Yonsei University’s Sinchon campus in Seoul is almost empty on Friday, amid prolonged strict social distancing measures in Seoul and the surrounding area. (Yonhap)
College classes have gone virtual with a second wave of COVID-19 from last month, and with the prolonged pandemic campus life is changing fast -- including the campus festivals that mark the start of fall semester.
On Tuesday, Ewha Womans University in Seoul kicked off a three-day online festival, where students can engage in online games and programs prepared by the student council and watch livestreamed bands. Gone are the usual student pop-up shops and live performances.
“From classes to just ordinary days, our lives have changed completely this year from the coronavirus. The first semester, void of interaction, felt like an endless cycle of unprecedented and obscure moments,” the festival’s organizing members said in an announcement via social media.
Ewha’s is the first of the online college festivals planned in the coming weeks of September and October, when the school fests typically take place.
Ewha Womans University online festival poster (Ewha University student council Facebook page)
Rivals Yonsei University and Korea University have decided to cancel their traditional joint festival -- better known as Yeongojeon or Goyeonjeon, depending on which school one favors -- that had been slated to open next month. This is the first time in 24 years the two schools have canceled the annual event, an event that got its start in 1996 when Yonsei University was raided by riot police during a student demonstration.
The two schools on Tuesday announced they will be holding an online e-sports tournament starting Sept. 28.
Two other universities in Seoul, Kyung Hee University and Hongik University, are also preparing for online festivals to be held in October.
Meanwhile, some schools have opted to drop festival plans altogether amid the ongoing COVID-19 spread. Konkuk University’s festival, once postponed in May, has been put on indefinite hold, whereas Seoul National University has called off this year’s fest for now.
Instead of the usual festivities, Soongsil University invited guests for livestreamed talk shows with students last month. Lawmaker Lee Soo-jin, politician Lee Jun-seok, K-pop group EXID member Solji, singer and actor Jung Eun-ji and rapper Zion.T were among the invited guests.
“Everyone was tired from the prolonged COVID-19 and we wanted to reach out to the students and empathize with them,” Oh Jong-woon, the head of Soongsil University’s student council, told The Korea Herald. “We searched for better ways than just inviting celebrities. Issues about tuition refunds were ongoing back then and many were having difficulty finding jobs due to COVID-19, so we invited speakers who could speak on such topics.”
Singer and actor Jung Eun-ji speaks during Soongsil University’s virtual talk show on Aug. 23. (Screen grab of Soongsil University student council’s YouTube)
While Oh said that the online sessions were well received by students, not all comments have been complimentary. Some students openly slammed the events on student community sites, especially in the time of COVID-19 when the school faces more pressing issues.
“I don’t understand why the online fest must be held. Students are currently raising their voices more about other issues, such as tuition refunds and exam grade standards (amid virtual classes) and I feel the council must shift the efforts put into festival preparation to such demands being made by the students,” read a comment left under Hongik University student council’s announcement about their October festival on social media. A comment left below a similar post by Kyung Hee University student council also urged the student body to look into the damage inflicted upon students from non-face-to-face lectures in the second semester.
A festival organizing member of one Seoul-based university, who requested his name be withheld, stated the student body is reviewing the festival schedule due to negative feedback.
“Some students are wary of holding online festivals as they have never experienced it. They were especially doubtful of the impact the festival could have (in bringing together students) compared to on-site festivals and also in comparison to the cost involved,” he said.
By Choi Ji-won (firstname.lastname@example.org