Thursday, November 13, 2008

Korea's Crazy College Boards

Photo from Korea Times
The police were out in force today. Not to quell another beef uprising, or to respond to a terrorist threat, no, they are prepared to taxi students running late to their college board testing site.

Government offices and many businesses opened an hour late today, to ease congestion in the streets. Airports rescheduled flights to deaden noise pollution during the listening test. As early as yesterday afternoon, underclassmen were camping out at the gates of testing sites for prime spots from which to wish their schoolmates haeng-un-ul pim-ni-da! I snapped two groups of girls settled in near Insa-dong:

On Monday, Mr Hwang handed out "beverages and rice cakes" to the third graders, to help prepare them for the exams. Even though the exams are on Thursday. Why rice cakes, I ask. And why so far in advance? These rice cakes are very sticky and dense, so it is hoped they will help the learning "stick to" the students. They are eaten so far in advance because if a student gets a stomachache, it will have time to pass.

They really go all out for these exams, both to help students do their best, and to insure the integrity of the examination process--this is the one time in Korea that your family connections cannot help you.

In some ways, a Korean's entire future is determined by a few hours in a strange classroom on the third Thursday in November. College admission in Korea is based almost solely on College Scholastic Aptitude Test scores. The higher levels of government and business are filled by graduates of the top three--Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei Universities. Though everyone complains about it, they still buy into it--the media decries the system, but still it lists the college affiliations of newsmakers.

On the bright side, of course, the fact that Young-il was used as a testing site means I got the day off today.


Foreigner Joy said...

I am really impressed with your blog and how much cultural pickings you have stumbled upon in being here such a short time.


Tuttle said...


Thanks for your kind words about my blog. However, I'm going to have to quibble about your choice of "stumbled upon"!

While it's true there's plenty of serendipity in my experiences here (and throughout my life), I have actively serched for opportunities and information to guide me. The most mundane conversation may lead to a surprising revelation if you ask the right question.

Which is how I learned much of the information in this post.

As it happens, I read about SKY (Seoul, Korea, Yonsei) back in May while researching the academic system here, before I even got a job or started this blog.

A few days ago, I was talking to Hwang about the pencil cases of my students (look for a future blog post on that subject), when he said, "Oh, you are very caring about our students."

I said, "Well, I am observant. I think it helps me be a better teacher. I am here to teach, but I am also here to learn."

Consider that last sentence my Korean mantra.