As South Korea enters its “With Corona” phase, the public wonders what changes and trends will arise as the nation transits back to normal life. Amongst the many predictions is a trend called “rustic life”, defined by its natural and slow-paced characteristics. Born through the longing of simpler times, this new trend may be a turning point for the overly fast-paced nation known as South Korea.
Emergence of “Rustic Life”
The need to escape from the city had been apparent in Korean society even before the pandemic. Overworked and exhausted by the hectic society, the rise of “healing” TV shows that focus on the peaceful country lifestyle, such as Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast and Three Meals a Day, showed how much the Korean public had been yearning for a break. However, due to restrictions such as time and money, most people had no choice but to be temporarily satisfied by watching others live their desired lifestyle. However, as most businesses and educational institutes were forced to move online due to the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19, the public used this opportunity to explore the country. Thus, they begin their journey to enjoy their “rustic life.”
Understanding “Rustic Life”
Kim Nan-do, a Professor in the Department of Consumer Science at Seoul National University, coined the term “rustic life” as the next consumer trend to look out for in his book Trend Korea 2022 and defined it as a new way of life that highlights the charm of the rural experience with a modern twist. He suggested that there are four ways to enjoy “rustic life”: breaking away, staying, embracing, and nesting. The first step, breaking away, is the introduction stage of rustic life where people take a step back from the hustle and bustle of city life and visit the peaceful countryside to clear their minds. Kim Do-won, a CEO of the interior company DIO Inc. said, “Koreans had already been moving towards nostalgic and greener environments as seen in the rise of industrial design whose key characteristics include a calming simplicity that creates a sense of peacefulness and carefreeness for those who encounter it. An example of this can be seen in the recent interior designs of building, such as The Hyundai Seoul. “Rustic life” offers a similar advantage of the calming simplicity that isn’t limited to the city but one that expands to the countryside." With the increase in social distancing restrictions until November this year, many had taken “chon kang su” and visited secluded districts to escape the densely populated and at times monotonous city scenery. The MZ generation was especially drawn to the “rustic life” experience as it was a continuation of the “newtro” trend that didn’t just end with a product but opened way for a whole journey. Their experience would include reintroduction of paper maps, cafés with great views of the countryside, and many more in which local businesses saw as an opportunity. The next step, staying, is when those who have briefly enjoyed the benefits of the country-life choose to stay for either a week or longer. The idea of “han dal sal gi” had already been on the rise in the travel industry. However, the concept of “rustic life” added a level of depth to the experience, where people didn’t just simply go to enjoy a secluded life but instead learned the ways of the locals by participating in their traditions. Public sectors took upon great interest in the “staying” stage and used it to promote rural communities through projects, such as the 2021 Rural Area Exchange Program, run by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and Jeollanam-do Office of Education. The program allowed students from Seoul to study in rural areas and grow into ecological citizens. The following step, embracing, requires more dedication than the previous one where the individual lives a “dual life” by accepting both the city and rural lifestyle as part of their identity. Many have been taking regular camping trips across rural districts while those with financial capabilities chose to acquire second houses in the countryside. The term “oh do i chon” has been made to describe the lifestyle of people who live five days in the city and two days in the countryside. Major construction companies such as GS E&C Corporation have already picked up on this new trend and have been rushing to develop buildings that meet the needs of the “rustic life.” The final step, nesting, is when one leaves behind the city life and accepts the countryside in their own way. Goh Byeong-yul, the Owner of Rustic Life Café located in Gangwondo said, “I have been preparing to return to the country since I graduated university because I longed for the natural environment. It has been the dream of my mother to grow a botanical garden which was why she and my father had moved to the countryside 20 years ago. But life in the countryside wasn’t easy for them which is why I combined my educational knowledge as well as the time I lived in Australia to open a café alongside my parents’ garden.” He continued, “It is my goal to solve the problem of decreasing populations in the countryside by showing people the joy behind a simple, yet sophisticated country life, as well as changing people’s perspective on farmers and bring more value to the title. Hopefully, these changes will bring about liveliness in the forgotten valleys of Gangwondo.”
Benefiting from “Rustic Life”
“Rustic life” offers a solution for overcrowding in cities and the ageing population in rural areas. With the increase of interest in “rustic life”, younger generations are now actively looking to explore rural districts and perhaps even start a life there. Hwang K y u n g - s o o , a P r o f e s s o r i n t h e Department of Public Administration at Jeju National University stated that the success of “rustic life” depends on joined effort from the government, private sectors, and civil society. He marks, “The three organizations have to work together under a hypertext organizational structure to promote this lifestyle amongst the younger generations.” “There are three key functions in which the joined forces must carry out,” continues Professor Hwang. “Project teams must be made to plan potential projects, construct business systems to achieve utilization and application of the planned activities, and accumulate feedback to gain insight of past projects to make room for improvements.” Professor Hwang also suggests that remembering the history of the district and telling the narrative of old ancestors could play a vital role in attracting younger generations to rural areas. “The world now focuses on storytelling, whether it is through social media or other platforms. Thus is why we need to provide creators with local materials to use and share.”
Moving Forward with “Rustic Life”
“Rustic life” not only offers a solution to the aging population in rural communities but also attempts to redefine happiness in Korean society. By embracing the country lifestyle and the characteristics that follow, we are introduced to a life that doesn’t involve the rigorous lifestyle of a workaholic, but one that is free from social status and societal expectations. As we emerge from the devastating impacts of COVID-19, we can expect “rustic life” to be the gateway to a successful recovery.
Ju Si-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org