Spring brings with it many things – warmer weather, longer days, spring flowers, and for Korean university students, the spring M/T. M/T (엠티), short for “Membership Training” is any event that brings new and returning members of an organization together for bonding and team-building, including universities and companies. Right now, universities across the country are setting off for and returning from their own M/Ts and we’re going to take a peek inside this unique event!
The Korean university calendar year begins in the spring term, around the end of February or beginning of March. At the start of term, each department begins arrangements to host their departmental M/T. M/T is divided by major, so English majors attend M/T with other all the other English majors, Nursing students are grouped with other Nursing students, and so on. The department chooses a date, usually two days and one night long. The different events for each major are spread out over the semester otherwise the mass absences would turn the campus would turn into a ghost town! Selecting the date is probably the least taxing preparatory task. The M/T committee does everything from scouting locations to making budgets using student dues, planning the activities, and sending out the invitations. The entire event is arranged by the students with the seniors supervising the whole affair, and sophomore and junior students helping out. The work can take weeks or even longer. Special T-shirts and hoodies have to be ordered, food has to be purchased, chaperones selected, and busses rented. When all of those details are taken care of, the event is ready to begin!
Students are carted away from the university carrying overnight bags and crates full of food and drinks, dressed in their matching outfits and smiles. They arrive by the bus-full to a pension, campground, or motel – basically any location big enough and brave enough to willingly host up to several hundred university students at once! Rooms and bedding are allocated, bags unpacked, and then the fun starts! Every M/T is different. Some host a variety of games, like those seen on comedy or gag shows. Others host relay races, singing competitions, or shouting contests. The whole purpose of the affair is to loosen up, mingle with fellow students, and to feel just a little bit silly! If students can laugh at themselves and one another, they will feel more comfortable together in class and on campus. Favourite profs or senior students host the events, or sometimes they even hire an emcee to really get the crowd going. I’ve seen massage circles, dance-till-you-drop competitions, obstacle course relays, and three-legged races. Students compete against one another individually, in pairs, and in teams for various titles of glory and infamy such as Best Performer, Loudest Shout, and even Worst Dancer! Teams vie for the coveted 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place trophies, which could either be gag gifts or an actual prize. The pride of winning still counts for something, though!
All that running around can work up an appetite, and soon it’s time for dinner. Cooking meals is a huge group affair, and every student has a role whether it be chopping vegetables, cleaning, or serving. Students serve the professors and chaperones first. Of course, the food might not be cooked as well as it is in a restaurant, and the faculty smile politely as they munch on their too-chewy pajeon and compliment the cold kimchi stew and burnt barbequed ribs. They know that they got the choice cuts anyway, so no point in complaining – the students are probably eating the less-appealing offerings of the same dish! With games and dinner out of the way, the students break off to practice for the talent show – a staple event at many M/Ts. Teams practice for weeks on their skit or dance routine complete with props, costumes and wigs. It makes for a fantastic night of entertainment, and is the perfect transition to sharing drinks and late-night snacks around a campfire or in the lounge. Somehow through the perfect combination of bad dance moves, matching sweatshirts, cramped quarters, and alcohol, everyone manages to bond and have fun.
The late night quickly becomes early morning and soon students in varying states of disarray are packing up and the cleaning the previous night’s mess. Then in a move that could be considered cruel or thoughtful depending entirely on whether or not they consumed too much soju the night before, the whole gang is sent off to another location for touring and a flurry of group photos. Parks, beaches, sets of TV dramas, and other low-key locales are all popular and the perfect way to wind down the two-day event. The students are then returned to campus, hugging their new friends good-bye. They then trudge off to their dorms for some much-needed sleep. After all, they still have a whole year of bonding and memory-making ahead of them.