South Korea’s ‘study with me’ videos bring back camaraderie of libraries amid COVID-19

South Korea’s ‘study with me’ videos bring back camaraderie of libraries amid COVID-19
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April 23rd, 2021 | ABC News Radio

(SEOUL, South Korea) — Amid the rustle of paper, the sounds of a pencil scribbling away and a calming fire crackling in the background, 27-year-old Hani Kang sits at her desk and pages through books for 12 hours straight.

There is absolutely nothing but her books and pens on a neatly organized desk and yet almost one hundred people are watching her study.

There is nothing fancy in these “study with me” videos. No suspense, no conflict — just studying.

It’s called Gong-bang — short for the Korean word Gongbu Bangsong which translates to “study broadcast” — and YouTube videos featuring people studying are drawing large numbers of subscribers in South Korea. Most people who make these videos are students studying for the notorious Korean college entrance exam or adults studying for a new occupation.

“I begin studying 7 a.m. in the morning and try to keep at least 12 hours studying in front of the camera every day,” Kang, who is studying to become a civil servant at the immigration department for two years, told ABC News. “My first video was in September last year when I decided I needed something that could keep me on the desk for long hours.”

There are two types of marathon studying videos. In one case, the individual livestreams every single second of studying with a stopwatch on one corner of the screen. In the other, the videos are more produced and include the sounds of raindrops, wood-cracking, ASMR or relaxing music.

The “study with me” trend has actually been around since 2018 but the pandemic paved the way for a greater interest and more viewers. People are now watching livestreams of strangers to study alongside with as a way to compensate for the socially-distanced lifestyle.

“I have spent more time at home ever since COVID-19 hit,” college sophomore Jiseon Yoon told ABC News. “Watching ‘study with me’ videos wakes me up from drowsiness and gives me the motivation to study.”

Those who make the videos and those who watch them both say that “study with me” gives them the motivation to work harder in life.

“The videos give me a responsibility to keep the promised time of study hours every day,” Kang said. “Subscribers give me strength to keep up, as we root for each other online.”

“The growing popularity of study with me videos is a consequence of South Korean society’s individualization and COVID-19 outbreak,” Seong-kyun Oh of Seoul-bases Chung and University Culture studies department told ABC News. “When people study all alone but still have [the] craving for the community spirit, they choose to turn on YouTube instead of actually going out to spend time with real people.”

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