By Yerin Kim |Staff Writer|
Seven in the morning, I arrive at school, saving two seats at the library for my friend Luna and myself—just in case.
After night class, I have dinner with Luna in the cafeteria, and head back to the library, as always.
At 2 a.m, we are still in the library, studying. Once I start to nod off, Luna pokes my belly, waking me up. “Hey, cheer up!” she says, giving me a lemon candy, bursting with Vitamin-C.
This is my daily life in Korea, which is an example of our social tendency: collectivism and dedication to education.
Korean society values group harmony and consensus; we prioritize group interests rather than individual interests by spending time with friends and continually strengthening our relationships.
There is even a proverb describing this dependence towards friends. When literally translated into English, it is “go to Seoul, following your friends.” It means wherever you go, your friends are with you.
When Americans say “I” or “my,” Koreans say “we” or “our”—our parents or our siblings. As strange as it may sound, this is the perfect example of the Korean mind. We consider other families our family; we believe we are one Korean family.
Historically, collectivism is closely linked to Confucianism, the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BCE).
In Confucianism, it is necessary for human-beings to maintain a well-ordered society, requiring individuals to form strong social bonds and harmony in society, which may limit individuality.
These characteristics make Koreans caring and attentive, and in my experience, obsessed with others’ perceptions toward oneself that they may lose their individuality.
Besides collectivism, Confucianism has a huge impact on the importance of education in South Korea.
Confucius valued self-discipline, which requires the ability to recognize what is right and good under any circumstance.
Since education is regarded as the way to achieve self-discipline, educational excellence is essential in our society.
A university degree is considered the basic requirement for students, so high school students are dedicated to studying hard to get into a university with a hectic study schedule—almost every high school student spends time studying at school from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
During Suneung, the Korean equivalent to the SAT, airplanes are not allowed to fly during specific test subjects—the English and Korean language listening tests being the exception—to reduce student distractions.
University students don’t study as hard as they did in high school, due to fatigue. However, they still have lots of pressure to earn high grades; we prefer earning A+ grades at the expense of proper sleep.
This tendency has positively influenced Korea; the secret of South Korea’s drastic switch into modern society, despite the Korean War, is partially placed on the Korean education system.
Since the Korean government highlighted hard-work and education, competent people are produced, contributing to the rapid economic, scientific, and technological development.
In contrast, it brings about such a competitive educational system, which leads Korean students to compare and classify one another based on grades.
Sadly, it limits their dreams to getting into renowned universities and high-paying jobs, regardless of their interests.