I have this theory...that how much a country sucks is correlated with how many people of that country decide, "Yeah, living in this country is alright, but I'd prefer death."
Just half a century ago, Korea was nothing more than mountains, fisheries and World War II rape victims. In the 400 or so years before that, Korea's only significant role on the stage of history was to be a ripe young boy for the molestive use by China, Japan, and the Manchu. The territory of Korea was mountainous, largely unarable, and contained few natural resources, unless potential rapees count. In the 60 or so years that the People's Republic of Korea has existed, they have developed the southern half of an agricultural society into an economic world power with cutting edge technology in communications, health care services, and travel infrastructure. It is one of the safest nations on the planet as far as violent crimes and theft. On a global scale, their literacy rates, health care, life expectancy, and GDP/capita are excellent. One would expect the citizens of a country that has rose so high so fast to be proud and happy. Well, they're definitely proud, anybody who's ever met a Korean or a Korean-American can tell you that. Ask them if they are happy, they'll probably say yes, though that might be a matter of pride rather than honesty.
South Korea has the second highest suicide rate in the world, with a female suicide rate twice as high as #1 (Lithuania). Of the 30 OECD countries S. Korea is at the top, far higher than Hungary and Japan, number 2 and 3, respectively. The gap is especially pronounced for Korean females, who are more proficient at killing themselves than females in any other part of the world. Suicide is the leading cause of death among people younger than 40 years old. A Korean is more likely to be killed by him/herself than another person or any single disease. That's pretty fucking perverse when you take into account that reported suicides are estimated to be only 10% of total suicide attempts.
I have faith in suicide rates as a proxy measurement for quality of life, moreso than GDP/capita or anything else, so to me it's quite evident that the average Korean does not enjoy a good life here. The discontent starts at a young age. Young, as in like ten. Seriously, can't make shit like this up. This girl is seven years too young to suck her first dick but she orchestrated a premeditated suicide by looking up painless methods on the internet and writing suicide letters to eight of her friends. Do you know how young ten is? That's fourth grade.
Some insight into Korean life might allow you to better speculate why they are so unhappy:
6 hours of public school
3-7 hours of hagwon where periods are 50-60 minutes. Academic competition is fierce, so all but the poorest of students attend hagwon. Hagwon can end as late as 10pm. I've seen 6th graders walking home past 9pm.
12 hour school days are common. I've talked to girls whose parents didn't enroll them in hagwons, and they had 12 hours of schooling a day anyway. And they were thankful for it. You're not in school just to be in school. The pressure is immense. It's everything.
College exams determine where you'll go to school. Where you'll go to school determines who you work for. Who you work for determines your social status. There are two tiers of universities in Korea: The Big Three, and everything else.
Are you a male? Congratulations! Take a break from school. Serve two years in the military. The suicide rate is high here as well. So is the 'accident' rate. Expect hazing.
Finish up school, find work at a chaebol, here's a list. Not to imply that it's easy- if you didn't graduate from the Big Three, your chances plummet. They drop again if you didn't go to school in Seoul. Even if you did, hiring is so competitive now that in addition to English interviews and tests, it's standard to include a picture of yourself on the resume because HR wants to consider your hireability based on your physical appearance too. Celerations are in order if you get a job offer (you're buying). You're now at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. Do what your boss says, or he'll throw you off. If you think Korean corporate culture is a strict hierarchy of deferrence and conformity, good guess.
One of my friends here went to one of the big three Universities and got her first job working for Samsung because of it. This is the textbook definition of "making it" in Korea. Everything, all the hard work and 12 hour school days culminates into whether you can get the 'good' job and scale the socioeconomic ladder.You can't get the second without the first- a lot of the big companies won't even touch your resume if you went to school outside of the Big Three, or worse, outside of Seoul.
She gets the job at Samsung, the biggest and highest paying of the chaebols with the most room for career advancement. Surprise, it sucks! She's got more money than she needs and no time to spend it all. The workload is heavy enough that everyone is doing unpaid overtime on weekends. For two years, she took no vacation and no sick days. They give everyone some, of course they have to, but when you take leave, your coworkers have to pick up your slack when it's hard enough to stay afloat as it is. They (The Man) use social guilt and unreasonable deadlines to milk every last drop out of the money chasers. She quit: After two years, she didn't meet a single person who liked their job.
I think all this only scratches the surface. I could go on and on, but I'm reaching out of my scope. I never intended to write this. Actually, it was supposed to be a funny story about how my Korean friend JJ's senior killed himself on his wedding day. Then I started looking up the facts and my jaw dropped.
Is Korea a nice place to live? For some. But it sure isn't a nice place to grow up.