The developed, developing, and the scholars in between

this is a response to another blogpost.

How many tests have you taken so far?

An average high school graduate spends 12 years devoted to an academic institution. The number of assignments and projects we complete, the number of words we type to write, and the number of tests we take all amount to a number unimaginably large. The amount of energy and time we devote to educational institutions is not something negligible in a modern world today. Although the relative emphasis on the level of education differs from one society to the other, education is nevertheless a social aspect ingrained in many societies.

an inevitable stereotype just too well imprinted in western societies...
an inevitable stereotype just too well imprinted in western societies…

Asians are usually associated with the “nerd” stereotype, known to academically excel in Northern American and European cultures where education is rigorously developed and well-embedded in the society. Short stature, black hair, yellow complexion and maybe a pair of glasses all make up a single image of a hard-working, grade-obsessed, never-failing asian student studying abroad. Hundreds of universities in both Northern America and Europe are flocked with students from China, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong just to name a few. As immigrants, second-generation and third, new international students and exchange students, scholars of all age are flying West to study where education is best developed.

a ticket to a prosperous life?
a ticket to a prosperous life?

This momentous wave all begins from a fundamental difference between the developed nations and developing nations. It was an inevitable truth that developed nations such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom had far better established educational institutions than the level of education established in developing nation in most of Asia. Education abroad was something that was for the most intellectual and the most elite in Asian societies. Education abroad was something always above in level for most Asians. Education abroad was a ticket to a prosperous life.

a busy world developed, and so did education
a busy world developed, and so did education

But as education began to establish a firm foundation in developing nations, the educational systems in some nations slowly caught up with the Western world. Japan was relatively quick in establishing universities known for a high reputation today with one of the best forms of education in some areas, paralleling the nation’s firm foothold in the world as a global power both economically and politically. Right behind are nations such as Korea, China and India, slowly improving its educational systems and composing one of the largest sources of the influx of foreign students in the United States and Europe.

education was always an english word
oh what’s the word…

The large number of students from China and India, in the United States especially, seems to be explained by their population boom, composing two of the largest populations in the world. But Korea poses an interesting question. How is it that a country that fits in a single state of California more than thirty times over produces a large bulk of the students living and studying in America? and How is it that Korea year by year constantly outputs one of the highest averages in international test scores?

From my own personal view, I would like to tie this in with the level of development of Korea as a nation. Korea is still largely developing. It never established itself as a global economic or political power, yet still attracts worldwide attention with one of the fastest growing stable economies and a unique political disposition with DPRK. Likewise, its educational institutions never achieved a level of superiority. The best university in Korea with its 1:50 competition ratio still ranks outside of the 100 best universities in the world.

itll make you different from thousands of others
take a guess: it’ll make you different from thousands of others

But Koreans seem to have a distinctive set of mind regarding education that characterizes most of the Korean students’ behaviors and motives behind their obssessive push in academics. Education can establish power and respect in a strictly confusian society, although it is gradually getting painted with Western cultures along with globalization. Education, in result, ranks the whole population from top to bottom. Scholars from certain universities are honored with high paying jobs, respect among peers and sometimes even protection from the government. On the other hand, an average Korean has to struggle to get jobs and live in a highly competitive society, even though their educational level may be much higher than average Americans or averge Europeans.

Competition, and the invisible social ranking system fuels the academic obsession in Korea. As a result students spend over 15 hours everyday in educational institutions in and out of regular school, and barely get sleep during the night. A good night sleep is never a good night sleep, and Friday nights are not the fun ones.

its not all a one way road
its not all a one way road

A headline of an article in the Korean Times reported a doctorate thesis written by a Korean American graduate student and prsented at Columbia last month. The author of the thesis, Samuel S. Kim, found that the dropout rate among Koreans is higher than any other groups profiled in the article. Why is it that a country that worked so hard to get in the bets colleges in the world dropout of college, even though they may be one of the most sophisticated and educationally advanced? Kim suggests that Koreans simply do not adapt to the non-study based society in America. This dropout rates easily surpasses that of other groups such as Chinese and Indian.

I am one of thoes Korean students currently in Korea, looking to continue my academic pursuit in the states. But I was given the lucky chance to perceive Korean education from a different perspective from that of an average Korean student. Living abroad in England for two and a half years, having attended summer schools in both America and China, and attending an international school for over five years, I was both a part of and not a part of the Korean educational system. The basis in which I developed my learning skills were inherently Korean with a formal education in a Korean public school, but I was given a special chance to extend myself and take a global scale in viewing things. Yes, I have at times engaged myself in the Korean heat of competition, but was lucky to have unique experiences abroad that will hopefully help my studies abroad.


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