Seoul's kick ass millennials

Think millennials are lazy and uninspired? Think again.
Pabak Sarkar
Pabak Sarkar
By Hahna Yoon |

These Seoul millennials go against the grain and defy the stereotypes that define this generation. 

Turning in the government job in search of a greater purpose

gaya kim

Gaye Kim (‘88)

“I was born in Korea, but then I moved right away to the Philippines and then Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Japan... Did I already say Hong Kong?” Gaye, the polyglot and entrepreneur smiles when she pauses, deepening the dimples on her face. In late 2013, she was given the opportunity to work under Rep. Na Kyung-won of the Saenuri Party and thus began Gaye’s year at the National Assembly, working at least 14-hour days and often giving up weekends to translate, write papers about diplomatic issues and meet with international guests. “Some of the things I’d hear most often is ‘do it with sen-se’ […] ‘Hand them the paper like this. Walk over when I gesture like that.’” However, when asked why she decided to leave the position, it’s not the long hours that she lists as a reason: “I didn’t think I was contributing anything meaningful.” She smiles again when I ask how much she works now. “12 hours maybe? I don’t mind it though.” After leaving the National Assembly, she co-founded a startup called T-buddy last November. It’s an app designed to help travelers and is expected to launch later this year. “Of course, my parents hoped I’d found something a bit more stable and high-paying.” Despite the fact that her team consists of men in their forties, she jokes around and calls them oppa. “I built this company and I feel it has potential. Here, I feel more freedom to speak.”

The men of Southside Parlor: Started from a taco truck, now we’re here


Robbie (‘84), Phil (‘85), Johnny (‘83), Austin (‘86) and Bobby (‘88)

Longtime Hongdae partygoers may remember back in 2011 when Robbie, Phil and Johnny sold tacos from a pink truck as the “Three Kings.” Back then, they taught English and hardly imagined how well they’d end up doing. Robbie explains: “We got serious when we switched gears a bit. Phil took a trip that summer and the truck took a hit because it was the worst monsoon season ever.” They were debating whether to continue running the truck when Phil returned, inspired by his travels to start making cocktails. “The most difficult part was we had to teach ourselves through online classes, bartending books, forums, practicing ideas and a lot of trial and error,” Phil says. They ran a series of successful pop-ups and met Austin, who became a major investor. Southside Parlor officially opened in 2013 to rave reviews and Bobby joined as a member of the team shortly thereafter. Now, Southside Parlor is full every weekend and is planning to open a second location. Additionally, Phil also runs Inpire Clothing Co. and Robbie will be opening a pho restaurant come May. Phil’s best piece of advice is: “Don’t ever sell yourself short. A lot of people think they can’t do things based on past experiences. There are so many resources in the world, especially with the internet. You can teach yourself anything you want.” Robbie quoted “the great Shia Labeouf” by offering these three words of wisdom, “Just dooo it!” 

Not your average beauty

Vivian Geeyang Kim

Vivian Geeyang Kim (‘86)

“I never believed people when they told me I was beautiful,” said 31-year-old Vivian Geeyang Kim. After hitting a series of employment dead-ends, Vivian was left contemplating what to do with her life at the young age of 25. “During this period, I came across a series of photo albums. Going from one picture to the next, it was the first time in my life I realized I was beautiful. After all, ‘plus size’ and ‘beauty’ aren’t associated with one another here.” On a whim, she got some professional photos taken to debut as a model—a feat not done before by a woman 72 kgs and 165cm tall in Korea. While failing the auditions for Korea’s Next Top Model Season 9, she got picked up by Full Figure Fashion Week 2010 in L.A. Vivian spent some time going back and forth between here and the U.S., scavenging for budget airlines and once even spending two months living in an 8-bed room in Manhattan. In 2014, she launched a plus-size culture fashion magazine called 66100. Although working as an independent publication is difficult and she still faces a lot of scrutiny for her weight, she says: “Every week or so, I’ll receive an email from a woman thanking me and I just can’t get myself to quit.” Commuting 2 to 3 hours to Gangnam from Wonju, Vivian seems tired but determined. “Countries don’t change until problems become pronounced. In France, the problem of body image had the government put a ban on ultra-thin models. What more needs to happen here in Korea for us to realize there’s a problem?”   

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Jung-yoon choi and eura Kwak

Jung-yoon Choi (‘86) and Eura Kwak ('87)

Brightly lit and spacious, Pleasure Lab, which opened last year, is Korea’s first female-friendly sex shop. Co-founders Jung-yoon and Eura Kwak are ready to answer questions on everything from clitoral stimulation to STD prevention. Jung-yoon, who was molested as a child, understands well the need to be able to talk about sex in a safe environment. “Because we [Koreans] are so ashamed to talk about sex and that talking about it makes you ‘dirty’ and less desirable, many sex victims end up feeling like it’s their fault. I grew up feeling like I was a defected person.” For Jung-yoon, feeling confident about her sexuality involved having partner sex, taking Women’s Studies courses in the States and stumbling into a friendly and open-minded sex store while there. It got her wondering why there weren’t stores like this in Korea and two years ago she met Eura through a mutual friend. Eura had found out about sex toys through her ex-girlfriend and discovered that going to a sex toy store as a lesbian was a difficult and uncomfortable experience. “All the owners were men and couldn’t understand what I wanted. They would ask me about what would turn on ‘my boyfriend’ and focus solely on male pleasure.” Opening the store gave Jung-yoon the courage to finally tell her parents about the molestation and her active sex life. While they have a steady stream of returning customers and a second location in Apgujeong that just opened, it’s not been an easy journey. Although laws and high taxes make it difficult to import sex toys into the country and much of their internet content is often flagged and taken down, the duo doesn’t seem at all discouraged. Jung-yoon explains: “People are really rooting for us, for the ability for women to open up about their sex lives. The industry looked at us like we were oddballs, but I think we’re great examples of independent, happy young businesswomen.” 

Youngest head woman in charge

shin Ji-ye

Shin Ji-ye (‘90)

“Millennials? I don’t know… I personally don’t emphasize the division of the generations. Some people from the older generation I know are extremely liberal and forward-thinking, so much so that I feel embarrassed. Likewise, there are those my age that have grown up more quickly,” said Shin Ji-ye, a representative for the Green Party Korea who is running in the upcoming April elections for the National Assembly. While being a politician at her age and for her gender are unique, it is her resume that is far from ordinary. After graduating from an alternative high school, she jumped into the workforce instead of attending university. Initially, she got into politics with the aim of helping youth but she says she doesn’t believe in a black and white division of generations. “The word ‘youth’ doesn’t always mean young. I see it as a broad metaphor for people from underprivileged backgrounds who lack capital. Rather than generational differences, I think greedy people who aren’t interested in others’ lives and who pass by the starving without a second glance are the bigger problem.” Along with being her party’s representative, she is also the CEO of the social platform Today Maker, which tackles youth housing, and serves as the head of Seoul’s Youth Policy Committee Housing Division. Shin’s decision to perhaps live somewhat differently than her generational peers isn’t based on one particular reason, but rather on her overall outlook on life. “I haven’t lived for a long time, but I know it’s right that I decide how to live my life. If I had to follow all the formal steps of society, I would be bored in my later years.”

Hotline Poing

Jung Bum-jin

Jung Bum-jin (‘89)

After majoring in life sciences at KAIST, Jung Bum-jin went to medical school only to quit five days in. “I’d always been interested in the arts and I didn’t want to spend my life studying. Before majoring in life sciences, I studied industrial design for a year before realizing it wasn’t for me,” Jung explained. He eventually settled into the restaurant industry, a field he deemed full of potential. Six months after he quit med school, Jung got his first business license. “I repeatedly nagged restaurants for information. I wanted to find a pattern for all the inconveniences and necessities restaurants and restaurant-goers must deal with and turn it into a business model.” While he wanted to develop a restaurant reservation app, the company he had was small and consisted of himself and four other co-founders. In 2013, he got in touch with a mobile application development firm called 5rocks and when they heard his pitch, they gave him the operating rights for a similar reservation app called Poing. Now, Jung oversees all of the aspects of Poing—from the technical aspects of the software to constantly updating their business model and directing the employees to help accomplish the company’s larger picture goals. Although Poing is now a well-recognized name among digital natives, the business itself is nothing like Jung himself imagined. “I originally had a 7-year plan and four years have already passed. Am I satisfied? Not yet.”

If a man’s gotta eat, why not do it on the net?

lee Dong-hyun

Lee Dong-hyun (‘89)

Under the alias M.bro, Lee Dong-hyun is a broadcast jockey (BJ for short) on Afreeca TV, an internet broadcasting site. On Afreeca, BJs have the freedom to run their programs however they want and can even gain profit from “star balloons” their viewers send them, each worth 100 won. Lee’s profit is confidential, but he revealed somewhere from 2,000 to 7,000 people view his show every day. Like many viewers, Lee runs a muk-bang (a program where the BJ eats and eats a lot). Lee said: “When I first started, only 2 or 3 people watched. But I kept at it every single day and I started to attract more viewers.” Late last year, he was named Afreeca TV’s Rookie of the Year. Although some might perceive him as a silly internet eater, there’s definitely a method to his madness. “I’m a one-man media channel. I thought if I wanted to make my name a brand, there’s no better way than internet broadcasting.” If you think it sounds too easy to be true, you’re probably right. His day starts at 6am with two hours of exercise. Then he goes to his day job at a trade business company, working 8 to 5. After work, Lee either goes to the supermarket or orders delivery for his program, which runs from 9 until midnight. Then after another hour of exercise, Lee goes to bed. To top it off, Lee hasn’t strayed from his daily schedule since he started 11 months ago. “Effort and progress are exponentially related. It’s important not to let my fans down. As long as there are people watching, I’m going to continue what I’m doing.”

Fueled by passion

Jeon sol-bi

Jeon Sol-bi (‘89)

Jeon Sol-bi runs an alternative art space, 800/40 (meaning 8,000,000 won deposit and 400,000 won in monthly rent), in the middle of the old, run-down Sewoon Shopping Arcade. She calls it an “alien organism.” 800/40 runs three programs—the 24-hour exhibition, 24-hour residency and 240-hour program—which she explains as: “The 24 hour exhibition, as its name suggests, is an exhibition open for one day, and the 24 hour residency lets artists work here. The 240 program is a 10-day exhibition at 800/40 that begins with a formal proposal from the artist then is refined through several meetings with us.” Although Jeon started 800/40 with a focus on art and artists, she actually majored in communications. Jeon’s interest in art was sparked while taking a class related to visual images, which led her to start an art magazine and app for amateur art lovers like herself. While working on these projects, somebody suggested she start this alternative art space and since then, 800/40’s become her primary passion. However, since it’s not a commercial endeavor, Jeon has yet to reap a financial profit. In fact, she sometimes has to work part-time jobs to pay the rent. “I’m not going to quit just because there isn’t a visible sign of progress. After all, being 27 or 28 is all about being apprehensive about the future; it’s only natural that I face and endure hardships. For now, I’m going to concentrate on bringing the best exhibits I can to this place.”

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