmen preparing for the same or other exams is no less in short compared to that of upper graders,” she added.
As Assas are diverging into various types, they are also being called by new names, such as “Pro-honbaper,” and “Dokgang-er.” The derivative from the concept of Assa, Pro-honbaper, referring to a lone gourmet, is a compound word of “professional” and “Honbap-er,” of which “Honbap” stands for eating alone. The latter, similarly, indicates an individual attending classes by oneself without any acquainted peers.
It is a sense of humor proposed against alienation from the majority that underlies such witty titles. The sporadic emergence of related terms signifies that the concept is changing its contour into palpable cultural phenomenon as it permeates into campuses across the nation. Such a trend can hence be interpreted as imbibing the feeling of isolation in a joyful manner, by coining such jocular names.
In the same vein, derivative contents, harboring the sense of alienation, are being churned out, attracting the public. “NO.popularity.human,” a Facebook page of which the devout call themselves “the unpopular,” is one of the examples of this cultural trend, boasting almost 55,000 followers. “I think that it attributes to those in their 20s whose playful approach to such bleak ideas as alienation converts it into humor, rather than taking it seriously,” replied the website manager upon a question regarding its paradoxical popularity.
Some may like a renowned tenor for the single reason of being loved by the majority. Others, on the contrary, dislike the singer, for they believe in their own idea that it is extremely rare for those beloved figures who well deserve it. Carl Gustave Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist in the early 20th century, suggested his theory of Extraversion-Introversion alongside with the above metaphor, classifying the human personality into bifold categories.
Jung’s theory on personality traits takes his audience on a brief tour on the motivation of Assa-like behaviors. Introverts tend to act upon their own personal orientation, according to his theory. He insists that the introverts are not interested in universal values, such as the preference of the popular, but are prompted by their subjective information stemming from the very selves. Hardly are they ignorant to the merits of abiding by such norm as “getting along well with others,” but they merely do not subscribe to the pervasive ideas due to a discrepancy with their own notion. Introverts with whom Assas can be identified thus can be understood as deliberately opting to be the minority in campus, since they do not consign themselves to such prevalent ideas, which hardly motivates them.
Based on Jung’s dichotomy on human personalities, an array of experiments have been undergone in order to associate the difference with biological attributes. A research, “Differences in regional brain volume related to the extraversion-introversion dimension-A voxel based morphometry study,” conducted by Stockholm Brain Institute, illuminates the correlation between a person’s propensity for socialization and the brain structure. For both gray and white matters, the research discovered that all correlations between extraversion and regional brain volume were negative. Introverts were found to have larger grey and white matters in brain covering some regions such as the right prefrontal cortex-a part known to be involved in behavioral inhibition.
Assa in the recent past was an “Assa” itself, no more than a plain name. Then how could those marginal individuals in universities establish themselves as drivers of new campus culture?
The advent of individualism in Korean society can be the factor that eroded the predominant values of collectivism. The shift in the ambience has been embodied in the result of a recent poll that manifests changes in people’s priorities.
Undergraduates who call themselves as deliberate Assas amounted to 45.8 percent among the total of 889 students, according to a survey conducted by Albamon, a Korean version of LinkedIn for part-timers. They rated their lifestyle of solitude as 7.2 out of 10 on average, a rating score that implies a considerable degree of satisfaction. Many respondents replied with reasons such as: “more convenient without caring about others,” and “being sick of relationships,” measuring up to 67.7 percent and 22.3 percent, respectively.
It is noticeable from these responses that individualism is infiltrating into every single segment of Korean society, including campus life. A great deal of respondents seemed to emphasize individualistic values and traits, such as “one’s own convenience” and “skepticism on forming relationships.” Considering the individualistic impressions that surfaced on the responses, the birth of new Assas and related contents seems inevitable.
The devastating competition in the job market is accelerating the spread of Assa culture in campuses. The unemployment rate of the demographics of 25 and 29-year-olds reached 9.5 percent in 2017, of which the rate of increase recorded 50.8 percent compared to 2007, according to Statistics Korea, a governmental institution. It is no wonder that students dismiss befriending with schoolmates, but devote oneself into practical breadwinning after graduation.
On account of the unprecedented saturation in the job market, many undergraduates are embarking on their pursuit of professions of which the trend impels students to be Assas. Never do the fierce competition and instability of employment seem to subside, and this has led a great deal of college students in Korea to deem it less attractive to seek a position at a private company than in the past. Many of them thus decide to arm themselves with expertise and a license for a certain profession in order to remain competitive. Such growing tendencies also illustrate that the importance of various social activities, such as interacting with diverse individuals through colorful experiences, has diminished.
In order for an individual to be engaged in such professional occupations, prerequisites are undoubtedly “professional” knowledge and skills, rather than extracurricular activities students can experience during the years in college. Requirements for a prospective employee of a private company, on the other hand, are much different to those of professionals.
“Activities such as clubs are the miniatures of many companies,” answered a personnel manager of a domestic business as for the question on the importance. “Through the experience, students can learn and experience what they will face in the business environment. It is therefore more important in private sector jobs than other professions,” he replied.
When it comes to specialized jobs, in contrast, a requisite diploma and certificate are mandatory for the entitlement. The effort, also, to be afforded for thorough understanding on one’s expertise and a following certificate is somewhat incoherent to that of joining a business, for it is one’s own struggle. Those burgeoning examinees hence do not necessarily take part in such activities.
The emotion of loneliness, accompanied by the way of living as an Assa, can impinge on the individual. Being an Assa is not by any means synonymous to shoving oneself into a bottomless depression, for personal characters differ in each individual by which the degree and consequence due to the loneliness vary. Harboring such a negative emotion itself, nonetheless, never seems desirable, since acting upon one’s personality and feeling lonely are in different realms.
Loneliness, or social pain, and physical pain were discovered to indicate a strong associate with each other, according to a study conducted by a faculty of UCLA. Naomi Eisenberger, a university professor, unraveled the fact that both social isolation and physical pain derive from a response in the same brain region, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Her finding suggests that the distress can impose detrimental effect as much as a tangible damage.
The emotion, in addition, ramifies into an array of bleak facets that can adversely affect individuals. Roy F. Baumeister, a renowned psychologist, and his research team unearthed the correlation between intellectual ability and loneliness through a placebo personality test by telling a group of undergraduates that they will be ostracized in the future, and the opposite to the other. The results displayed a striking contrast between the two, of which the average IQ score of the control group outwitted that of the dismissed. Another experiment held by Wharton Business School identified that the more an employee feels loneliness, the more one’s capabilities become impaired, ranging from individual job performance to contribution to group members.
As Korean society imports individualism nowadays, people are witnessing a transitional period of social change. Due to the remnants of collectivism, meanwhile, the burden of the Assa lifestyle does not seem to recede any as the two values collide.
Hofstede Six-dimension Model, an index that reflects cultural inclinations of countries across the globe, indicates that South Korea gained 18 out of 100 points in the “Individualism” dimension. The United States and Japan, on the other hand, received 91 and 46, respectively, on Individualism, of which the latter is regarded as a considerably collectivistic nation. Compared to other cultures, it is observable that collectivism still is dominant, playing as a mainstream sentiment underlying Korean society.
Isaac Yun, a Korean-American exchange student in Yonsei University, replied obliquely to a question regarding the Assa culture on Korean campuses as, “I definitely see things going on in Korea.” Yun, who is a student of Berkeley University, also claimed, “Even my American friends in Yonsei, who are also exchange students, told me that they are usually fine with eating alone in the States, but uncomfortable in Korea. My other friends in Berkley are usually fine with doing things alone.”
The sense of reluctance toward being an Assa, stemming from irremovable social residue, is leaving a trail, especially on social networks. An YouTube video, titled as “To Be an Inssa, I’ll Tell You How!!,” illustrates how to become popular among college friends, which drew more than 100,000 views. The deluge of videos with the similar contents on the website implies that hardly does the recent influx of individualism dispose of stigmas on Assas applied by the existing collectivism.
“However prevalent people do things by themselves, such as eating alone, I still feel uncomfortable with it,” says Kim Min-ji, a student of Sungshin Women’s University. She expressed her unwillingness to be called as an Assa, claiming, “I am worried about what others would think about me when being alienated from the majority.”
Hardly can the perks of being an Assa be overlooked. One of the advantages of divesting oneself from social circles, is enabling the person to escape from the tacit obligation on participating in unpalatable gatherings, thus securing additional time for one’s own sake. Despite the merits in which Assas can bask, its setbacks prevail.
Isolating oneself from the others can result in a curtailing in the number of opportunities to cultivate social skills, compared to so called Inssas. Early-20-somethings just fresh out of high school tend to undergo a drastic change in lifestyle as they proceed to a college, a stepping stone to a broader world. They hence acquire qualities via novel experience, including how to socialize with the unacquainted. However abounding other opportunities may be, it is no more than narrowing the scope of choices for individual growth in a broad sense.
Aside from impeding self-improvement, Assa lifestyle is often followed by some drawbacks. Many gatherings and clubs on campus often double as channels of information. Excluding oneself from such social circles, thus, can lead to asymmetry in useful information compared to those actively participate in those occasions. “The more circles you join, the more people you can get acquainted with, ranging from students in other majors to graduates” said a student majoring in Political Science and Diplomacy. “It is often helpful to know many people in those gatherings, and acquire much information afterwards.”
It is not important whether to be called as an Assa, for one’s mode of life cannot be subject to valuation, but is mere preference. It is, nevertheless, inevitable to experience shortcomings of being overly immersed into either side. Rather than circumscribing oneself to a certain pattern, it is imperative to take an eclectic approach by adopting what is best for oneself from the either side.
By An Kwan-ho
Staff Reporter of Campus Section