Getting into University in Seoul, South Korea - 87

We do not need to sleep! – we are Korean

As also mentioned in the ‘Korean Logic’ section, the starting time in the morning for a lot of students is sometimes as early as 7:30am and they are often exhausted by the end of the day, sometimes only sleeping five hours a day. I cannot ever imagine an American or a Brit going to classes at an institute before work, but Korean people seem to have no problem doing it. Going to English classes, Chinese classes or any other kind of class at University student7:00am, seems not to be a problem and is quite common. One has to respect the effort Koreans make and the self-discipline they have, when it comes to studying at this time in the morning. In some universities, such as Ewha Women’s University, they have a sleeping room so that students can take a well-deserved nap in between lessons. It is not uncommon though, for students to be dozing off in lessons behind their textbooks.

Ewha Womans University

‘Ewha’ incidentally, is an all women’s university in central Seoul and this is an interesting concept. The concept of an all womons university is almost unheard of in Western countries. All boys or all girls schools are common in Western culture but not at university level. I am not totally sure of the origin of women only universities in Korea and some other Asian countries, although in Korea, it is perhaps due in part to the influences of the Confucianism religion. Confucianism arguably favours the men in society, with men normally seen as the head of a family and men often controlling most of the senior jobs in Korean society. (Many female students of mine though, often made the point that the real head of the family in many situations was really the adjuma – the strong middle-aged woman who usually gets what she wants and keeps her husband in his place). The idea of women only universities, could well have been to give women a learning environment where they are treated fairly and equally within the bounds of the university. Ewha has always been one of the top universities, although not in the top tier which these days consist of three universities - Seoul National, Yonsei and Korea University. Ewha is interesting also in other ways. Up until 2003, married women were not allowed to enter the university. They could enter, but if the university found out they were married, they would have been thrown out. In 2003 that rule changed and married women can now study at Ewha University.

University Rules in Korea

Another rule, that might seem odd by Western standards, is that the length of a child’s hair in high school was limited, until recently. A guy’s hair for example, could not be more than 5 inches long. In many countries school uniform is used for conformity, but in Korea hair length and colour are also considered important, with one of my students unable to change her hair colour during term time. These rules are gradually being phrased out but these rules remain in some schools. It is not easy being a student in Korea. It's a tough life, getting up early, studying all day and going to institutes after school. I admire the way in which Koreans work so hard and a lot of people from many Western countries could learn a lot from Koreans willingness to work hard, but the concern is that Koreans will burn themselves out and also that exercise and health are sometimes neglected. Finding the right balance between work, study and play in any country can be very difficult to work out.

Computer Games and Koreans

Gary Lineker, the ex-captain of the England national soccer team, once said something to the affect that “Instead of buying your son/daughter computer games, you can spend half of the price buying a soccer kit and soccer ball and the children will get far more exercise, more fun and learn much better social skills”. In Korea, with a huge I.T. industry, with green space in Seoul quite rare and with a five-fold increase in fast food restaurants in Seoul, in as many years, children are becoming more and more obese. When you consider that Korea is number one in the world for Internet bandwidth usage, with almost every home and school having Internet connections with speedy broadband connections, and with Koreans studying endlessly at school, it becomes clear why Koreans are getting less and less exercise. That in no way is meant to say that Western children are any fitter because they are certainly not. It was always amazing in fact, to walk around areas such as Insa-dong or Kangnam and see so many slim and healthy looking people. Maybe it is the Kimchi?!

Notes

  • ‘Brit’ is a common abbreviation for ‘British Person’.
  • *Nap means a short sleep (usually in the afternoon)
  • * Dozing off means to gradually fall asleep
  • *Five-fold increase = 500% increase. Two fold would be 200% increase etc.

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