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South Korea’s Untold Story

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South Korea’s Untold Story[a]

South Korea, known officially as the Republic of Korea, is an East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. Korea is known for global brands such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia. Korea is the third largest economy in Asia and the leading exporter of electronic goods and also has the fastest internet speed and highest smartphone ownership. Korea is also home to a movement called the Korean wave, the phenomenon of Korean entertainment and popular culture reaching out all over the world with pop music, television dramas and movies. “Imagine your Korea” is the new tourism slogan of Korea. It is aimed to promote and communicate to foreigners about the cultural appeals of Korea. Korea [b]has much to offer: great food, innovative technology, great history and culture and a rising entertainment industry. But[c] behind that glitz and glamour, there is an untold story. Korea has the highest suicide rate amongst Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries. The highest age range for those who commit suicide in Korea are from ten through thirty-nine. Korea’s rising number of suicides is contributed to the stress and extremely high demand of societal standards and expectations in regards to education, physical appearances and social status.

Children in Korea are busy at a young age. There is a tremendous amount of pressure and almost relentless amount of focus from Korean parents to give their children the best educational opportunity. As soon as they learn how to talk, their parents enroll them in various classes and after schools such as music, English, sports and any other extracurricular activity that might seem beneficial for their future. These extracurricular activities are called “specs” in Korea and having various and prestigious specs will help you get into the best colleges in Korea. Kids are taught so early in life that it is a dog eat dog world due to publicized testing results and rankings in schools. There is a sense of public shaming involved when you don’t do well and also a great deal of pressure to perform well and be at the top[d].

South  Korea has a college entrance exam similar to the SATs that is known as being one of the most difficult college entrance exams in the world. The test is so important that planes are even grounded on test day for fear of providing any sort of nuisance for the kids. It’s almost as if a Korean kid’s childhood leads up to this moment. Their life and future depends on how well they do on this test. There are three colleges in South Korea that are “the colleges” to get into; Seoul National University (The Harvard of Korea), Yonsei University and Korean University. The statistics to get into these schools are very competitive and almost impossible to get into. The odds are not definitely not in their favor.  

The high pressure nature of the education system is a huge burden and problem to the youth of Korea and it is not only a burden to them but to their parents as well. It is crazy to see how much parents are willing to go and spend and do to have their child succeed. Parents stand outside during the eight hour exam and pray to whomever they believe in and perform rituals outside and basically do whatever they think will help their child do well on the exam. There are television dramas based on the life of kids in school and it is alarming and sad at how much of them are based on true stories. There are episodes of bribing the teachers to have them look upon their students favorably, smarter kids getting bullied by those who don’t do as well, smarter kids getting framed by kids in order for them to be number one in the class, and much more. Seniors in high school typically end their school day in the afternoon but won’t go home until the late hours of the evening due to extra study halls that aren’t mandatory but almost necessary for everyone. Roof access in schools and apartments are closed off during the test season because so many kids jump off the buildings because they can not handle the stress and pressure anymore.  South Korean kids tested last in a happiness survey done amongst OECD countries citing academic stress as the number one factor. There is such a demand for success at an early age  but success doesn’t always result in happiness and it seems as if Korea may be putting too much focus and pressure on these kids which ultimately causes them to end their lives.

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