Into the frying pan

or pressure cooker, that is…


Yesterday, I stayed at work a little late because some of the teachers teach an after-school class, and we were leaving for the restaurant together.  It was then that I saw the kids cueing for the lunchroom.  Only it was for DINNER.  I asked, Young-a when those children would go home.  Turns out the kids staying for dinner often stay at school until 10 pm.  And, she added, some of those kids then go to a hagwon for another class and don’t get home until midnight.  They then have to get up and be back at school by 8 am.

When do they see their families?  “They don’t,” was the answer, “It’s very horrible.”  So I asked if it was like that for her growing up.  She said yes, but that the competition is much worse now.   I don’t know how these kids can remember anything, staying at school for fourteen hours.  Then going to private classes for another two hours.  I don’t know how they can do anything creative or be kids or have any life whatsoever.   Real life must seem like a relief after this…and the main focus, which I am a part of now, is being able to speak English so you can land the best corporate job.

I’ve taken it upon myself to introduce some American culture to them.  But I think I’ll leave out the part about the American educational system.  That might make them cry.  I guess all I can do – if they are awake enough – is to try and introduce some more creative ways to think about life and problem solving, rather than memorizing flashcards for exams.  It’s not as if they are tied to their desks, and the lessons are not ALL totally dry, from what I see from the textbooks I’ve been sneaking peaks at, but there is this huge invisible machine pressing on all these kids.   I knew this would be disturbing before I left for Korea.  But the reality of it is sort of sinking in now.

The interesting thing is, they talk to each other and goof off much more than American students, who at least know to not offend the teacher and will be smart enough to write a note silently or something.  But here, I think if it isn’t announced that THIS WILL BE ON THE SAT’s, then they choose to use that now value-less lesson to socialize.  I’ve also been told that parents know they will be pushing their kids to the limit in school, so they let the kids run hog wild their early years.  And this is where the beating stick comes in.   So the respect for the teachers, which might have been confuscian based in an earlier day and age, must be replaced with the stick because the parents aren’t teaching the kids the social lessons they need out of guilt.  ?  Just the theory.  Well, actually, I have also heard that guilt isn’t quite it either.  It’s more that they believe SOCIETY itself will regulate the kid’s behavior at some point.  Kind of like letting a child touch hot things until they get burnt vs. modeling getting burned and explaining that being burnt hurts.

Did I mention culture shock before?  The other thing is, we are helpless to change this situation and we are also humble enough to realize that their culture has developed these mechanicsms for a reason.  At least, I must give them the benefit of my doubts.  Even though I am a byproduct of the failure of that system.  I have to also wonder if their obsession with power through education has gone past the point of diminishing returns.  I also understand that the American education system has been in constant overhaul for as long as I can remember.  And yet so many are trying to join it.  I’m trying to understand, but I’m totally at a loss.

4 thoughts on “Into the frying pan

  1. I stayed with four different families when I was there.
    In the first, the man (a principal of a school) was out of home early in the morning before everyone woke up and came back very late at night, from monday to saturday.
    In the second, I don’t know what was his profession, most of the time, he was not at home, otherwise, he came back past midnight a few times and got to work early before I woke up. And that day, before noon, he had to go somewhere for his work. The couple let their 7 year-old daughter stayed awake late at night when he was coming back. She was so happy to see him that she threw in her arm around his neck.
    In the third, at my sister’s home, I only saw my brother in-law one afternoon.
    In the fourth family, it was completly different. He was the owner of a construction company. He was often at home, he had time to make me visit some places in Seoul, bring me to my first orphanage, and go out with all the family before to an amusement park before my departure. This family was the richest of all.

  2. I don’t understand this at all, this value system. In a world where family is everything, but not worth spending time with…

    As for the dad’s never coming home. I’m not totally buying that it is all sacrifice on their part. If there wasn’t some personal benefit, I don’t believe they would do it so much. I think they enjoy competing to be the most respected, their male companionship, their carousing, their work-related drinking, and just being martyrs.

    I’m hoping this b.s. changes. One of the teachers I teach traded in his high pressure corporate lawyer job to be a teacher to see his family a little more. Another admitted he cooks twice a week. The women teachers, after long days (and Saturdays) at work and their long commutes, still have to go home and are expected to make dinner for the whole family.

    But they’re sending their young children away for several years at a time to learn English. wtf. I don’t understand this kind of love. I don’t understand sacrificing all so your children can compete for more stress and less time. What do they think being rich is?

    Being rich is getting to see your children grow into inquisitive, creative, caring people. Being rich is enjoying what you do so your life doesn’t feel like labor. Being rich is getting the luxury of time in which to enjoy some of the fruits of that labor.

    I don’t understand almost 200,000 children given away either. I just really don’t get it. I don’t understand the bowing to social pressure thing at all either. YES THIS SYSTEM IS TERRIBLE, is what I hear everyone saying, but the response seems to be – I WILL CONQUER THIS SYSTEM BY MAKING MY CHILDREN THE BEST AT THIS SYSTEM. It’s a really defeatist mentality. It destroys Korean families. How long can Korea sustain living in this vacuum? Given the prospect of this system, how many of their English speaking children will stay?

  3. Sometime, I see ourselves as sacrificial lamb for being sent away and also their saviours as a combination of Moses and Joseph in the Bible. Joseph was sold by his brothers to strangers but later, when he became famous, he saves his family and his nation through his position and wealth he acquired in his adoptive country. Just like us, KADs have been sold to strangers by own people but what happens now is that being able to see through the eyes of another culture, and I’m sure are going to help our nation. To “save” Moses, he was sent away like us to be raised by another people of another culture but he returned to his people to save them from the people who raised him, just like the KADs who went back to live there forever or for a long period.

  4. Yes. That is what I thought too.

    Only the reality is they don’t want our help. They only want to idealize our experience. They don’t want to hear anything we’ve learned from it. Envy is easier. Facsimile is easier. Change requires something harder than resilience.

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