These days, there are many people who drink coffee or eat alone in cafes and restaurants on the streets. We can also see this regularly on campus. Seeing students eating and going to the library alone is not unusual. It is because the number of students who spend time alone in order to use their time efficiently is increasing. Due to this trend, the attitude of society toward the “Nahollo” is changing. However, decreased interaction in society could still be considered a negative development. One website posted a photo of a student eating alone in the toilet of a university, so being part of the Nahollo Tribe has become a topic of conversation on the web. This Cover Story deals with the increased presence of the “Nahollo Tribe,” and the changes it represents in society.
What is the “Nahollo Tribe?”
The “Nahollo Tribe” refers to a group of people who have no interest in group activities, or mingling with other people. Additionally it refers to those who spend their time alone engrossed in their own lives. It is not the same as the “Single Tribe” which refers to unmarried people. Being part of the Nahollo Tribe also refers to people who are not ashamed of their lifestyles. These people eat, watch movies, and do things alone because they want to. These days, many people become part of the Nahollo Tribe willingly, but some become members due to the adverse economic environment.
The Nahollo Tribe numbers on the rise
One out of two office workers responded that they think they are part of the Nahollo Tribe, according to a survey of 1,544 office workers conducted by the online job-search site “Saramin” in 2007. The survey showed that 57.3% of the respondents in their 20’s responded yes, 53.7% in their 30’s, 37.9% in their 40’s, and 33.3% in their 50’s. The numbers is increasing because of harsh economic realities. Saramin recently conducted another survey of 488 office workers, and 64.3% of the respondents have replied they think they are members because of economic difficulties. That number has increased by 17.4% compared to a survey that was conducted in 2010. Our society has also changed in that many people place greater emphasis on individuality, so interactions between people have been deemphasized.
Increased individualism was cited most often (32%) in the survey as the reason the Nahollo Tribe is on the rise. Increased urbanization and personalization are spreading in society and being in the Nahollo Tribe has gained general acceptance. The development of gadgets like smart phones and smart machines has also led to greater isolation.
Societal changes because of the Nahollo Tribe
The rise of the Nahollo Tribe has been concurrent to the increase in single-person households. The number of single-person households has edged up to 5 million which accounts for over 10% of the nation’s population. It is expected that the number of single-person households will grow more than two-person households by the end of 2012. According to statistics from the Population and Housing Census in Seoul, single-person households outnumbered four-person households for the first time last year. Society has placed more attention on the economic influence of single-person households as “Nahollo households” continue to increase. Individually packed products are a prime example. These products have become popular among loners because they are convenient to use alone. Individually packed products like vegetables are increasing and expanding to fruits. Individually wrapped vegetables rose by 52% and individually wrapped fruits rose by 41% between 2010 and 2011. Furthermore, mini versions of beverages and drinks such as mini wine and small volume canned beers have been launched. Cafes and restaurants which target single patrons are increasing. Some cafes are designed for customers who come alone. Stores that provide space for single customers have also appeared. In Seoul, coffee shops, restaurants, and even BBQ restaurants and bars are marketing themselves to customers who want to come in by themselves. These days, consumers who look for individual trips are growing. According to INTERPARKTOUR, backpacking tour products have increased by about 22% over the same period in 2012. The Observer visited a “C” restaurant which provides seats for single customers, located in Dongseongro, Daegu. The seats for individual customers are designed and made to make eating alone more comfortable. It is located in an alley away from the center of town. Public spaces that cater to individual are popping up like a reading room with dividers and curtains. A customer can order without communicating with employees by using a pen and paper set on the table. A trivia quiz is written on a note and posted on the wall for single customers who are bored. The menu varies from pasta and pork cutlet to Korean dishes. Many of the patrons are students who study at Gosiwons near Dongseongro.
The growing number of university Nahollo Tribe
The job portal site Incruit conducted a survey of 443 university students in July 2012. Out of 332 students about 74.9% answered they were in the Nahollo Tribe. When asked what their main activities were, 81.9% responded “Studying at the library,” “Registering for courses and taking classes” was next at 71.4%, “Eating” accounted for 70.8%, “Shopping” 69.9% and “Watching movies in the theater” 30.4%. In response to why they spent time alone, “To make good use of time” was the most common reply at 46.7%, “To be comfortable” was next at 36.1%, “To save money” accounted for 8.1%, and “There is no one compatible to share my time with” accounted for 6.6%. When we asked people about their perception of the Nahollo Tribe, “No opinion” accounted for 49.4%, “They are taking charge of their lives” accounted for 39.7%. A common negative answer was, “It looks like they have problems with personal relationships” and accounted for only 10.8%. The reason most university students gave for the growth of the Nahollo Tribe was “Looking for a job.” It is a social phenomenon being faced by students due to the serious unemployment crisis. There are more and more students who choose to work on certifications or voluntary service for their careers rather than spend time with friends. These days, students do not need to be involved in group study. They can get information regarding jobs through the Internet cafes of academies or online education programs. Each student has his/her own requisite subjects, so they have different schedules from their friends. Personal plans, like taking a semester off, are difficult to do with a group of friends. The development of electronic gadgets is another reason for the growth of the Nahollo Tribe. It simply isn’t necessary to interact with others directly in many cases. People can get whatever information they need or entertain themselves through these smart machines. Just look around on the subway and it is not hard to see that many people prefer their smart machines to actually interacting with other people.
Changes in campus life by the Nahollo Tribe
“Bab-tudy” is a compound word from Bab (meal in Korean expression) and study. The term is used for a meeting of students who want to escape from the sight of “being alone.” Bab-tudy groups are increasing gradually and can be easily found on the campus bulletin board. Dutch-pay is prerequisite and daily routine topics are shared during meal times. Etiquette in Bab-tudy is not to ask about private affairs to keep privacy. Especially in the Gosiwons, Bab-tudy is a trend and it also increases on the Internet cafe and communities related to Bab-tudy.
Interview with students
Sophomore, Mr. A
Q) How do you feel about living alone?
A) Living alone is convenient but lonesome. For me, it is very hard. I realize that I do not have anyone to talk to except for professors when I need to ask someone about campus life and school work. Gradually I have become more acquainted with this life style. My “alone time” has increased and I find myself not caring about spending time with others. Alone time is good for studying, but from time to time I still feel lonely.
Q) What do you usually do in your free time between classes?
A) My first class is at 9 a.m. and my last classes are at 4:30 a.m. or 6:00 p.m., so I have a lot of free time between classes. At first I previewed and brushed up for my subjects blindly in the library, but I came to think that I could not make up for my deficiencies by myself, so I searched for a study group on campus. In these study sessions, I can get answers and find out what I need to know, but the people there are also only and do not want to make friends. When I feel heavy in a good weather in free time between classes, I used to go to the pond in the back yard, I used to walk and think over what I look forward to and what to do next while looking at people passing by.
Q) Regarding the previous question, how do you feel?
A) During my freshman year I had many friends, but after being discharged from the army, it felt like making friends changed. Actually, I think society has become more egotisical. Sometimes, I felt people only met each other for their own benefit and nobody was really interested in me. These thoughts made me sad.
Q) What do you want campus life to be like?
A) I want to find a group of people who are interested in both studying together for employment qualifications or English development and making friends to share our lives. I would also like to make an effort to make friends in the classroom and to get closer to them. I want to have many faithful friends who aren’t afraid to share our feelings.
Sophomore, Miss K
Q) What do you think about the Nahollo Tribe?
A) I am satisfied with my life. I can have leisure time and not be bound to any personal relations. My sophomore year has been productive, and I prefer to have time for myself rather than spending time away drinking coffee with friends. Personal time is more vaulable at this point.
Q) What do you usually do in your free time between classes?
A) First, I work for a mentorship program in my free time to help 3rd grade elementary school students three times a week. When I am done with that, I walk back to campus to stay healthy. On the days I do not have the mentorship program; I search the Internet where I get information about official exhibitions or job openings when I return to the dormitory. On days when my free time is short, I go to my department library to preview class materials and study.
Q) Regarding the previous question, how do you feel?
A) Sometimes I feel that I may have some defects in my character because I prefer being alone to associating with others, but at that time I cover up those thoughts by telling myself that working for my future must come first.
Q) How do you want to lead your campus life?
A) I want to make a full effort for my goals rather than waste time hanging out vainly or club hopping. However, I think being sociable and having a balanced life is necessary. I want to lead an exemplary campus life both by keeping relations with others and staying focused on my goals.
Interview with a professor
Q) Why is the Nahollo Tribe growing?
A) This generation has been able to enjoy their lives by themselves without meeting people face to face off-line since their childhood because of the development of SNS and smart phones. In other words, it is hard to make friends of the same age for the current youth. It is difficult for people who have not experienced the formation of human relations since their childhood to make contact with others.
Our whole society also has a problem. Our society is fixed in a rivalry system whereby people cannot afford to look around. People are not concerned about people who are different, those who advance ahead and those who fall behind in a fixed society. Particularly, students and young children are deficient in cohesive identity and solidarity among the same age group. Society is changing into a harsher place where people cannot share their hearts, while its members are falling behind gradually. From these facts, we can find the causes of further growth of the Nahollo Tribe.
Q) What do you think about the university Nahollo Tribe?
A) Students should become positive Nahollo Tribe members. I advise students in my class to attend individually. The formation of relationships is one process of education. Many students don’t know their class-mates’ names and don’t greet one another even though they have attended classes together for four years. I don’t understand why they don’t manage human capital and give so much concern to money management. If they live that way, they will lose the opportunity to meet others. I think Bab-tudy is also ridiculous. They should endure eating alone. That seems sound egotistic but it can be a healthy phenomenon.
Q) How should the growing the Nahollo Tribe proceed?
A) Many aspects should be changed. Most importantly, families should change. To make sound blood relations, people need to have more children. Children learn human relations through interaction with sisters and brothers. Initial relationships are formed in households. Single child families have caused a deficit in developing relationships at an early age. Secondly, schools need to be changed. The main function of schools is to teach adaptability to society, but these days school education places a high priority on test records. Schools should change so that students can learn how to develop and maintain smooth relations with friends, etiquette toward teachers, and public order in society. Thirdly, there needs to be emphasis on sound community formation. If the Nahollo Tribe problem gets more serious, it can lead to other problems such as addiction whereby people seek to fill the emptiness in their hearts in other ways. One of the exemplary problems is addiction to smart devices and game addiction. When people are addicted to terrifying games, it can be linked to diverse crimes as a negative illustration. In the past, sound village communities performed a control function, but currently anonymity is a large part of society. Nobody can control it. To prevent the serious negative aspects of the Nahollo Tribe, people should be concerned not only about their own children, but also the children of others.
Recently the number of Nahollo Tribe has increased. University campuses are often considered miniatures of a society, and the Nahollo Tribe is becoming more evident on university campuses. Concerns have been voiced about increasing isolation in human relationships, and that formal meetings will occur more often. On the other hand, there are positive aspects to this trend in that students are able to prepare their future with an independent attitude that is cultivated while enduring solitary times. However, people who cannot communicate with others cannot become successful members of society even though they are faithful to themselves. Likewise, life cannot be fully appreciated without enjoying relations with others. In order to be good members of society we need to make sure we have time for ourselves and others.
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