“MT 가자!” : A look-through Korea’s MT
It’s already 12 noon at our university dormitory and in comes a Korean friend who seems worn out after a whole night spend doing an unknown activity the night before. True enough, as expected, she came back from a fun-filled Membership Training or “엠티” (MT) in Korean. As a foreigner in Korea, we might possibly understand the term Membership Training, to activities that concerns seminars or games that would enhance camaraderie in a group. In the Western side of the globe, it would be a whole day of non-stop boring presentations and talks, but in Korea, it would be an endless night of drinking, drinking and YES just CRAZY drinking.
Exactly what is a Korean MT?
Done by companies and universities in Korea to promote a close-knit relationship among its peers or team members, Membership training in Korea entitles everyone to either a two-night or one-night stay in a pension house or resort with fun filled games, stories and eating. And don’t forget the idea that any Korean MT would never be complete without thousands of bottles of Soju “소주” (Korean gin), Maekju “맥주” (Beer) or Makgeolli “막걸리” (Korean Traditional Rice Wine). Bomb shots of poktanju (폭탄주). Well of course, All of this will be eminently present. And other than the petrifying increase of alcohol toxicity for the night, meat and drinking snacks would always be present. However not all MTs are cray drinking parties, Korean church MTs are activity-only events without the booze. And so as the general membership training we all know, the games and activities would all start when everybody is wasted and all loosened up.
While there is the obvious negative aspect of Membership Training which is to dispense and consume crazy amounts of alcohol. The concept of the activity is actually a meaningful Korean aspect of culture that we all must learn. As you can read through some articles by Expats and foreigners alike who have been in Korea for several years, Koreans believe that success and harmony is born from being in a group rather than an trying to succeed as an individual. So if you are a loner or a self-centered individual, I daresay it’s time for you to learn about group camaraderie. For them the function of a team-centered company or group pertains more success in the future rather than focusing on developing individually the members of the team. For them, it’s better to row the boat as one unit rather than cheering on one who thinks is only the best. Anyway, true in its lightest sense that a group that stands strong can go higher heights than those who stand by themselves. Maybe thats why Korean Idols are in groups more than as individuals singers.
Over the past years, a lot of this MT traditions and activities have been either praised for its importance as an institution or questioned for the issues it has brought up. (Note: This a writer-point of view perspective, so it’s both factual based and opinion based. Moreover it is open to criticisms and opinion of the readers)
The Good side:
As I pointed out earlier, Membership Trainings are truly important facets of developing friendships among groups or clubs. It is considered a key foundation of every organization to improve and enhance relationships among team members and promote a rather care-free and ideal environment for the team. As we all know, it’s not always work-and-work only mindset that an institution seeks but a work-and-play status would be considered more of an healthy approach. In a more positive light, Koreans are actually praised for their high respect to rank and class. Through MTs, New members or Freshmen learn the trade and get comfortable with the group that they will be staying with for the next few years of their lives. Also Foreigners too, if they can attend, it gives them the chance to establish rapport with the Korean workmates or classmates. Since it’s really difficult to live in a place where you are considered different, trying to enhance your relations to the majority can ease your stress and be of benefit to your daily life. Most foreigners who have joined MTs, readily pointed out the good points they have taken for joining a night of MT. Mostly, since the language wall among Koreans and us can be easily felt at any time. But due to a night out full of only recreational activities they can unwind and just fool around with their fellow Korean workmates.
Such scenarios are essential for us expats and foreigners who would like to integrate to a new culture are different from what we are used too. Actually the drinking part is only called optional among MTs, but since it adds vibrance, most Korean believes that an MT would never be complete without booze. It would be the same as having beer without chicken. On the lighter side, not all MTs are done overnight and with drinking parties. Some Korean institutions, like in my university perhaps, some clubs would have a one-day only MT where they just just play games only. Some people would only do it only our school dormitory until bedtime and then the activity is done and dusted.
But then the loop holes of MTs would surely come to the forefront. Right?
The Bad Side:
In 2010, Koreatimes reported a saddening news of a Korean female student who jumped to her death after being reportedly sexually harassed during her MT. Moreover, another controversy caught the interest of Koreans and netizens when in a famous university, a female student complained of rape and sexual harassment by three medical male students, of whom are all her seniors. In the past few years, news of students who died or almost died of alcohol toxicity came to light. And soon after, the importance of the presence of alcohol and Senior-Junior relations has been questioned.
Then what is foul play around Korean MTs all about? In recent reports, one thing that cause stir among MTs is the mixture of the common traditions played and its meanings and how the newer generations of Koreans would hold their MTs. In truth, there has already been a lot of concerns with the Senior Society of Koreans. Through the culture of Koreans, the relationship among Seniors, 선배 (Seonbae) and Juniors 후배 (Hoobae) is considered an important factor. Through this ideals, the Korean themselves were able to maintain and protect their ways and morals. However through this cultural value, also comes the seniority complex, wherein some seniors would obviously overuse their power taking advantage of the newbies or would just like to show off but in a negative method. Thus, issues of abusing juniors and letting them take alcohol shots until they get dead drunk or let them play inappropriate games to see how they can overcome the shame. Most seniors do this method to just build the idea that they should be feared and respected. In truth however, to be feared and respected, one must be highly respected.
As someone who only roughly stayed in Korea for a year, I must say that I have declined all MT invitations that I have received. And for the latter, became ostracized for doing so. But since I am a foreigner in my university, I wasn’t very much concerned to the backlash and never cared that I was given a bad image for not going on an MT. Well other than the financial difficulties I had as a student in Korea, I wasn’t a big fan of a one-night event just to make people get close with you. Well, in our culture, MTs are more religious oriented so that’s why I was put off by the whole idea of drinking.
Also we can also say that neocolonialism occurring in Korea, though not eminent, has now enlightened Korea with liberated issues such as sex and its conformity. Even if we deny it or Korean themselves have always denied, their two-faced approach to this issues shows that such ideals has been always present in the norms of the people but was always concealed due to the controversial aspects it pertains. Neutral P.o.V: Whatever negative and positive side comments MTs have, it is truly one Korean experience we mustn’t try to waste. It’s one way to blend with the culture and one way to understand the people themselves. I must say that I also regretted the chance of joining one but I still am not a fan of Korean 엠티!