And so finals are nearly upon us once more. It seems the semester has flown by, and already the exam period pressure is entering students’ consciousness. Motivated by the fear of poor grades, and consequently stoked with stress, we seek refuge in social activities with peers suffering the same situation for some retention of sanity. But frequently, it seems something has got to give: during this season, it is students’ health that begins to suffer.
One obvious contributing factor is diet. While the cafeterias around campus offer relatively healthy and balanced meals, the repetition and sometimes unappealing options mean that they only form a portion of the average student diet. Apparently, more popular are the multitude of fast-food options around campus, such as Lotteria and Subway.
For international students observing halal food restrictions, the confidence in the uniformity of the fast-food brands means they are an easy option. Rather than spending time discerning whether something in the cafeteria is permissible for their dietary restrictions, it is easier to purchase familiar fare. Even if abstinence from the cafeteria dishes entirely is not required, other international students also often pick the unhealthier option rather than Korean cuisine. The international kitchen was intended to allow students to cook the foods they miss from their home. However, not only is this the antithesis of fast food, but even if students did have time for cooking, only a rather limited number has access to the kitchen due to space restrictions.
Another reason Lotteria and Subway are frequented is their longer operating hours. KAIST’s academic demands often necessitate late-night meals, and the relatively early closure of cafeterias means the only options are ordering food from external outlets or heading to the only available on-campus spots for a comforting calorie fix.
Late-night stress eating is rampant, fueled by the abundance of less than healthy snacks from the maejeom. Squeezed sleep schedules also negatively impact student health. The steady onslaught of assignments and quizzes has us all scrambling late at night to finish work, forgoing sleep to complete tasks and cram formulas. Young adults are recommended to get around seven to nine hours sleep each night, and repeatedly sleeping less than this leads to chronic sleep deprivation, hindering abilities to learn and recall knowledge. In attempting to boost our GPA at the last minute, it seems we are sabotaging our own brains.
Required revision and the impending tension of exams make us all desperate for chances to let go of worries. The most apparent method is by conspicuous consumption of alcohol on any evening with no immediate classes the following day, and indeed even some “school nights”. The opportunity to relax and forget with friends facing the same fraught of finals period is undeniably incredibly important for mental health, but the physical toll of this particular activity is great.
Mental health is purportedly well-supported here at KAIST, though the phone lines and counseling sessions, particularly for international students, serve only on a superficial level. It is important then that we find our own ways to unwind the tightening knot of approaching exams surrounding us. There is a responsibility on the university administration to support enrolled students through their studies, including the foreigners, and so we must advocate the campus-wide changes that would lead to a healthier environment. One example could be longer cafeteria operating hours with wider options and increased opportunities for convenient, healthy self-catering. Another could be the more organized subsidy and support of access to a timely range of activities to relieve anxiety and encourage balance in busy schedules.
The pressure on students here to maintain their academic status, while also experiencing youthful joys, has an impact on overall wellbeing. Finding the best route to health, happiness, and high test scores is simpler to theorize than to navigate in life. However, there is always more that could be done to promote the best way to approach having it all in student life.