Saturday, April 26, 2008

March: Korea's Ivy Craze

Time isn’t just ticking – it’s getting louder. As the semester draws to a close, Yalies get ready for a final hurrah on Spring Fling Day before confining themselves to libraries for finals. As the Olympics opening ceremony gets closer, shouts from rallies by the world and anti-rallies by the Chinese intensify. Interpol warns China of a major terror threat, didn’t our internal terror-radars detect this? Amid final exams, housing worries and last moments with friends, time is getting louder. (Maybe I’m just hearing my heart beat.)

I usually write specifically about China, but NYTimes published an article I couldn’t resist talking about – South Koreans’ Love of the Ivy League. Mr. Sam Dillon describes the lives of students at two prep schools in South KoreaDaewon Preparatory School and Minjok Leadership Academy – renown for their high success rates of students getting acceptances to American universities, particularly the Ivy League colleges. Student preparation is rigorous – studying from as early as 6 a.m. to as late as 2 a.m. or later (Some students apparently don’t sleep). Surveillance is intense to make sure students are not falling asleep as they cram for AP, IB and SAT tests. Aside from enduring the hard academic life, students also participate in clubs and sports.

I’m simply amazed that students in Korea have to go through that academic torture to get to the Ivy League. My own path to college admissions didn’t seem nearly as academically intense. During high school, my life was consumed by the marching band. Early morning practices, Tuesday night practices, Friday concerts and Saturday competitions defined my junior and senior years. I ran on the cross-country and track and field teams because I lacked the hand-ball coordination to play any other sport. On holidays and summer/winter vacations when I didn’t have marching band, I worked at my parents’ restaurant in San Francisco. I took my sets of APs and SATs, but I didn’t have time to study for those tests all day. My test scores were nowhere close to what Daewon and Minjok students are averaging.

I hope that the Korean education system changes so that the students have time to devote time to other things than standardized tests, such as volunteer service and independent projects. I feel like my Korean friends are burnt out while they’re at Yale, looking at a class as just another set of tests and essays to cram and write for. High scores are important to prove one’s understanding of a topic or one’s intelligence, but the cramming culture destroys the point of learning – to enrich one’s life. I understand that Koreans value education as a means to a better and happier life, but education itself is an art to enjoy. When history is reduced to dates and events, when science is reduced to facts and formulas, when language is reduced to grammar and structure, where is the beauty of learning? Mr. Dillon mentions that one girl is preparing for nine AP tests, none of which she’s taking classes for. She “buys and devours textbooks,” cramming into the wee hours of night. Question: why?


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1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Why? Getting a good job (doctor, lawyer, investment banker, engineer) or getting rich is also very important. If you attend these brand-name schools and have good grades, you will have a better chance doing just that. It sounds materialistic but that is the culture in many Asian countries.

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