Spring. The season of life. The season of love. The season of warmth. And most interestingly, the season of festivals. It is without doubt that Korea has its most extravagant festivals with amazing line-ups and events in the spring, all thanks to the multitude of college festivals at that time. Even in KAIST, we saw the start of the spring college festival season with the KAIST Art and Music Festival (KAMF) heralding spring’s arrival. Spring college festivals have become the norm and have blended in so well with Korean college life that college festivals in the spring are almost a must and cross our minds as something obvious. But stop for a minute and try to ask yourself why. It’s quite interesting how much you’ve never thought about why it seems so obvious.
Historically, Korea’s college festivals started centuries ago at Joseon’s sole public university, Sungkyunkwan. Festival day at this historic university was the only day when the normally closed university was open to outsiders and people could enter for food and activities available to students and their relatives. Skipping to modern Korea, the college festivals we know today came from the first college festival held in October 1959 at Kyung Hee University. Other colleges caught wind of this event and started their own, creating a series of college festivals in the spring and fall. However, with the coup and change of government, all student activities were limited, making college festivals more political with speakers in festivals criticizing the government and calling for a new political system. Due to these politically focused events, festivals were controlled and closed, bringing about a dark age for college festivals. After more radical changes in the Korean government, college festivals started to resurface, but with fun and entertainment as their focus. College students would meet other college students to make friends and lasting relationships, even romantic ones. Indie bands would perform and spread their names. Music competitions between those bands would take place and the best would get a chance to try for the professional scene. College festivals soon became synonymous with youth, pop culture, famous celebrities, alcohol, and games.
Then why is the spring version so much more dominant than the fall version? Historically, the first festival was in the fall. Wouldn’t it make more sense for fall festivals to be much more popular? Interestingly, it is the same historical and cultural reasons that make spring festivals much grander and more fabulous. If you look at the focus of college festivals over the years, there has been a large change starting from entertainment to politics; with the end of the dictatorship, the focus of festivals switched back to entertainment and fun, with several events focusing on youth and love. Because of the cultural association of spring with such aspects, it is no surprise that the spring version increased in popularity as opposed to the fall one. Another reason would be Korea’s education system. In Korea, freshmen enroll in the spring — with the exception of KAIST, which also has fall enrollments— and are still full of passion and hope for their new college lives. With a college festival just weeks into their new college lives, it isn’t a surprise why so many events and activities are full of excitement and energy. Other events during the fall also have an effect on the size of fall festivals. Unlike the spring semester, in the fall semester, intercollegiate rivalry and events such as the KAIST-POSTECH Science War or the more famed Korea University-Yonsei University Rivalry tend to be the focus rather than the festival itself. With such large events in the fall, the magnitude of events and shows during fall festivals cannot compete with that of the shows during spring festivals, resulting in the decreased quality and passion when preparing those events.
But does that mean fall festivals should be ignored? Some experts actually argue that the flashiness of spring college festivals with expensive celebrities is actually undermining the original spirit of college festivals where students would perform along with underground indie bands; spiritually, fall festivals may be closer to the original college festivals. However, as time goes by, what students want and perceive as entertainment changes — may it be for the better or worse. Through these decisions, college festivals help define the college students of the time and ultimately their generation. But putting the deep and philosophical questions aside, let us enjoy our culmination of passion and energy for the time being and have fun. That’s what festivals are for.