WHETHER IT is knocking on wood three times to ward off bad luck or not eating seaweed soup the day before you take the su-neung*, almost everyone believes in a superstition, passed down within their family or learned from their experiences. Although there is no clear evidence to prove the validity of their various beliefs, many end up abiding by their superstitions for different reasons and refrain from taking certain actions. The Yonsei Annals has asked students currently at Yonsei University to share some of their superstitions.
Antony Guzman (Soph., Dept. of Computer Science, Dartmouth College)
“My family believes in a lot of superstitions, but there are two that affect me most: First, don’t go barefoot or you’ll get pneumonia; also, don’t walk alone by rivers at night, or the Llorona will get you. Both are popular superstitions from my hometown near the southern border of Texas, so I wear socks even when I’m wearing sandals or flip flops. Strangely, this does not apply to slippers. The Llorona is the phantom of a dead widow who kidnaps children. Because of her, my family tends to avoid rivers by night, and people at home and at Mexico don’t like living near them. It’s like the feeling of ‘better to be safe than sorry.’”
Bang Jae-Hyun (Soph., UIC, Economics)
“I don’t generally believe in superstitions, but I have a jinx which I believe brings bad luck to me in football games. I try not to wear black compression shirts** when I play in important football matches. I have participated in countless games ever since I began playing football in kindergarten, but there are two unforgettable ones: First, when I was 16-years-old, my school team lost in the semi-finals against a rival school; Second, after I entered FC Yonsei***, our team lost against the league’s top competitor. Upon reviewing and monitoring both games in which I felt more physically exhausted than usual, I tried to think of what had been different compared to my other games, and realized that I was wearing a black compression shirt which I don’t normally wear—I tend to wear white ones. Since then, I started to believe in a superstition in which my body feels heavy and uncoordinated whenever I wear black compressions during matches. Afterwards, I developed a habit of intentionally trying not to wear them ahead of important games.
Cho Jae-bin (Fresh., Dept. of French Language & Lit.)
“I believe that if you imagine what you hope to achieve, it will never come true. For example, if I imagine myself getting a perfect score on an exam, I will get some questions wrong. Many people think optimistically when things go well, but I have had to refrain from imagining a positive future. I think I got my jinx in middle school; back then, I was obsessed with getting good grades in order to get into a foreign language high school. I always felt pressured during exams, so I chose not to think about the grades at all in order to relieve my anxiety. Fortunately, as I got into college, I forgot about my jinx since I wasn’t as pressured to obtain good grades as I was in middle school. However, my habit of intentionally imagining a bad future made me a pessimistic person. Those thoughts turned out to be doing more harm to my life in that I was sacrificing the present for the future. It felt like a paradox through which I had to become a glum person in order to avoid a miserable life.”
Kim Suh-hyun (Soph., Dept. of International Commerce)
“Ever since I was young, my mother has told me never to cut my nails after sunset, as the nail clippings in the trash bin or the ones that aren’t disposed of properly attract snakes. Because of this, I don’t cut my nails or make nail appointments after dark. While this is not a big problem during the summer, I have to cut my nails in the morning during winter because the sun sets around 6 p.m. in Korea. Once, I made plans with a friend to get our nails done together, but we had to wait for over an hour at the nail parlor because we hadn’t made an appointment. When it was finally our turn, the sun had already set—I just waited for my friend to get her nails done and chose not to get mine done. I felt very sorry for both the nail artist and my friend, but thankfully, they both brushed it off. While my superstitious belief has been an inconvenience even at the best of times, habits and beliefs that you learn in childhood are really hard to break.”
Kwon Hyuk-jin (Sr., Dept. of Business)
“My mother and I think that there are certain lucky directions that you should face when you study and sleep. I’m not sure where this idea originated from, but every person is supposed to have a different lucky direction. My sister’s lucky sleeping direction is the exact opposite from mine, so we sleep head-to-toe even if we have to share the same bed and blankets. I also try hard to sit in a good studying direction and try to claim seats in the library early during exams or sit diagonally for the best angle. Although I know it’s irrational, sometimes after a bad day of studying, I think that ‘it’s because I sat in the wrong direction in the library today. Tomorrow I can claim a better seat and be more productive,’ preventing myself from making excessive self-deprecating critiques; I basically use this superstition to avoid over-stressing myself.”
Oh Yu-jin (Soph., College of Music)
“I believe that my hairstyle determines how lucky I am that day. Oddly, I tend to sing poorly on the days I tie my hair in a ponytail. I always go to a hair salon to get my hair done on important days for this particular reason. Every semester, I set my hair in a half-up hairstyle on the day of evaluations for my Sight Singing & Ear Training class to ensure good luck. I take evaluation days very seriously because I have to sing in front of every student from my major. I recently made an appointment on November 5, which was the day I got graded for singing one German song and one English song. It cost me \60,000 to get my hair done from a professional hair stylist, but it was worth the extra money. I will keep going to the same hair salon since I performed quite well this semester.”
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Superstitions can influence the way we think, making each of us perceive the world in a slightly different light. As perception is unique to each person, it is important to understand how it affects us instead of dismissing them as irrational beliefs. Some of our interviewees replied that they have experienced stress from their various superstitions, while others expressed optimistic views and replied that they were able to better overcome difficult situations. This is why, despite seeming irrational, knowing about superstitions could provide either small sources of hope or reasons for caution. All in all, it is better to be safe than sorry—one can never be too careful.
*Su-neung: Korean abbreviation for College Scholastic Ability Test, the standardized test accepted by South Korean universities to evaluate scholastic aptitude for college admissions
**Compression shirt: A tight, protective garment athletes wear beneath shirts to enhance performances
***FC Yonsei: One of Yonsei University’s football teams