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1o (More) Shocking Facts about Korean Schools

10 more shocking facts about korean schools, teaching in Korea, teaching at EPIK Korea, 10 shocking facts about korean schools1o (More) Shocking Facts about Korean Schools

The cultural differences of working in the Korean classroom can be a real trip for a westerner! Korean culture can essentially feel like a real mystery. Either you’re left open-mouthed at every corner or you’re still trying to understand the Korean logic of things.

Back in March when I first arrived, I was just uncovering my new environment.

Read 10 surprising facts about the  Korean school (Part 1)

Today, it’s become a  routine. Yet as much as I live the daily idiosyncrasies and tics of my kimchi habitat, some of this stuff still boggles the mind.

10 (More) Shocking Facts about the Korean Public School:


1. Every Korean elementary student learns from the same textbook.

Occasionally around town, you may hear a fellow English teacher humming the most recent song of your 4th grade lesson. It’s a bit eerie. Call it the national curriculum, but every Korean public school  teaches from the same textbooks. Furthermore, each grade learns the same lesson at around the same week!

So if you’re an NET and wondering why your Korean co-teacher is reluctant to stray ” off-book” (a gripe of some), just remember- your 40 min class textbook lesson is clocked by the entire nation!

The good news about this is that it actually makes it easy for Korean teachers and native English teachers to recycle and exchange lesson plan ideas and games. If you’re a teacher, www.waygook.org is the *best resource*; this site will lend you ideas of what Korean public students are currently learning.

And the bad news?

This shared curriculum changed as of 2011; schools are now responsible for choosing their own textbooks.

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2. Korean school lunches are delicious.

Occasionally you’ll see weird things in your school lunch tray- soups with half bodies of fish floating around, squid or other mystery seafood.

The good news is that aside from appearances (and occasionally, off-putting smells), Korean school lunches are actually delicious and healthy. No microwaveable stuff here.

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public schoolMonday

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public school Tuesday

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public school Wednesday

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public school Thursday

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public school Friday

3. Koreans love their toothbrushes.

If home is where you lay your toothbrush, better bring your pillow to school. Koreans teachers keep a toothbrush at school and brush after every meal. With all the kimchi, fishy and garlic-drenched foods they serve at meals, I’ve come to keep a toothbrush at work, as well.

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4. Toilet paper: Never leave the classroom without it!

Wouldn’t you think toilet paper would be one item your workplace would supply?

But no, the public school restrooms don’t always have toilet paper, even if it’s the teacher bathroom. In my school we must all bring our toilet paper to work and take it with us  to  the restroom.

How do elementary kids manage?

Each classroom has their own toilet paper roll. If a kid wants to use the restroom, they tear a piece from this roll and take it with them.  Better wad up or learn to gauge well; there’s no second chances if you should find yourself half-wiped!

korean toilets, toilet paper in korea, teaching in korea, toilet paperWho thought Korea would be so stingy with their t.p. usage?


5. Hand washing: Cold vs Clean Hygiene

It’s hard to say whether Koreans kids practice good hygiene or not. Considering that the winter tap water is often ice-freezing, the bathroom never has any heat and there never being much soap by the sink, I’m thinking the answer is … not.

  • Reason 1- Where’s the soap?  

A school restroom is the last place you’d want to ration hygiene but like toilet paper, they also consistently lack soap! This lack however, is one of the major annoyances with public restrooms all around Korea. Half of the restrooms I’ve been to in this country don’t have either soap, toilet paper or both!

cleanliness signs, sanitary regulations signWithout soap, it kinda defeats the purpose of posting this sign.

  • Reason 2– Public bathrooms in Korea are seldom heated   

During winter, public bathrooms in Korea are seldom heated. It’s because Korea doesn’t like to heat public places. Furthermore, tap water is often so ice cold, that your fingertips will go into shock as soon as you wet them! Getting the kids to wash their hands like the poster (above photo), is just as likely as getting shivering adults like myself to do so.

  • Reason 3-  Community soap

I’ve never felt dirty from washing my hands, until I moved to Korea.  The culture appears germophobic with sick masks, house slippers and UV sterilized cups, yet many restrooms offer a “community bar of soap” for hand washing use (see Reason 1 for the exception ). When I went to public school, we had soap dispensers in the bathroom. Let me ask you– after “doing your business”, do you really want to clean yourself with the soap that everyone has used to clean themselves up with? This could account for the reason our teacher’s office has a huge bottle of hand sanitizer.

public school bathroomThis photo was taken in a bathroom that actually has soap!
The probable reason is that it’s because it’s right next to our health room. .


6. Water is for drinking after you’ve had your meal.

Forget what the West say about keeping well-hydrated. The East says something different.  In Korea, you don’t drink your water until after you’ve eaten and when you finally do, you’ve got a kiddie cup’s worth to quench your thirst!

I  wonder if Korea suffers from a lot of constipation?

Read 10 Funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans

korean quirks, cultural quirks, water in korea, koreans don't drink water, hygiene in koreaIn Korea, metal drinking cups are taken from a UV sterilizing storage cabinet.


7.   Asians have bad vision.

Seems like the Asian genes may be recessive when it comes to 20/20 vision.

Do you know that , at least one- third of my students wear prescription glasses? This averages out to nine students out of a class of 27 kids (I’ve counted).

Lasik eye surgery is common in Korea, so I’ve heard… I guess now we know why!

This is when I realized those glasses are lenslessphoto by:  sierraromeo
Faux glasses are the rage as fashionable Koreans buy glasses with no actual glass..


8. Children with disabilities in classroom.

The remarkable thing about the Korean public school is that it doesn’t discriminate.

From handicapped students with wheelchair disabilities to Special Ed,… the public school classroom is a mixed bag and I get them all.

9. Food allergies are uncommon

Nuts, wheat, strawberries, peanuts,milk, eggs, shellfish, soy...  In the western culture, these foods are deadly to the growing population of those with food allergies.

When  it comes to food allergies in Korea however, Koreans seem to have a special immunity gene. Perhaps it’s due to the fact, the Korean diet is fairly healthy with a lot of fresh foods? Aside from the abundance of carbs and chili pepper in their dishes, their foods are vegetable heavy and “fast” foods are still cooked home-style and without a lot of deep-frying, microwaving, preservatives or added processing.

Read Fear Factor Korea: How Fresh Do Koreans Like their Food?


10.  Everything is ‘Ki Bi Bo’ !

Rock, Paper, Scissors (aka Ki Bi Bo!) is a game played by children across the world, but in my book, Korean students earn the Olympic gold medal for it. They can play it pairs, in groups and as a classroom. This however, isn’t the prize skill– it’s the speed at which they can play it.

Watching them do it in groups larger than five is amazing; somehow, among a sea of hands, they’re able to assess count and in one beat, do it again.

Best of all, you can collect the focus of your wildest class, just by playing this with them a few times.

ki bi bo game, rock paper scissors game, korean games, korean school games, games to play in korea, popular games in korea



Bonus video:

Watch my first day at my Korean Public Elementary School. See my interesting discoveries and the slightly scary ones too!

How different is Korean culture from your own? Know of more shocking facts about Korean schools?  Care to share any fun idiosyncrasies you’ve experienced?

 

All images are copyrighted.

23 Comments

  1. Anna Lee says:

    Hi! My name is Anna Lee, and I’m a Korean American high school student. I attend high school in America, and I am about to start a Korean culture club at my high school. One of my plans for the club is to create a pen pal program, but the modern way (through cell phones! Specifically kakaotalk, the popular Korean messaging app.) I was looking for a high school I could exchange contact information with so I could expand knowledge about Korean culture at my school. Please let me know if you’re interested!! I love this article and I’d love to promote Korean culture at my school.

  2. Sun blue says:

    I’m student in south Korea..most of above things are very accurate example but 2nd fact is not true. all of students are spend their big money for regular lunch which offerd by school. it may be more than 60$. so the lunch is offerd as verions menu including American and Japanese style.

  3. Naima says:

    I really love to go to korea.
    Just hope for the best. Plz tell me more about korea and koreans.

  4. icri says:

    Indian schools are somewhat same except for good food. We have strict study system. Question for simple class test doesn’t come from text book. Maths and science are very imp as people mainly aim for being doctors and engineers. The school washrooms are unhygienic sometimes.even for not bringing books we have to go and get scolding from Princi. 10,11,12 is dam imp as we face board exams and students get up at 4:30 or 5 in morning till 2 in the night if they want top university.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Icri : I remember meeting an elementary boy traveling with his family on a bus to a pilgrimage spot near Dharamsala and he said something similar to what you say about math and science being important and yes, he wanted to be a doctor. I’d love to see what an Indian classroom and schedule is like.

      • Fiona says:

        I’m an Indian first year high schooler (south-indian) from Chennai a popular metropolitan area here. I am from a normal matriculation school so i have classes from morning 8.30 to evening 5.15,other matriculation schools here start at 9.00 or even 9.30 and end at 3.15 or 4.15, most schools have saturday classes too. If u look at the CBSE schools they are the real torture, torture level of education goes like:
        government schools<Private matriculations<CBSE there are also some other schools tougher than CBSE but i dont know much about em. In most CBSE schools u have sunday classes too, but limited hours since its SUNDAY. On normal days. their classes end at 5.00 or 4.00 pm, BUT the CBSE boarding school students get refreshed within an hour, and go back to their assembling places (like a classroom or study room where they are told be at after refreshing) in order to study or memorize the stuff they learnt that day (vice versa everyday), physical punishments are illegal but still in FULL POWER, unless u go to a completely UNDERESTIMATED school like the government school (where the fee is so less and no one cares if u read well or not) or go to a WEALTHY school (like the schools where wealthy kids just spend time) if u are stuck in a normal school like me, physical punishments are at full power, if ur in CBSE bonus points. heavier physical torture to the suicidal stage sometimes. In korea since physical tormenting is prohibited , they use student-teacher non-contacting punishment methods like raising hands, sit-ups , etc. But here the students are beat in the palms of our hands or on our arms or on back bones via the teachers hands or mostly rulers, wooden or metal rulers. I recieved 2 heavy beatings in the palm of my hands last week for failing in math, (dont worry bout me im a kpop rebel unlike the other girls in my class who cries over the pain, i walk away smiling that i have only one more fucking year to finish high school)
        The DeAl is only 10th and 12th graders have public exams (aka 10th grade- last year of middle school: 12th grade-last year of high school) In order to show off higher performances by students in the public exams, so that their respective schools gain fame, those 2 classes are when we go through hell, other than that students may experience normal punishments time to time. Im waiting to face the last year of high school…. head on.. next year…once im done with this shit, i can finally get my head into my ambitions,cuz my aim is not a engineer or doctor but a kpop musician. I know its impossible cuz people here dont even know what is kpop or kdrama and here i am amidst them a kpop-star wannabe, But thanks to this rough society, I never back up on my ambitions, E.V.E.R. the most silliest thing here is if u ask a high ranked student from my school what she wants to be in future, she would have no ideas… cuz all we are taught is to just READ the lessons. Im in the process of breaking the school rules and almost getting kicked out, im hanging into this school since its only one more darn year and i dont wanna trouble my parents.
        Hope i helped u know more about a Normal Indian School Life. If u have any questions contact me:

        [email protected]

        (P.S u might think that if students report these punishments then it will be over for good. But actually nope. Parents and teachers here have widely selected that 67 or 80 percent of the time physical punishments are needed to improve fellow students like us)

        Annyeonghaseyo!!! (^.^)

  5. I wish all schools around the world would serve such fresh and healthy food!!
    Asian food for the win… ALWAYS!

  6. Jen says:

    Funny, I was just reminiscing about Korean school lunches yesterday and discovered your blog via this article today. I loved them! 10 years on our family still regularly eats Korean seaweed with rice just as my kinder students taught me to do it back then : )

    • @Jenny: That’s awesome! You integrated it into your lifestyle and shared it with your family. I’m stronger on the kimchi. I almost regularly have a bottle of kimchi in the refrig!

  7. Andrew says:

    Even if the public soap bars seems to be unclean. They actually clean your hands better than a hand sanitizer. I’ve seen an article that says it doesn’t matter if they are anti bacterial soap or normal soap or even liquid soaps, there are always germs but once you use a soap bar with water the soap material cleans both the soap bar and your hands. That’s how soap bars works even in the 3rd world where tap water is contaminated.

  8. Marini S. says:

    It’s the same for Malaysia, the textbook part. The only difference is that the system is still alive here. The whole country uses the same textbooks when it comes to primary (ages 7-12) and secondary (ages 13-17) education. Only for Malay literature and English literature, each state is assigned to a different novel/short story. Maybe its an Asian thing? Oh, and great post by the way. Everything other than the textbook part is totally new to me.

    • @Marini: Wow, that’s very interesting to know and thanks for sharing that! I wonder what other countries have the same system? It does ensure that a national curriculum and standard is maintained.

  9. Jen says:

    Thanks so much for your posts! Do you mind if I share some of your info and photos with my daughter’s 3rd grade class (in NY)? (I will credit your blog) We are putting together information on Korea for her school’s Asian Celebration and I think they will really enjoy some of your insights on how school in Korea is different from the US.

  10. Andrew says:

    Wow. You have hit everything on the head. How is it that I could find this site after teaching in Seoul for two years and have searched so hard for people who would agree with me before?

    The food is healthy, often there would be 3 spicy items on the lunch tray on any given day, but that doesn’t make it unhealthy. It’s hard to get fat in Korea if you eat like that, I agree. I was starting to get tired of food that fit into one of those sections on my lunch tray so easily but now I’m back in the USA and married to my co-teacher from Korea and we make rice almost every day.

    The most surprising thing I found about Korea was its uniformity–all over. Everywhere, all over, people all do everything the same way. Have you ever crossed a 7 while writing for the class? There were so many things I took for granted as being normal and the kids looked at me like I was a freak of nature… haha…

    Great article, you did a really good job of not sounding condescending. I struggled with that while living in Korea. Now I can talk about it and give Korea credit where it is due…before I was a bit bitter! Keep up the good work.

    • @Andrew: Wow I think it totally rocks that you found your future wife in Korea.

      Thanks Andrew! I think Korea is slowly changing to accommodate foreigners a tad more. But it’s still rough making the transition. It takes a lot of energy just to keep things in perspective and not want to diss on Korea when you hit the rocks. You eventually get tire from it all. It’s not our native culture and eventually it rides us to overwhelm. It hits us all- one day Korea is the greatest place on earth; the next, you want to vomit from hangul overload.

      Uniformity is the bit problem I see in the education system and in the land. Everything begins to feel the same at times, right? Ha ha,… thanks for mentioning that.

  11. Alana says:

    For breakfast here in Korea I usually have some yogurt, orange, and maybe some nuts in between classes. When lunch time hits (12:20 on the dot) I always anticipate my meal. This week our school served fresh strawberries with our lunch and boy were they good. I enjoy dubu guk and dropping my rice into it. The lunches at my school are absolutely deliciuos and fresh. Being a vegetarian I really look forward to all of the fresh vegetables. Compared to school lunches in the U.S. Korean school lunches are very healthy, fresh, and delicious!

    • @Chance: Ha ha… great insight to the daily challenges of the cold water deal we have going in Korea. I would say I do something near close to what you do. 😉

      @3gyupsal: Thanks for your comment. You’ve been here for a while to know what goes into the food, so I’m glad the health thing about the Korean diet is confirmed! I quite forgot about how the rice is mixed– that’s very Korean. Thanks for pointing that out!

      @Alana: Thanks for your comment and glad to know there are more vegetarians out there!
      Yessss, Korean school lunches are pretty fabulous. Depending on your vegetarian rules, you may have to turn a blind eye to certain things the dishes are mixed with (ie. fish or clam sauce, etc…). I do love how many panchan (*side dishes) are fresh veggies. I do feel the Korean diet so much more healthy than most other countries!

  12. Izetta Marbry says:

    Wonderful blog! I genuinely love how it’ s quick on my eyes also as the Information are properly written. I am wondering how i might be notified when a new submit has been created. I’ve subscribed for your rss feed which require to perform the trick! Have a nice day!

  13. 3gyupsal says:

    I have to agree about the school lunch thing. Even though I don’t eat in the lunchroom anymore, there are a few pretty good points about the school lunches:

    -They use fresh vegetables.
    -The food in general is pretty fresh.
    -It is pretty healthy compared to American lunches.

    A lot of people talk about how bad white rice is for you. That might be true, but a lot of times Koreans cut their white rice with brown rice, barley, or beans.

  14. Good Article Christine! I can totally relate to #5. Lately may habbit has been to pull my sleeves down long past my fingertips, kick the doors open, squat, use my elbow to flush and exit the facility as soon as possible, thus avoiding all contaminated bathroom surfaces. I just cannot bear to stick my fingers into that freezing cold water so that I can demonstrate the appearance of good hygeine.
    Sometimes I even wear gloves.?.! Korean bathrooms are retarded!

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