Wednesday, July 15, 2009

High School is Tough in Korea

It's funny how, after two years, I still find myself in new situations regarding Korean culture. I mean, when you get used to the place, you find yourself adapting to the culture here and you don't really notice that it's a different culture at all(except when baring your soul to another foriegner).

That's why I was surprised when, thinking I finally had it all figured out, I took a job at a Korean public high school. Let me tell you, friends, this is nothing like working at a hagwon. Hagwons are so westernized compared to public schools!

At a public school, you are expected to behave much more formally- especially around your boss and your senior teachers. You cannot refuse certain things, such as a shot of soju after having one shot too many or, in my case, agreeing to model the new school uniforms (how embarassing).

The students, too, have a harder time at school than Western students. Well, I knew that. What I didn't know was the extent to which these teenagers are worked. It's overwhelming! They stay at school until 10 PM- after the vast majority of teachers have gone home- to do something they call "self study". They have large amounts of homework every night and their exams are impossibly difficult (yesterday the senior classes had a provincial English exam, and the readings were so vague even I wasn't sure about some answers). The workload is equal or larger than an average university student's in Canada.

On top of all the work they do, the girl's here have to wear uniforms (they don't like their uniforms- they are always asking me what I think of them), which, really, I don't think is such a terrible thing. What I find strange is that, even though they are already wearing uniforms, they also have to have similar haircuts. This means that with the uniforms and haircuts it has been extremely easy for me to mix up names and faces... again; embarassing.

There are certain teachers at the school whose "extra cirricular" activity is to make sure the girl's are following appearance protocol at all times. They need to verbally abuse the girl's if their hair is an inch longer than it should be. The teacher's don't necessary like doing this, but rules are rules- and high school in Korea is nothing if not a rule oriented environment. If the rules were forsaken, education would be thrown out the window!

I shy away from the questions the girls have about high school students in Canada. It's too painful for them to hear about the freedom and "rights" that students enjoy (a little too liberally, if you ask me) in Canada. Instead, I tell them about the drugs many students ruin their lives with and the many students who have no dreams or ambitions in Canadian public schools. That makes the girls feel much better, because despite all the rules, regulations and the heavy workload they must endure during high school, every one of these girls has a dream. Every one of them is ambitious, and every girl in my school will go to university.

I was recently going over some application forms for a special writing class I will teach during summer vacation (indeed, the students don't even get vacation- they still come to school every day). Many girls applied for this class, and as a written submission they all wrote about their hopes and dreams for their future. I'll tell you this: not one girl wrote about hoping to be a houswife someday. There were several girls who wanted to be diplomats, there were several who wanted to be school teachers or university professors, there were several who wanted to be bureaucrats- I'm talking ambition here! Some of their applications brought tears to my eyes, and they are still so eager to learn more!

That's Korea for you. No one in this country can rest until they feel they have done their utmost in any given area. Hair dressers will spend hours on your hair until they have done it right. People working at McDonald's make the neatest burgers I have seen anywhere in the world. And my students work their butts off to acheive their goals.

I think they've got a heads up on Canada with this one. Let's all be a little more strict than necessary with our kids (but maybe leave their hair alone).

4 comments:

Christinaa :) said...

I heard about this. It's really sad. I hear that korean student get 2-4 hrs of sleep. How do they concentrate at school the next day?! If the American school system was like this, it would be chaotic for the some of the parents. Thanks for this info.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info but don't you think it's normal? I know that most of you would say it's a lot to take in and all of their duties but it's nothing compared to my high school I have 56 homeworks in each subject evry night and in the summer we have only 10 days as a vacation and there is no winter or spring or autumn holidays .And the hole student body sleeps for about one hour and a half but our dear teachers teach us twice a day and sleep 12 long great hours and I'm not going to get to the rules because it's too long for your brain to take in!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info but don't you think it's normal? I know that most of you would say it's a lot to take in and all of their duties but it's nothing compared to my high school I have 56 homeworks in each subject evry night and in the summer we have only 10 days as a vacation and there is no winter or spring or autumn holidays .And the hole student body sleeps for about one hour and a half but our dear teachers teach us twice a day and sleep 12 long great hours and I'm not going to get to the rules because it's too long for your brain to take in!

Janinel said...

It's certainly not normal in Canada, but it is the norm in Korea :) Every country has a different educational structure and some are more lax than others.