Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Of Stress and Relaxation

When I was in 8th grade of middle school, my science teacher liked to lament about the fact that the American school system wasn' t like other contries'. He liked to talk about how in Finland, if students in middle school didn't keep their grades up then it was virtually impossible for them to go to college, because there were university track high schools and technical school track high schools. I'm guessing that his overall message was that we were lucky in America to have high school be like a clean slate, and that the possibility of college always loomed over us.

Well today in Korea I am celebrating "National College Entrance Exam Day." This is the one make or break day for Korean high school seniors. It is a kind of rite of passage. Indeed there really is no comparison to it in America. Sure there are the S.A.T.'s which can be taken repeatedly. In Michigan there is or was the MEAP test that merely gave you money if you went to college. (Thank you state of Michigan, you spent a lot of money on me, I'm sorry that I left you and that I couldn't stay to help you fix your problems.)

In Korea though, the National College Entrance Exam is just one day that can have either a wonderful or terrible impact on a person's future. The test started today around 9:00 a.m. and won't finish until around 5:00. I believe it is a cumulative test that one must study all of their text books in order to pass. Many parents spend around $500 per month, per kid, sending their kids to Math, English, Science, Art, or Music schools, just to help them pass this test. Other parents spend more money going to English schools themselves so they can help their kids study for the test. In all about 33% of the average Korean household's income goes towards educating their kids.

So what am I doing today? I get a day off. Yes, as the resident "native speaker," at my school I cannot be trusted to help proctor the test since my Korean skills are so low that I couldn't attend the seminar before the test that explained all of the various methods of cheating. Yes cheating, in years past student's teachers have gotten advance copies of the test and text messaged their students the answers. Who knows how students may try to cheat this year? One thing is for sure though. I am happy not to be a part of the whole process. Sometimes Koreans tell me that I act very Korean, or that I am a lot like a Korean. Let me tell you something. I am very happy not to be Korean. If someone offered me Korean citizenship I would not hesitate to turn them down. This is not to say that I don't like Korea, but it is more to say that America has its own insanity that people must participate in so taking on the insanity of another country would be the wrong choice. And with that said I am also very content in retrospect with my own education. Seeing the things that people from my high school have achieved without going to cram schools, and seeing the jobs that fellow WMU alums have via face book, makes me very proud that I didn't come from a culture that was "Harvard or nothing." In Korea that attitude seems to be "Seoul National University, Yonsei University, and Korea University or nothing."
So to anyone in rural America who might be reading this who is a middle or high school student, I know that school can seem terrible and boring, but I can guarantee you this, it could be a lot worse. Also to my 8th grade science teacher. I don't know if you envied other countries' education systems or were trying to scare us into studying harder, let me tell you that there isn't much difference between kids here and there. There are some kids here who try hard, and others who have just seemed to have given up. The ones who gave up get beaten up by their teachers on a near weekly basis. Teachers here carry sticks that they fashion in their own styles. These sticks are used to swat students' wrists or palms as a means of encouragement. This doesn't make those kids any smarter it just kind of pisses them off and makes them less likely to listen to the teachers.

So with that said. I'm just going to enjoy my day off. I'm thinking of redeeming all of these coins that I have and go to buy a suit. Look forward to pictures of my purchase.

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