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Posted : 2014-06-03 15:30
Updated : 2014-06-03 17:40

More people study at bustling cafes

A college student studies for an upcoming exam at a Starbucks located near City Hall, downtown Seoul, Monday. Many increasingly find it easier to focus when studying at a coffee shop rather than at home or at a library.
/ Korea Times



By Baek Byung-yeul, Kwon Ji-youn

"I can definitely say that studying at a coffee shop helps me concentrate," said Park Hee-joon, a 27-year-old Seoulite.

Park passed the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) test last April, and said that studying in the hustle and bustle of cafes had quite a noticeable effect on him.

"I prepared for the exam for about two years, studying regularly at a coffee shop near my home," he said. "While preparing for the CPA exam, I realized that I am better able to concentrate while studying at crowded venues."

Park said he used to prefer studying at quiet libraries or at his home before he went to college.

"For whatever reason ― I don't remember exactly ― I had the chance to read over my test notes at a coffee house, and I realized that I was able to absorb the material quite well," he said.

Daniel Chung, a 26-year-old business consultant, said he studies ― and sometimes works ― at cafes because he can't focus at home or at his office.

"There are so many distractions at home ― like my bed or the television ― so I found it easier to take my textbook, a highlighter and my notes to a cafe, where I would be utterly bored if I wasn't looking through my notes or textbook," Chung said. "I would have no choice but to study."

Chung said he also finds it easier to focus at a coffee house than at his office because at his office, his boss is constantly dropping by his desk to ask him if he is done with his work.

A student reads a book at a cafe in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, in this Jan. 6 file photo. / Korea Times

"He comes by every 30 minutes or so to ask how far along I am," he said. "Our office doesn't require us to remain seated at our desks from nine to five straight, so when I can, I like to go down to the cafe on the first floor and work there."

There are many others like Park and Chung who find it easier to concentrate at noisy venues. An interesting lab test studying the relationship between noise and concentration levels shows that the behavior of such people is not that absurd.

The study titled, "Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition," was led by University of Illinois Professor Ravi Mehta and published in the Journal of Consumer Research in March 2012.

The study placed three groups of participants into three different circumstances _ one group was placed in a relatively quite environment like a library (50 decibels), a second group in an environment with a moderate level of ambient noise like a coffee shop (70 decibels) and a third in a high noise level environment (85 decibels). It then measured how the creativity level of participants changed by asking them to brainstorm ideas for a mattress manufacturer.

The researchers found that "instead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one's comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment (such as a cafe) may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas."

There are about 20,000 coffee shops in Korea, which people visit not only to meet people but also to study, surf the web, enjoy concerts, or even attend lectures by public figures.

And though more and more people visit coffee shops for such varied reasons, other customers complain about those who dwell too long.

"I was conversing with a friend at a Starbucks around the corner from my apartment, when a young woman ― a college student, perhaps ― glared over at us and said under her breath, ‘So noisy,'" said Lee Hyo-min, a 32-year-old housewife. "I couldn't help but wonder, if people conversing over coffee are bothersome, then why not go someplace quieter?"

Lee said that this wasn't the first time she was told off for creating excessive noise at a cafe. She had been chatting with a group of friends at a small coffee shop on Garosugil when a young man asked her to take her children and leave.

"Our children were enjoying cakes at the next table, but he ― albeit politely ― asked us to take our children to a kid's cafe," she recalled. "But I'm sure that it was only that young man who we were bothering ― all the other customers looked perfectly content conversing and laughing with their friends at surrounding tables."

Some coffee shop owners also dislike customers who dwell too long with their textbooks and laptops.

"To be honest, I don't like it when customers stay for three to four hours with his or her 2,500 won ($2.45) Americano," said a cafe owner who currently runs a small-sized coffee shop in Gaepo-dong, southern Seoul.

"I have only four tables, and prefer to have customers order take-out coffees. But sometimes I have customers tarry at my shop with just a cup of coffee for way too long," the owner said. "I personally want to recommend that they visit a large franchise coffee shop like Starbucks to do their studying."

"Of course, there is no way that I can kick them out, and I try not to say anything hurtful. But I would like them to know that they are seriously hampering my business," the owner added.

A franchise staffer also expressed frustration about students or businessmen and women who order a cup of coffee and study for hours at a time, oblivious to what is called "turnover."

He noted that some customers, even at large Starbucks branches, have to leave because there are no seats available, especially during after-lunch hours.

"There's not much we can say to such customers because each and every customer has the right to dwell at our cafes for however long they wish," said the staffer, who asked not to be named. "We just ask that they take a glance around while they're studying to make sure no other customers are left standing and waiting for a table for too long. It's about consideration."

The staffer suggested that such students visit Toz, a meeting center where they have rooms that can seat study groups of two to four (or more) people. Toz also offers a selection of beverages.

"We are popular among students who are looking for a quiet place to study, other than their homes or school libraries," said a Toz staffer. "We don't have booths available for individuals but we're working on that."



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