It's that time here at my middle school. In the weeks leading up to this mid-term examination period, I never would have guessed how stressful and anxious the air around the school would feel. I did notice, however, that students had become quieter, and that more of them were picking up some sort of cold or fever. Definitely not H1N1... more like Exam Influenza.
Dear readers in every part of the world except Asia, please count your blessing that you weren't and (aren't) pushed as hard to study and ace your exams as the students are on this continent.
Here's an example.
Last week, after I wrapped up my after-school English class, I was walking home when I bumped into one of my most hard-working students. Within the first week at the school, this student had come up to me with a book she had ordered online, in anticipation of our meeting. It was a 300-page, soft-cover book on Canada. I swear, she knew more about the country I lived in than me.
As we walked in the direction of my apartment, I couldn't help but ask her a few questions about herself... about her goals, dreams, future... She is in her last semester of middle school, and come January 2010, she will be starting a new section of her life in high school. I figured she had a lot on her mind.
"I'm on my way to this place... that's sort of a library... but not really a library," she said, quietly.
I told her I didn't understand and asked her to explain a bit more.
"Well, it's called (DukSaJee?)," she said. "I pay some money and I get to go inside and sit in a cubicle for however long I want to, and study."
"How long will you study today?" I asked.
She looked at her watch quickly and said, "It's 4:30 now... I will be there till midnight."
I was shell-shocked.
She had just spent the last eight hours at school and was now heading over for another session in this solitary cubicle. My heart broke hearing this.
In the days after that incident, I realized quickly how important studies are in this culture. The teachers expect the students to do well... and the students expect themselves to do well. They will do whatever it takes, even if it means confining themselves in a building designed specifically for the purpose of voluntary isolation and seclusion - just so they can focus.
I admire them... but I also can't help but feel terrible. Between school, after school classes, academies after the after school classes, (DukSaJee) and so on... what's left?
Today, while I was on the bus, I heard someone speaking English with an over-pronounced American accent. Eager to see another foreigner in my area, I did a quick scan of the bus to see where the chatter was coming from. What I didn't expect to see was a young Korean student with a paper in her hand, talking to herself. It looked as though she was practicing for some kind of presentation, and was memorizing her words. She didn't care that a bus full of people could hear her. All that mattered was that her words were pronounced and that her accent was on par... or better.
I just finished invigilating my first exam here in the middle school. It was an English exam for the eighth graders. The two exam sheets with questions on them were in Korean. The students answered these questions about English lessons that they've studied in English... in Korean.
They don't think this is strange at all.
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