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10 shocking facts about Korean schools

10 shocking things about Korean schools, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in a korean classroom
As a foreigner teaching in a public elementary in Korea, I’ll readily admit, there are many differences between Korea and the U.S. Each day is far from boring.

Within the first month of teaching, here’s 10 shocking facts I learned about Korean schools:

1.  Korean high school students have a 16 hour school day

Just how strongly do Koreans feel about education? It would shock you.

The average high school student generally has class from about 8am until 9:30pm or 10pm. For the average Korean high school student, the goal is to get into good college and often, the competition is high.

As a result, many will attend a hagwon (aka a private after school learning program) to accelerate their learning. Hagwons are private entities, which help reinforce higher education and English skills, so there is often a high demand for them. Often, they are run strictly like a business, running one class after another, prepping students for exams and drilling skills into them from the textbook. For students, this is perhaps, their one social outlet and way to meet other friends.

Due to education being the main extracurricular sport, the average teen doesn’t get home until midnight. Thus, dinner is actually served at school.

Middle school is a bit more lenient, as classes end around 4pm, with a possible hagwon learning afterwards.

Read/Watch my YouTube video: EPIK vs Hagwon: Which is better?


2.   School on Saturdays.

If you think Korean students have the weekend for recreation, think again. The official school days were originally Monday to Saturday, which didn’t make for happy students or teachers.

Since 2010 (during my teaching assignment), the school schedule, has changed and loosened up. Now the Korean public school system has two Saturdays per month, off.

Update: A volunteer from the Korean Culture and Information Service(KOCIS) has informed me that “…since 2012, Korean public school system has every Saturdays off.”



3.  Oh, respected Teacher…

In Korea, the saying is “Teachers are as high as God“.

You wouldn’t guess that from their pay scale, but teachers hold a valuable and respected place in society.  Korea emphasizes education and schooling to the power of a hundred. As a result, Korea possesses a high regard for its Korean teachers as being pillars of the schooling system.

Retirement age isn’t until 65 years old. Seniority means increased pay and the overall work hours, holidays and vacation benefits are said to be better than regular office jobs.



4. The Business side of Teaching

Whoever thought I’d be making Powerpoint presentations (download a sample here) and saving files on USB memory sticks for my teaching job? Those tools sound like an office job. But these are tools of the trade in my school.

Dress attire? Professional to office casual attire is recommended, starting at elementary school.  Korea is a fashionable and stylish culture. A nice suit with jacket or blazer is a good starter as one must look respectable when teaching.

Read: A Day in a Life of an EPIK Teacher

teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in a korean classroom

Classrooms come with a computer (or computer counsel), connected to either, an overhead projector system or an LCD flat screen.  This doesn’t mean all teachers are tech saavy, though.

teaching in korea, teaching at EPIK Korea, working in Korea, Korean computers10 shocking facts about korean schools

5.   The  five year teacher-principal rotation cycle

Teachers rotate schools every five years.  It doesn’t matter if you love your school or not.

After each five year term, the teachers, vice principal and principal undergo a lottery system and have to change schools. Thus, each year, a school may get new staff.

This system is born to give each teacher an equal opportunity to work at good schools and bad. All teaching staff is subject to a valuation system and receive points for exams they take, workshops they attend as well as, receive incentive points for how well their school ranks in the district .

Read about the “Korea model schools”  that Korean teachers all want to work at.

Korea's model schools, PCs in Korean, workplace computers in Korea, teaching English in Korea, what is it like teaching English in Korea, teaching schedule in Korea, English lesson plans in Korea


6.  Role playing via Hollywood style

Some schools have blue screen technology and/or rooms with “role-playing sets” for kids to enact situations in.   One class example we saw was a market checkout scene.. they had aisles, shelves and a real conveyor belt.

role playing in education, roleplaying for learning, role play games, PCs in Korean, workplace computers in Korea, teaching English in Korea, what is it like teaching English in Korea, teaching schedule in Korea, English lesson plans in Korea

I eventually even worked at a Korean musical camp and we had role-playing rooms from traffic school (I had to wear a police hat and jacket and set up traffic cones) to a hospital room, with eye charts, stethoscope, height and weight scales, examination table, wheelchair and a doctor’s lab coat!

Blue screen

7.   Corporal punishment is still alive.

While in the U.S., corporal punishment of children blares “lawsuit”,  the Korean educational system and parents have less of an issue with physical discipline in school classrooms.

Corporal punishment used to be allowed, and now, is somewhat tolerated,  covertly. The school system is cracking down on this abuse, but it still happens in some schools. One of my fellow expat friends said they have a disciplinary stick in their school, that Korean teachers use  called the “magic wand”. Usually the disciplinarian is a male teacher.   Click here for an article on the subject (although it is a bit dated)

Korea has however, employed physical discipline for disobedience in the past. The one below is a hands-off method I’ve seen used in some classrooms, as a way to make the students reflect on their wrong behavior, by challenging their mental endurance.

corporeal punishment in Korea, discipline in Korean schools, teaching English in Korea, Korean classroomCommon punishment (though not corporeal) for young ones is hands out or raised in air.

8.   Why some Korean students have “English” names.

Korean folks with English names are often very proud of them. Alice, Lola or Angelina… Some just make you want to hold back a giggle, because they’re either dated or feel like “roleplay names”.  But ever wonder where Koreans get their names?

Well, you can blame it on the foreign English teacher that gave it to them!

Some school English programs and hagwons suggest students be given English names for better immersion and occasionally it’s up to some twenty-something half-grown EFL teacher to do so! In my EPIK teacher orientation, one  lecturer told us we might want to have a fishbowl of at least 25-100 English names for kids to choose from or to assign to students.

Then again, some teachers let their students pick their names!  So if you have a student that comes up to you and introduces himself as Robocop (true story!)  you can probably guess what happened.

Read • 1o (More) Shocking Facts about Korean Schools


9.  Students take responsibility for the cleanliness of their school.

One thing I admire about Korean values is that the Korean school system teaches students to be responsible for the care of their school. While employed janitors tend to major chores… trash on the school grounds, are actually done by students each morning  before the school bell rings!

10 shocking facts about korean schools.

10.    Shoe Etiquette in the Classrooms

You know that Asian tradition of taking your shoes off when you enter a house?  Yeah, well I practice it in the U.S. with my family in Hawaii.

Koreans have a similar tradition, as they consider the feet to be dirty; so dirty that in fact, they wear house slippers at home.  But the shoe etiquette goes beyond the house and into the classroom. Students and school staff must remove their outdoor shoes and change into “school slippers” upon entering the building.

Read 10 Funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans

10 more shocking facts about korean schools, teaching in Korea, teaching at EPIK Korea, 10 shocking facts about korean schools10 shocking facts about korean schools:  My outdoor shoes & my school sandals .
(Below) School Shoes for Kids

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?

 More about Korean culture:

10 shocking facts about korean schools, teaching in korea, teaching for epik korea, teach in korea, taking a gap year, solo travel for women, gap year travel


  1. Eugene Cho says:

    It is difficult to think that you have worked as an elementary school teacher, knowing these information. Unfortunately, (maybe fortunately for Korean students) most of these information is wrong. Many are corrected by other students above. However I see you haven’t fixed them.

    First of all, most students don’t stay in school for 16 hours. Most of them go to hagwon instead.

    Second of all, there are some schools on Saturday. However, it is only for students who would like to come for additional lessons. They teach stuff like ping pong and cooking, but you’d have to pay for it.

    Third, respecting teachers is a part of culture. From your writing, I highly suspect whether you have actually lived in Korea. Anyone who has lived temporarily in Korea would know that it is a tradition (although being damaged recently) to respect others. One of the four saints of the world, Gongja, referred Korea as the ‘polite country on the East’. Besides, you have said you worked as an elementary school teacher; students don’t treat teachers like god. There also is no such saying. If you had thought it as a surprise, it’s just due to difference of culture.

    Fourth, you don’t need a powerpoint to teach. It’s just style of teaching. The reason they have dress codes is to respect others. Some Koreans think that it is impolite to wear specific types of clothes. Besides, it is not strict.

    Seven, corporal punishment has been banned. Since September of 2011, it has officially been banned because it violates the rights of students.

    Eight, you have wrong reason for why Korean students have English names. My name is 유진, and it should be written as Yoojin. Since many foreigners have difficulty pronouncing ‘Yoojin’, and I don’t like to be called by strange names, my name is ‘Eugene’. Even though ‘Eugene’ is a boy’s name, more foreigners are pronouncing my name correctly.
    You may say that it is easy to pronounce ‘Yoojin’. But let’s take my sister’s name for example. Her name is 예원, and you write it as ‘Yewon’ (not available to put it in English completely due to lack of alphabet; it is pronounced completely differently). Isn’t it easier to write it as ‘Noel’?
    English names are made for you, foreigners, and for us. It does not stress you out because it is difficult to memorize the names. Foreigners do not have to be stressed out due to difficulty in pronouncing the names. We aren’t offended by awkward pronunciation of yours. It is a culture of respect. If Korean names were similar with English names, no one would have made English names.

    Nine, students don’t clean the school completely. For kids, parents volunteer. The outside of school is cleaned by teachers and volunteers. People are hired to clean bathroom. There are also other people who also work to clean the school.

    Ten, it is not because we consider feet to be dirty. It is our culture. Ask any foreigner who has lived in South Korea long enough. Due to system called ‘Ondol’, Koreans have warm floor. To benefit the system fully, Korean culture is often sitting on the floor. Therefore, there was no need for shoes inside the house. This is why we don’t wear shoes.

    Reading your writing, I seriously was confused because I did not know that foreigners can have such point of view toward South Korea. However, thinking about it, I doubt you having seen the high school at South Korea. Please email me if you think I am wrong. However, please change the wrong information; some can be offending to Koreans.

  2. SEI says:

    everything here is not true or like informatino from 10 years ago lol this website is a scam IMO LOL

  3. The 16 hours is not compulsory: normal high school hours are from around 9-5. Students can choose to attend those extra sessions. Furthermore, those classes are usually not as strict and have a much more relaxing atmosphere than during the normal session, plus they are not graded.

    At first I thought the rotating teacher rule was bad, but after experiencing private-public schools where they don’t have to do that, I kind of agree. It helps to keep teachers updated with their curriculum and on their toes, plus it was designed that way so not all the best teachers would end up in one place for long periods of time. I have taught in schools that did not have to follow that rule and seen teachers that still teach the same way they did 20 years ago.

    The business aspect: I do not know why this is unusual. A teacher in the states nowadays creates PPT’s and uses computers and smart-boards. It’s 2016.

    Teachers are not as high as ‘god’, that is an old saying, but respected nonetheless. I think from an American perspective it might seem unusual, but should it be? The fact is American teachers do not get enough respect and I think that is skewing peoples’ perspective.

    The punishment aspect has been diminishing and a teacher can get in serious trouble for using it (physically). The other ways, such as holding out a students hands, or holding up their arms are largely laughed by the students.

  4. modernevibe says:

    Korea is pure hell if you live there as a student. The competition and pressure is just too damn high. Korea is also not the place to live in if you love nature. The nature here is way too overcrowded and boring as fuck. The extreme temperatures also make Korea a horrible place to live. Air quality is shitty as well.

  5. Korean student says:


  6. geetu says:

    it make fun i think?task in your life made you more responsible ?and give give a big courage for facing your problems in life ❤ this life is small so you may enjoy and be serious for some matter ?

  7. geetu says:

    hii i’m 16 and i am in first year of junior colleage . so could tou tell me ageof the students according to there class

  8. geetu says:

    There education system is as similar as indian education system? .i’m also a student of high school and i want to study there i think it made fun ?alot for me ? but i don’t know about ?how i’ll be applied in high school of southKorea Can any help me for that ????

  9. geetu says:

    hey this is as similar as to an indian education.i am student of high school and i want to study in south korea . It will make too much fun to study there and hope just i’ll be studied there ohh god how i applied for that i don’t know so what i do for that

  10. Sabine Manheim says:

    Funny… some people who claim they’re Korean or obviously live in South Korea say otherwise… Maybe it just depends on what school or city you’re in?

    While the education enviroment may be harsh, it’s no lie that Korean kids outperform the American kids by a mile. Or 10 miles. As a German living in America, the edu cation system here is down in the toilet compared to my homeland Germany. And it’s definitely subpar compared to other industrialised countries too. So anyone saying their culture is trash or anything negative about Koreans: you have to experience what it’s like to really know. Not just read what others have to say. South Korea outperforms the US and so many other industrialised countries in different things.

    If I’m lucky, I’ll be studying abroad in South Korea in Ewha Womans University in the Spring 2017. Can’t wait.

  11. lyss says:

    this is absolute bullsht.
    some of this is true, but no, we don’t have school on saturdays, and we def don’t have 16 hrs of school either. this is how it works:
    You go to school monday-friday, like the US. you come home at like 3:00-4:30, depending on ur school, like the US. here’s what’s different:
    you can go to a separate ACADEMY, which teaches like a school. these academies get you ready for SATs, TOEFL, etc. these academies are OPTIONAL, however, most korean students go for the sake of their future. Here’s a typical day of a korean high school student:
    you go to school in the morning (around 8 am), school ends sometime between 3:00 to 4:30. THEN, you either go home or you go to your academy thing. the academies can last several hours, depending on what you sign up for. some students’ academy classes end in 3 hours, others 5 hours, and for the really hardworking ones who’re getting ready for college, up until midnight.
    The ACADEMY is where you go on saturday. you DONT go to school on saturday unless u have some extracurricular activity kind of thing.

    plz stop these kind of false rumors that make korea sound like a goddamn working machine.

    • Steve says:

      Do you go to a Korean school? Korean high schools (not elementary or middle) are open until 10-12pm and then the students go home – if they don’t live in the school dorm that is! I used to tutor a Korean student who opted to stay at the high school dorm so he could focus on studying more and his home was a 10-minute walk from his school!

      High school students do indeed go to academy…at 10:00 or 11:00pm! My wife (Korean) teaches 수능 문법 to high school students, but they can’t come until 10:40 because of school.

      When I drive home after private classes in a neighboring city, the throngs of high school students are just going home; this is around 10:00pm.

      Now, I’m not saying that there are classes after 4:00pm, but there’s a reason the schools are lit up and most of the students remain until late at night; they must do the homework given by teachers and prepare for the next day. They can’t afford to take a break because that would mean not getting 100% on their next tests.

      Of course, Korean society has jobs for those who go home at 4:00 and play Sudden Attack or Kakao chat with friends until 3:00am, but these are undesirable to most of the population and not studying is looked down upon to the highest degree.

    • jiwoo says:

      yo doesn’t this apply to some schools, not all? this still goes on, my cousin went to a high school like this
      the comments are mixed with foreigners trying to understand korean culture and korean people denying/agreeing with this article
      no ones tying shit up, so i’ll do it: IT DEPENDS ON WHAT SCHOOL YOU GO TO AND WHAT SORT OF PARENTS YOU HAVE
      yeah most parents are strict and there ARE students who stay up till dawn to study but there are freer students like me who’s parents left korea at an early age because they felt that the education systems were too strict
      my point is that this article is half right and half wrong. there.

  12. hyomin says:

    it is so shocking for me. if i lived in south korea i can not stand this education system. in my country we go to school just for nine monthes from 8 am to 1 or 2 pm after that we can do our homework at home and we have a lot of free time and we do not go to school on thursdays and fridays. and weare free for three months of summer. i hope if i wanna go to south korea i go there after high school. schools there are terrible i think.

    • Amy Chow says:

      Just to say that schools in Korea are terrible based on this article is not polite. Yes, what this article is saying was once true, but most of it does not apply anymore. There is much more freedom in Korea now.

  13. Iwanoel says:

    Im student from indonesia, my school startfrom 7:30 am till 4:00pm, in my opinion 16 hours is too much, is study have effect when you too tired ? I’m luck indonesian has principle high academic result doesn’t mean make you have good job…

  14. Jung Park says:

    Well, I just want to say that we don’t necessarily have to use our English names. I used my own Korean name in academy and nothing really mattered. (This is simplly becaus some foreign teachers have troubles with pronouncing our names since its very difficult and long to memorize).

    Also, I want to point out the fact that not every students in Korea studies until 3 in the morning. Okay. That is like what most korean students do but still there are students who study for fair amount of time and socialize.

    I am currently studying abroad and I realized that there are a lot of negative side effects on Korean education system, such as, suicide and depression problems. However, I believe that 16 hours of studying is the main reason why Korea developed so much within past 10 years.

    Well, since I have experienced international education system, now I know that everything we learn in Korea isn’t that important but I am pretty sure that current Korea wouldn’t be exist if we didn’t study this much.

    • abc123 says:

      First of all it’s true that the Korean work ethic has helped the country become what it is today. It’s the idea of long-term happiness. However, the Koreans seemed to have lost all their happiness despite all the greatness brought to the country. They’ve gotten so materialistic. Still though, I believe there are other ways for a country to industrialize. For example, what is it that allowed Western civilization to surpass and geopolitically overrun all others? Let’s look at some history about the relation of memorization and success of nations.

      In the Middle Ages, Europe was a devout Christendom. People’s lives were dominated by the Bible and in no ways were they allowed to think critically or be creative. The Bible basically dictated your life and it was similar to (possibly worse than) the school life of South Korean students today. It wasn’t until the Europeans had their intellectual age that they began to advance as nations and this started around the late 15th century. Was there violence, drug abuse, lack of respect, or anything that stereotypes American children today? Lots! But, this emphasis on critical thinking and creativity is what allows for advancements in STEM.

      If we look at the current Korean school system, it allows for economic success but for technology? SK may have the fastest internet system in the world, but they weren’t the ones the invent all that wonderful technology! All the wonderful technology was invented by the “lazy west that hates school and studying” and the same goes for all that wonderful science (Henderson-Hassalbalch, Faraday’s constant, etc.).

      The best thing to do will be to take the best practices of both systems.

  15. `Jenny says:

    I reallllly want to ask you where you got that information. Everyone knows that hitting students are illegal in Korea.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Jenny: From friends/fellow English teachers in Korea, whose school had a male Korean teacher who occasionally employed the “magic stick” and it’s further backed by expat forums. Nothing like shocked expats sharing their shock to one another.

      But even the raising fists in the air type of discipline that is condoned in Korea, is not practiced in the U.S. and would be considered ‘old school’ discipline (like in my dad’s time). That practice might still draw legal action from U.S. parents. Just as striking your child in public, might be reported as child abuse. Westerners are very sensitive of matters dealing with children.

      • jim says:

        And look at how polite and respectful young westerners are to their elders. I was shocked how polite and respectful thai kids are to people compared to european kids and americans. I think we can learn more from them. We didnt get it right or so many elderly people would not be punched by kids in england. This is what is shocking is spoilt rich kids protecting a system gone wrong in american and europe. Not condoning the hitting of students but parents in uk are scared of students abuse now in many schools, so as a teacher i dont feel i have much to offer these asian cultures and have more to learn from them

  16. Jenny says:

    I think you are too extreme about it. If the foreigner reads your writing I think they can misunderstand. It is very unusual to have academy up to 3 in the morning. In Korea academies are illegal to run it after 10 p.m and now we go to school until 9 a.m. And of course suicides are not common in Korea.

    • nahyun says:

      Hi I’m a Korean and I agree that the writer had been writing this of course its illegal to go to hagwons in korea after 10p.m but still many of highschool students in Korea goes to hagwons until 1~2a.m…. especially gangnam, and mokdong, where’s the most studying town in the world…

  17. Jeanny says:

    it’s kinda surprising that korean school still keep some cultures left by the Japanese. such as student are entrusted of the school cleanliness, in Japan they don’t even have single janitor employed. other thing is they also wear slippers inside school, exactly the same in Japanese schools

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Jeanny: I’m not sure if they got these customs from the Japanese. But Koreans have a thing about feet and cleanliness and maybe a bit moreso than Japanese in this regard. They consider the feet very unclean part of the body and they don’t like being barefoot.. in their own home even. So in Korean homes, you’ll find they walk in house slippers as soon as they remove their outside shoes.

      • Marisa says:

        The reason why outdoor shoes are replaced by indoor slippers is mainly because Koreans live on the floor of their homes. That is where they sit, sleep and eat. It is only the current generation that is beginning to adopt the western style of living. Moreover, the Koreans have a bad habit of spitting on the sidewalks, putting trash on the sidewalks, and generally speaking the sidewalks are just not clean. To Koreans it is unimaginable to walk with outdoor shoes in their homes. The notion that they have a ‘thing’ about feet is not true.

    • don says:

      you stupid jeanny. you cant even spell your name

    • Tytration without perspiration says:

      Which is soooo strange, as Korean women have beautiful feet. I swear I would go crazy in that country, constantly trying to get Korean girls barefoot in my house. I would have to make up some lies playing on their superstitions or cultural beliefs, to get to see those pearly soft-skinned delicate beauties.

  18. mina Yim says:

    I’m also a student in korea and I agree about all of the things in your argument.

    Its completely true that the high school ends in 10~12pm.. then we go to some academies and went back home at 2 or 3 am.
    And then we do our homework.. and study all the tests.. and maybe at 4 or 5am?? We go to bed. Then 7am we wake up and go to school… yeah I think this is a normal system in korea. I’d lived like this for few years… but I’d never think about that this is very surprising.

    Even in this things, we can’t get our scores 100 so we need to struggle more always. But it is a very ordinary thing, not a terribly way(in korea).

    There’s many students thinking about suicide in korea.. I’ve thought about them already but really. Many students in korea have suicided and my friend’s older sister have died in 2012.

    I just want to say that students that are not in korea are blessed by god^o^

  19. Enyu Yim says:

    I’m also a student in korea and I agree about all of the things in your argument.

    Its completely true that the high school ends in 10~12pm.. then we go to some academies and went back home at 2 or 3 am.
    And then we do our homework.. and study all the tests.. and maybe at 4 or 5am?? We go to bed. Then 7am we wake up and go to school… yeah I think this is a normal system in korea. I’d lived like this for few years… but I’d never think about that this is very surprising.

    Even in this things, we can’t get our scores 100 so we need to struggle more always. But it is a very ordinary thing, not a terribly way(in korea).

    There’s many students thinking about suicide in korea.. I’ve thought about them already but really. Many students in korea have suicided and my friend’s older sister have died in 2012.

    • Kris says:

      You would be dead if you went to sleep at 5am and then woke up at 7am. Or maybe you are sleeping during classes and that makes the whole thing inefficient. Who cares who got a 28 on the ACT or a 25? I don’t know the scoring scale for Korean college aptitude test. Both scores mean the person is capable of work at the university level. The work culture appears to be similar. Constantly at working (spending time at the office looking busy), only socializing with fellow workers cause there is no time to spend with family if anyone bothers to marry and have kids. Does anyone learn how to hold down an actual job before the age of 25? Does anyone pay for their own expenses before marriage?

  20. James says:

    An education is important, but 16 hours a day is definitely taking it too far. They need to be able to enjoy and experience life as a child. There is no time for that when you are at school for 16 hours per day. You learn most of the basics that you need in life before you even enter high school. So, I would guess that they are learning things that they may not even need to know as they get older.

  21. foodeh says:

    I’m not that surprised at the schooling time although it’s long. I almost thought it was necessary because to me, staying at home is one thing that you don’t one to do. Plus a grumpy mother and a crazy younger sister. After reading this article though, I almost want to just go to Korea like seriously!

    Most schools here doesn’t do anything about cleanliness although they keep on mentioning about it. They only ask you to pick up the trashes next to your seat and even if the duty roster was made, no one actually fulfilled it. Let’s just sat they did sweep the floor. It still won’t be that clean because there’s only 5 people against the class ( and they only just walk around with a broom really ). Even if one wanted to help there’s no brooms left. The next afternoon when we come back though the whole class will be dirty again because we share the same classroom with some annoying morning session students.

    And yep I really wish to be in Korea rn not just because of their entertainment industry but also their strong emphasis on their education, just wow.

  22. titilayo says:

    wow!!! is too much

  23. titilayo says:

    wow!!! am from Nigeria our education system is different from Korea education system 8-10pm that’s too much, I love Korea but there education system is terrible

  24. Kizho says:

    Just wooooooow i’m totally suprised 16 hours in school what a pain im in high school and i attend school from 8 am to 11:40 am. Only 3 hours and 40 minutes wow i love my country but we only have fridays off. Well who cares only 3 hours in school with a 40 minute break isnt gonna kill you… And no teacher is allowed to say a bad word about a student even though the students respect the teachers… We dont clean our school its not our job… throughout the year we have many holidays and 3 monthes summer braek… We have a shop to buy from in school but we dont have school lunch … Each leason is about 40 minutes or less and sometimes our teacher just says go out and play on top of all this every year there are about 10 medical students and more than 15 engineering students out of 75 students the other 50 will be either teachers our office workers … And through out your education life from kindergarden to university graduation its all free… Im never gonna leave this heaven because a normal teachers salary is £1 000 000 for some countries it might not be much but here you will have a high life with that money and a surgeon will have that million pound for a single surgery even though he will also have £5 000 000 every month for finishing medical school and being employed even an office workers life isnt bad

  25. Kizho says:

    Just wooooooow i’m totally suprised 16 hours in school what a pain im in high school and i attend school from 8 am to 11:40 am. Only 3 hours and 40 minutes wow i love my country but we only have fridays off. Well who cares only 3 hours in school with a 40 minute break isnt gonna kill you… And no teacher is allowed to say a bad word about a student even though the students respect the teachers… We dont clean our school its not our job… throughout the year we have many holidays and 3 monthes summer braek… We have a shop to buy from in school but we dont have school lunch … Each leason is about 40 minutes or less and sometimes our teacher just says go out and play on top of all this every year there are about 10 medical students and more than 15 engineering students out of 75 students the other 50 will be either teachers our office workers … And through out your education life from kindergarden to university graduation its all free… Im never gonna leave this heave because a normal teachers salary is £1 000 000 for some countries it might not be much but here you will have a high life with that money and a surgeon will have that million pound for a single surgery even though he will also have £5 000 000 every month for being a finishing medical school and being employed even an office workers life isnt bad

    • kizhocantwrite says:

      Well, the construction of your sentences says a lot about the education system of your country. Or all the good things offered by your nation’s education system just don’t work on you.

  26. Robert says:

    Are foreign teachers allowed to hit kids who do not behave?

    • hello says:

      no. of course not. Even the korean teachers are not allowed to hit kids otherwise you will be sent to jail. This is such an obvious question….

      • Tori Chang says:

        Um not sure where you got your information, since Korean teachers ARE allowed to hit kids. They just do not recommend it, but some teachers do it anyways.

        • Julia c says:

          its very sad how foreigners think hitting is allowed in korea is still practiced. Such performances definitely is unacceptable and school itself do not let teachers to do that

          • erin bussert says:

            I think one of the reasons why foreigners think that Korean teachers hit their students is because almost all of the Korean school dramas show the teachers hitting them constantly

            • Serena says:

              In all of the kdramas that I have watched, it is considered offensive to hit students. They are usually punished with cleaning activities or punishment points or something similar….but hitting them is very unlikely, a teacher might even get sued for this.

          • Dan says:

            Although it’s illegal, it’s still practiced and often tolerated. It’s mostly older teacher’s (50+) I’ve seen do it. Have you taught in a Korean elementary school? Three years of teaching here is better than your imagination.

  27. Kay says:

    Hello. Very interesting article. I wonder about North Korea – can teachers beat students in North Korea’s schools?

  28. shon says:

    Also one year more waiting and we’re all graduate in college. And were going to work here on abroad.

  29. shon says:

    Wuww! The’re study habit is so different from my country “Philippines”. I’m 18 I’ve go to school 8 hour’s or less but saturday is not a weekend, only sunday and that’s it =D.

  30. momo cut says:

    was that is really a shock well i just graduated from highschool and i’m only 17 years old and they graduate when they are 19 … and the real shock is that the study for 16 hours a day and their weekend is just sundry well in my country kuwait if i was a highschool student or middle school or even elementary school we just study for 6 hours a day from 7:30 in the morning till 1:30 in the afternoon .. the education system is totaly the opposite from kuwait (sorry for this but this is the realty ) we don’t really respect our teachers that much .. waaaw totaly the different

  31. www says:

    another reason why their culture is trash

    these poor brainwashed children will realize too late that all their hard studying / getting good grades doesnt have anything to do with actually succeeding in the real world

    • Warren Pugh says:

      The alternative under any circumstances is a crime ridden country like the U.S. Better to be brainwashed in school, I disagree with you, than in prison among 2.2 million prisoners.

      • MirabilisChile says:

        Are you serious? Life is not black and white, just look at the many schooling systems in Europe that do without the unnecessary stress, with achievement still high if you choose such path, and crime not being a problem like in US.
        As much as I like Korea, there are even papers by the OECD stating how limiting their educational system is: grades for the sake of getting grades is not how the real world works.

      • Caroline says:

        Your comment is completely irrelevant to the topic. Saying a country needs to control criminal activity has nothing to do with the harsh environment the South Korean education system provides for students. While being educated is extremely important, it does not shield you from turning to a life of crime.

  32. How do 300 children changes from shoes to slippers without getting in each others way.?

    • nahyun says:

      we usually change our shoes at the front door and its very big so we don’t need to worry about it

    • Kris says:

      Think of all the kids changing for boots to shoes in winter once they get to school.

  33. Although I keep a no shoe house since I lived in Korea, it seems hard to have 300 people changing shoes at the enterance. Do they bring them from home?

    • Not sure what you’re asking

    • iguessimmostlyloud says:

      I believe they each have their own shoe locker and they just switch their shoes when they get to school. I don’t think the students all change their shoes at the same time, but when they arrive.

  34. Seo,Hyemin says:

    As a Korean 16 years old, I am also very shocked that so many of you are shocked by Korean education.
    To be honest, like foreigners ,Koreans also think our education has numerous problems and I also have so many complaints with this.
    Korean middle school students'(at the age of 14~16) average studying time is about 12hours and high school students study few more hours than that.
    Even elementery school students who are at the age of 8~13 spend almost all of their free time in hakwon or doing homework at home.
    When students become 19 years old and become senior of high school, doing other things except studying for the university entry exam is not allowed.
    They just don’t have time to care for important issues or big sports games. They are always studying in their rooms, schools and libraries.
    Some of you wouldn’t believe this but I can say it’s 100 percent true. And that’s why the suicide rate of Korea is the highest of any other countries in the universe.
    So, I just wanted to say that I want to get out of this examination hell!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Seo Hyemin: My MFA program in New York had a lot of Korean college students, who kept finding ways to extend their study visas so they could live in the U.S. longer. A couple of friends kept getting masters degrees- one after another after another. I understood part of their wanting to stay to escape Korea, but only after learning a bit more about the exam and societal pressures, did I comprehend more. Please, hang in there! =)

  35. Rose says:

    Apparently,in this article makes me interested because there are several facts about Korean schools. As a foreigner, I do not know about the fact of anything in the korean education system. This article quite simply makes me understand about the situation of being the student in this country. Firstly, surpising things are the students have 16 hours school day and it is really shocking me as in my country (Brunei Darussalam) the elementary school, it is only 7 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon, totally less than 16 hours. I can not imagine what the elementary student feel with 16 hours schooling time. It might be pretty little tired and hard for being student in elementary school. Unless the citizen in this country thought it is normal situation and they had to followed the requirement schooling time. Secondly, the student take responsibility for the cleanliness of their school. As a initials students, it should be done in elementary school because it can teach the students to maintained environment sanitation and become a hygiene person for themselves and society. In the future, they can emphasize for their daily life routine in the cleanliness either in the home or public area. Thridly, about the shoe etiquette in the classroom, this fact is quite new to me. As I know, it is practically only in the home habit for the certain people and tradition in the home. However, in the korea elementary school application this method of wear the slipper in the classroom has been practiced and removed the shoes at outdoor of the building. For conclude, being the student in the korean elementary school are more regulation and accountable in discipline life. Nevertheless , it can produced high quality of student in the future beside of their learning skill and technique but they also have disiplinary practice.

    • Hidayah says:

      Back in my days it depends on which school you’re in. I’m from Malaysia and I attended one of the primer schools. It’s not compulsory to attend extra class but most us did that anyway. I didn’t find it stressful, in fact I enjoyed going to extra classes. I left school for almost ten years now. Things changed so much since then. Everything is exam oriented. One thing I hate about education system here is that we can’t really choose what we want to learn. Everything is shoved down your throat. You like art? Too bad. Better choose engineering or medic instead. Unless you’re filthy rich. Just my two cent.

      • Regretful Ex-Student says:

        I have to agree with you. Our country is like most other Asian countries, Science and Maths are look up by our parents. They all wanted us to excel in Science Stream and students in Literature/ Arts were looked down (not all but certain parents did). Truthfully, I kinda regret with my choice when I was 16. I wish I was in a Lit. class rather than on the Principal Account class. I really didn’t like it but I was afraid I will looked down if I’m in the Lit. class. I’m not really a ‘number’ person and I always weak in Math. So even though I attend the class, nothing went in my mind actually because I wasn’t so interested learning it. And because of that, I flunked my Account and Add. Math paper. Totally regret about it up until now.

  36. san says:

    wow! I’m an 9th grader from India… I never thought our cultures were so similar!
    I can totally relate to the “teachers are as high as god” thing.

  37. lalah says:

    Hello, it reaaly amazed me. Greetings from Philippines! 🙂

  38. steffie183 says:

    Good list! One thing is you need to update the Saturday classes, those were abolished a couple of years ago. No more Saturday School! Hagwons, not so lucky.

    Also, I think that you should clarify the high school classes until the evening part. They don’t actually have classes late in the evening but most high schools require the students to stay until 10pm or so for self-study. The idea is to give them a space that is dedicated for studying so they can concentrate. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is the intention.

    One last thing, the school teachers have to switch years and/or subjects every year within the school. After 5, they have to switch schools. Principals on the other hand have to change schools every TWO years!

    All these things make me glad I didn’t grow up here! Our poor students T.T

  39. nono says:

    calling some other country’s respected culture “shocking” seems to be quite offensive

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @nono : Using a fake address to your comment is cowardly. Offended? Write your own blog so you can un-offend countries that millions of people experience first hand and have to grapple to forge a lifestyle in, but that you only read about. My blog- I write my honest opinions.

  40. prhoads says:

    In relation to point 8 this works both ways. My wife and I taught at a school in Korea and we were given Korean names by a group of Korean High School students I became 갑톨 and wife became 갑 순. two famous lovers from a folk song. We were not warned.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @prhoads: Cute! Hopefully it’s a happy folk song with a happy ending for the lovers! =)

  41. James says:

    I am a korean-american, born in the US but have cousins that live in Seoul. I was always told as a kid from my parents,

    ‘thank god that you don’t live in korea because you wouldn’t be playing with your friends or playing video games or watching tv….you’d be in a hagwon and studying until all hours of the night!!!’

    i didn’t or couldn’t believe what they told me. “yeah, right” i thought until i met my cousin in korea, while she was studying for her university entrance exams during her junior to senior summer vacation. in talking to her (briefly, because she had to study), i asked her why she was studying when school was not even in session. she told me that everyone was studying and that she would fall behind. if she didn’t do well, she wouldn’t get into a prestigious university, wouldn’t get a good job, wouldn’t be able to find a husband to marry her and her life would be ruined. i asked then, if you didn’t do well but still got into a mid-level university, what would happen? she started to laugh and told me that “that wasn’t an option”. plus, it would put shame on the family because all of our relatives went to the top universities.

    wow, i thought. here i was…..a goofy teenager from the US, growing up with US cultures and a pretty good student, but i never studied EVER in high school. i never had to study because i always got straight A’s and parents would hound me to “study, study, STUDY!”. what if i had to go to school from 8am to 4pm, then go to hagwon from 5-9pm and then studying until after midnight every day? no way! i had to finish my video games (legend of zelda), talk on the phone with my friends, have fun and watch tv!

    flash forward to now, i graduated high school with honors, got into a prestigious, ivy league university myself and found myself lost at college because i never learned how to study. i got a 2.8 my first year and then had a self-revelation and got 4.0’s the next 3 years and ended with a 3.7 GPA. When I had my medical school interview, the interviewer asked me, “what happened during freshman year?”. to which i answered, “i never learned how to study”. i got into medical school and now i am a MD for 12 years. my cousins all ended up going to prestigious schools (mostly seoul university).

    i think the moral of the story is that you have to work hard and be diligent about your studies. i hear that finns only go to school for 5 hrs a day and they’re the smartest kids in the world. i believe it! they’re teaching system and their education regimen is by far the best. unfortunately in the US, too much emphasis is on standardized tests and the teaching system is TERRIBLE. no one wants be held responsible, everyone wants to blame someone else, union rules etc. it sickens me that parents are lax about how badly their kids perform. having kids myself, i don’t go in the way of the south korean way, but i will NEVER let my kids get anything below an A. i think that’s the korean in my wife and I that we are quite competitive and schoolwork always comes first. more than any concert, any sleepover, any movie or tv show. school comes first. no matter what.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      Thanks for your comment and sharing your story @James. You share an interesting perspective and an inspirational one. I agree spot on with what you say about our educational system, blame and lax parents. It takes a measure of hard work and supportive parents who are willing to be responsible for their child’s performance because it does all start at home and I feel many parents are too self-absorbed these days. My mother is a retired substitute teacher and I have friends who are teachers in the U.S.; the job responsibilities and pressures of the education/legal system get harder and harder to the point, I would never consider being a teacher in the U.S; while I have no problem considering it in Korea. As westerners, we’re fortunate to have a childhood, where you get to experience being a child; but I think there’s much we can learn from Korea’s diligence too.

    • Kristine says:

      The focus in Korea is on the college entrance exam in Korea. It is a standardized test. All Ivy League means is you spent too much money to get your degree. In most parts of the US it doesn’t matter if you went to Harvard or a state school. Same information is taught and students come out capable to take on many professions.

    • J Barnes says:

      The only thing I have a problem with is your comment about NEVER let your kids get below an A. I was that 4.0, straight A student and thought the same thing. Kids, however changed that thinking. When you have a child with learning disabilities, it may not be possible for that child to attain an A in every subject, no matter how diligent they are. My daughter just graduated high school with honors and worked very, very hard for the grades she earned. She is NOT a straight A student, nor can I expect her to be. She has struggled with dyslexia and other learning disabilities all her life. Music and dance actually helped her reading ability, which I know sounds strange. School work has always come first and for her, dance second. Putting the emphasis on always doing your best would be better than focusing on the specific grade. My daughter actually writes and spells in German better than her native English, and she will be attending college in the fall to study German (and she hopes Korean and Japanese). I also wanted to mention I’ve seen many kids cheat to get that A the parents expect….and that is not good either.

  42. Jeonbok says:

    Hi 🙂 I’m korean highschool student.
    Korean students usually go to bed at 3:00am and wake up at 6:00am.
    We can’t sleep enough because of homework.
    Futher more, on weekday most of students go to academy.
    We learn math, english, japanese, chinese, korean, science so on..
    We wake up 7:00am to go to academies,,
    And come back to home at 11:30pm every weekdays..
    So, we don’t have time to think about dream.
    It means we’re studying without goal.

    I think our education system have many problem..
    Somebody help korean students 🙁

    • Kristine says:

      Why must you learn so many languages in the lower grades when you have no idea if you will need them for a job of your living situation? A second language before college seems more than enough. You get to understand if you have a talent for languages. You could learn a third language in college.

      • Jim says:

        kristine, because in the global life that we all live in now, koreans need to learn English. and to learn it, you must do it at a young age. by college, the ability to learn a different language is significantly diminished. that’s the American way of thinking.

        that’s why kids in korea are smarter, more respectful and have a harder work ethic than the kids in the US

        • Kristine says:

          They do not have a harder work ethic. To have a work ethic you must actually work. They don’t work until after college. They do not pay their way until after they marry. They do have longer study hours. They are NOT lazy. In the US any legal job is respected. Do the three D’s ring a bell? Demeaning, dirty and dangerous. Jobs to avoid. This is not the case in the US. Those jobs are respected as is any other job. Korea is not friendly to immigrants. Koreans don’t want to do that sort of work. 80% of the population can’t work office jobs. What is the solution? Almost no one needs English for work once they get past the interview. I did say a second language was fine before college but why a third language? And why must a student be tested on Korean, English and a third language to even get into college? The college test is to make certain a person is capable of the work at a college level. World languages are not even tested in the US for admission purposes. They want to see you studied a language for multiple years before college. Then you place into an advanced class or prove fluency.

    • Warren Pugh says:

      However, your reading, math and science scores are far superior to those of America. By the numbers US=487-502 Korea = 538-546. Cheer up. I attended medical school in Masan, and I love Korea . . . .and you.

  43. Seongmin Woo says:

    Im in 2nd year in high school in S Korea. From Mon to Fri, i go out to school at 7 hour half and come back home at about 10 hour half, indeed night. Last year, school end at 11 pm so now i have a more free hour. Im really feel sick for that. I wanna study economics but have no time. Even two third of a vacation also is filled with classes. Often im also shocked that im alive doing like this.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      Hi @Seongmin ! Have you ever heard the saying- “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? It’s one of the *many* mottos I often remind myself of when life and work feels challenging and non-stop. My living in New York city for 8+ years is the only thing I can imagine you must be feeling.For me it was like being in the military- intense pressure and non-stop challenge to work harder and harder. Well, all your studies are paying off if you’re reading and responding to this English blog! There’s an incredibly admirable trait to Korean culture and the pursuit of education and to get through it, will make you stronger and more successful. Often, hard challenges teach you tools you need to use somewhere in the future. That’s what I find. It’s like gaming when you find a secret key or orb and you store it for a time you need it.

      An American would say the Korean value of education is a lot of pressure for a teenager. As you can tell by some of the comments from western teens contemplating studies in Korea, the “study-holism” (study + workaholism) is one of the biggest fears. The U.S. school schedules end much earlier so teens can enjoy their after school hours, study, enroll in extracurricular activities like a sports team, drama club, etc… or do recreational things like hang out with friends, shopping, listing to music, getting into trouble. Vacation time is generally “vacation”.. free time with no pressures of school (unless you didn’t get good grades during the year… to which you are *required* to attend summer school). However, the national average of U.S. high school and college graduates are only a little above 50% (insanely low) and parents don’t always put much effort or care into their children’s study life or future; they blame the teachers and can be quite selfish with their own time, compared to Asian families. But our education system manages to limp along and Americans can be equally ambitious and a consumer-driven society.

      Perhaps, some day you might try a student exchange or study abroad program to experience the difference. You will probably find it large and you will either want to return home to Korea or not. 😉

      • Kristine says:

        I am from the US. When do kids in Korea work? When do they earn money for the first time? Most American kids work part time at some point in high school and take responsibility for themselves financially gradually until they leave home. Why doesn’t the government in Korea put a system of hiring so that they can hire not more than 10% of applicants from any one school in a year? Surely they can control their own hiring practices. With everyone scoring so high what difference does It make? Why the focus on just a few schools for hiring? Why can’t their college entrance test take place frequently like the US with the chance to take it a few times before graduation? Then it would not matter if there are problems over a test question or if a plane flew overhead for 10 seconds.

      • Kristine says:

        There are too many college graduates in Korea working at a job that does not require a college degree or are unemployed. I think they have too many college graduates for the need. There needs to be an appreciation for basic tasks and talents that are required to live a happy life. We need a person to maintain air conditioning more than we need more office workers. I feel that the parents who lost their children in the ferry accident must wish they had not let their children spend almost all of their time away from them trying to get 100% on every test instead of being happy with the 93%. Encouraging a low birth rate so long just drove up prices for everything from housing to education. Now parents can not afford the extra education. And the pressure on the only child to be successful is extreme.

    • Warren Pugh says:

      Are you alone??

  44. Julia Near says:

    Hello, i will be turning 18 when i plan on going to high school for the ‘third’ year in south Korea. i was wondering if it would be mandetory for me to go to ‘hagwon’.. because i am just going there to experience culture and the schools, i dont want to go to hagwon because i dont need extra work or experience for colleges like they do.. do you know what a normal school hour and week schedule would be for an exchange person from america?

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      Hi @Julia. Are you going through an exchange program? If so, they should know exactly what the schedule would be. Hagwons are private academies that are paid for by the parents, kinda like “extracurricular studies” or tutoring. You probably won’t need to take it unless you wanted to. As for h.s. hours, ask your exchange program if it’s a Korean school or an international school. International schools are more for foreign students and I think the hours are normal.Korean h.s. students, I *think* is until 8p and you’d eat dinner at school.

  45. 최상아 says:

    I thought every country has same education system with Korea….

    • Angelica Avila says:

      Hi! i’m a student in america, and i understand your confusion. I too thought that all schools had the same educational systems. In fact, after reading this i’m a little worried. To have 16 hours of school is not good, they would not have a healthy sleeping schedule and wold be under a lot of stress. Yet, i still want to go to korea and go to one year of high school after i turn 18, and graduate.

      • Christine Kaaloa says:

        @Angelica: Report back to us and let us know how it goes! ha ha. Yes, there’s more stress for the average Korean teenager. The exams they have to take to get into college are insanely hard; that’s also why they study so hard. I’ve seen some of the types of questions they ask– makes our SATs look like fun quizzes! Also, the extended hours into the evening are for hagwons or extracurricular learning. That’s something you and your parents would decide upon.

  46. Erin Mathews says:

    Hello!! I am a fourth grade teacher in the United States, and I loved reading the facts about Korean education. It differs so much than the United States. I am actually doing a lesson comparing/contrasting Korean women education to United States women education dated 100 years ago. Is there anything you would like to share with me so I could read it to my class. They would love to hear from someone from Korea.

  47. Minji Kim says:

    First of all I’m an elementary student of Korea.
    A lot have been changed since 2010.
    We don’t go to schools on Saturdays…
    and corporal punishments are banned.
    But still it’s mostly the same.
    I don’t really know why this is called as ‘shocking’…
    For us students in Korea, it is just plain normal…
    Yes education is very very important in our country unlike others…
    but just think of it as a difference of culture.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Minji: Thank you for your comment, Minji. Your English is *extremely* good for an elementary student. If you were to live in the U.S. as an elementary student, you’d probably experience culture shock. The U.S. school system and society is very different from Korea. Corporal punishment was ‘said to be banned’ in Korea long before 2010, but native English teachers I knew witnessed it. It was shocking to all of us, despite the countries we were from. In the U.S., people are extremely sensitive on the issue of children. If a child is physically touched in an abusive or wrong manner, or there’s been implication of discrimination, that’s a potential lawsuit… on the school and teacher. If a ‘parent’ strikes their ‘child’ in public or a teacher notices bruises on a child, they can report that parent to the police for child abuse. If it happens a lot, the state will intervene and remove the child from the parent’s custody.

      School on Saturdays? The amount of hours a Korean child spends on studies would be shocking to any U.S. children and adults; that’s why even the U.S. news has reported on it. After school hours are generally used for recreational activities, playing with your friends or sports. I’m sure some American parents might try to sue for that too.

      • Eunji Rebekah Lee says:

        Hello! I’m a high school student here in South Korea. Just wanted to tell you that corporal punishment is now banned, although there are some cases when teachers still do it. The government made a law to enhance student rights, and one of them was banning corporal punishment. Another loosened some rules about dress codes. For example, in the past, girl students weren’t allowed to grow their hair below their shoulders. Now there aren’t any restrictions in hair length. However, this had some negative results. You wrote that teachers in Korea are highly respected, and yes, it is true, but now that student rights are guaranteed, teacher rights are being more and more neglected. For example, if a teacher attempts to give corporal punishment to a student, the student yells at the teacher that he or she will report it to the police. And if a teacher gives even the slightest punishment to a student, sometimes the student’s parents themselves come to school and argue. Of course, not all students and parents behave like that. Like you said, teachers here are respected, and the most wanted job is a teacher. There’s even a song called “The Kindness of Our Teacher” (스승의 은혜).
        I think I wrote mostly about the negative perspectives of Korean education, but these are facts. Although we go to school 8 in the morning and come back home late, like Minji said, it’s plain normal (of course, a lot of students, including myself, aren’t very satisfied with it). I still think American schools are better, for I lived there for 10 years.

        • Christine Kaaloa says:

          Thank you for your insight, @Eunji Rebekah Lee! Readers will appreciate your extra peek into Korean school life. Just curious~ if you’re interested in sports or extracurricular activities, like dance or wanting to be a Kpop star… do you go to a special high school and who decides? In the U.S., many kids can pursue their interests alongside of school, because they can join after school sports teams and stuff.. maybe even be recruited to college for it. Don’t know how that works in Korea.

          Tangentially, when I left Korea, the National Education system in the flux of changing the format of education; which meant even more work for the Korean teacher. Korean teachers have to work hard in ways that American ones don’t and it’s a career many can take seriously (vs. “a job”). While American teachers have to worry about school regulations and the picky/overly-sensitive sue-happy parents, Korean ones have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy, classroom performance and point systems, etc…

  48. shasusoshic says:

    Is it required for students to go to school on Saturday, or is the school open? If I went to school in Korea it would be terrible because I have religious activities on Saturday. Would I be reprimanded for not being at school on that day?

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @shasusoshic: When I was there, native English teachers working at public schools weren’t required to work on Saturdays. Only Korean teachers. Read your teacher’s contract for the dates, as it also depends on the type of school. If you teach at a hagwon, you may need to teach on Saturdays and/or Sundays; that might be compulsory.

  49. Chris says:

    Suicide is the number one cause of death in teenagers in Korea. No wonder.

    • @Chris: Sad but kinda true. There’s a high amount of stress for kids to do well in school.

      • Warren Pugh says:

        Reminds me of a spring article from NPR. I find NPR mostly amusing since in the U.S. the suicide rate has spiked, and worse yet in the U.S. they kill each other.

        Leave it to the American press.

  50. flori says:

    about saturday, its same here in India. We don’t have off sometimes even onSaturday.

    • @Flori: That’s interesting to know. Wow, I’d love to know what it was like to teach in an Indian school. I wonder if some of the methods would surprise me. =)

      • Rose Kerala says:

        @christine :I am from India… I even had entrance exam classes on sundays and public holidays…:) how about that…

  51. daniel_mux says:

    Hey, interesting fact about wearing slippers in the classroom. Is it allowed too wearing flip-flops instead of slippers?

    • @Daniel: Flip-flops aren’t approved of. I think it has a bit to do with conservatism mixed with the notion that feet are considered dirty. My teachers always wore socks or nylons with those slippers and the many of my kids wore socks with their slippers. I always kept a spare pair in my drawer.

  52. Arianwen says:

    This is a really interesting read! I know a few UK teachers who would like to be thought of as ‘honorable’ by their students! I like that they are taught to respect their elders and to contribute to keeping the school clean. I used to train in the Korean martial art Taekwondo, the five tenets of which are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control and indomitable spirit. It looks like the schools aim to engender the same qualities in their students!

    • @Arianwen: Interesting what you said about the 5 tenets you’re taught in Taekwondo. I think it’s the underlining foundation of their society in general. For instance, in terms of treating teachers/elders with respect, Korea’s tradition of hierarchy is strong… to the extent of even colleagues and friends might address each other in respect to age ( i.e.older sister, younger sister, etc…). This is why Koreans generally want to know your age when they meet you–so they know how they should address you. Other aspects of that tradition can be when you’re drinking with an elder or boss, everyone turns away from him to drink, the youngest would serve the drink or you don’t make direct eye contact with those higher up. While it’s a beautiful aspect of the culture, some of their tenets can be taken a bit to the extreme. =-)

  53. johnhenry says:

    Regarding #4. As of 2012, this has changed again. And the Korean teachers are anything but happy about it. Starting with March 2012 (the beginning of the school year in Korea), the government announced that the school week is only Monday through Friday.

    That sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, this being Korea, things are not always as they appear at first glance. The government has also been “encouraging” the public schools to be what’s colloquially known as “anti-hagweon” schools. That means the public schools are, themselves, running hagweon classes at the public school facilities. Since the public schools do not have to pay more for teachers and produce their own course materials, the student fees for these at-school hagweons are much lower than at a real hagweon.

    What this means is that the kids whose parents have money go to regular hagweons after school. The poorer kids go to the at-school hagweon. And guess who’s teaching these unmotivated, angry at the world because they’re stigmatized as being poor students? You guessed it. It’s the public school teachers.

    The second the government announced the “five day school week,” the hagweon industry kicked into over-drive with its brand-new all-day Saturday schedule. In response, the public school principals have declared every Saturday to be “Saturday school” (aka public school hagweon) days.

    The public school teachers are getting less time off with the shorter school week.


    • @JohnHenry: WOW. Guess it’s a good time to get out of the p.s. teaching field. I heard the public school was getting heat over the fact that Korean parents felt hagwons were better at schooling their kids than public schools. I see this is the public schools’ attempt to change their image and “Save Face”.

      My p.s. (two years back) had an in-house afterschool ‘hagwon’ and it was run by a company outside of the school, so they had a different teacher. Everyday, that Korean English teacher would come in after school and use our English classroom to teach. Some days, she’d have an NET to teach while she supervised. They brought their own books. They were just as effective as a normal hagwon. I’m not sure if its the fact parents need to pay and thus, the children take their studies more seriously or what,… but the afterschool/hagwon is very effective. My students who did that afterschool program excelled like mad. But like I said, the teacher running that afterschool program was contracted from outside.

      What you’re saying is that now, the regular salaried teachers have to take on the ‘Saturday school”? If so, that’s just too crazy and unfair… When I left in 2011 they were changing to more classroom hours or an extra class or something. Teachers’ daily teaching hours were getting longer. The fact they’re dumping even more work load on their KTs is sad and unfair. But it’s soo Korea.

  54. alayiah holt says:

    i think it is a bad idea for them to do that. I am from columbus,mississippi. i just just hate to them kids going to school on Saturday too. you all are just crazy.

  55. ann hill says:

    I currently attend school in korea and its really not that bad and the students definitly dont just study because of fear of punishment the students take education so seriously because it will help make a life after college and to get into a good college you have to get into a good high school so really the real studying doesnt start till your second year of middle school

    • Nicole Knaub says:

      I’m a middle school student from America and I would like to know what it’s like in South Korea if I attend school there for a little while to check things out. Is it horrible or judgmental there? I know (formal) Korean pretty well and also 6 other languages. i study pretty hard and I have all A’s. Would it be the same for me, because I go through alot of stress like most of them.

      • Christine Kaaloa says:

        Hi @Nicole! I never experienced middle school, so I can’t speak from experience. But it’s usually ‘state of mind/perspective’ and how well you can adapt to cultural differences & a new lifestyle different from your own. If you know the language, that’s a great advantage for improving your quality of life. Koreans will be impressed; when I went, I had no knowledge of the language, but I still found my way around with the rest of the Korea-ignorant foreigners. The hagwon (or afterschool “tutoring”) aspect is something that’s decided upon by your parents; otherwise, you’d have normal Korean school hours. There are much more foreigners in Korea these days, so Koreans are getting used to them and (not to get your hopes to high) so they’re often cut more slack than Korean nationals; in some cases, given extra privileges. You may be stared at, due to fascination. If you’re blond and blue-eyed, many people may want to be your friend so they can practice English. Hope that helps some! =)

  56. Andrew says:

    More good stuff! Honestly, we might value education a bit more here in the USA than we do, it would certainly be to our benefit. On a similar note I think that more emphasis should be placed on creative thinking. Asking questions that aren’t canned might get a lot of strange looks in a Korean classroom but asking the normal questions might get a programmed response.

    I think that people give corporal punishment a bad name in the USA now that we’ve ‘done away with it’ and moved on to bigger and better things like… Oh, wait, what do we really do about behavior problems? Detention?! Vacation! I know that there are some who abuse the privileges that come with their being a teacher but it’s like being a parent. Parents have so much responsibility but they choose not to exercise it in molding their children. I was disciplined when I was younger and I remember seeing the difference in kids who didn’t get it. There are some who were beat by their parents and I really feel sorry for them… But I have come to realize that I now feel sorry for those who were never punished at all.

    Sometimes a bit of traditionalism is good for us and Korea reminds me of that. I found quite a few things I hated over there but they keep to their principles and I like that. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  57. Barbara Krok says:

    Greetings, I like your website. You have some helpful posts that help me understand what teaching English in Korea can be like. Appreciate it and I wanted to let you know, thanks!

  58. Laura Cancun says:

    WOW! Much different from American classes.

    It all sounds great! Especially the classroom etup and tech stuff. Except for the hours…

    I would hate to be a teacher at a great school only to be transferred to a crummy school after 5 years.

    My “Spanish” name in high school Spanish class was Rita 🙂

    • @GringationCancun: Yeah Laura, the teachers have to transfer every 5 years for that reason. Everyone wants to teach at the good schools with the good students, nice location, etc.. The more privileged areas have brighter kids also who excel in their learning because their parents can afford hagwon schools. At my school, the general feeling is that the kids are more “challenged” (to put it nicely). It’s a little depressing to hear what my teachers think about my school. And Rita– is beautiful name. It’s a whole lot better than that “poopie” nickname your friend has! 😉

    • Warren Pugh says:

      If you are THAT good, and the subsequent school is that BAD consider the challenge, and remember this, kids are beautiful regardless of where you are sent. They might even need you.

  59. It is impressive. Sounds like kids are given responsibility, but not coddling. Okay, love the outdoor/indoor shoe custom. That was so Turkey as well. 🙂 Happened at every single household I frequented. All that PowerPoint presentation jazz – haha, you’re so “corporate” teacher. But the uniform and tools might elicit respect, huh?

    • @Nomadic Chick: Those study hours are crazy! As for the “corporate” teacher thing- teaching is a treated as a professional business, but there are 2 sides to that. The tools, I think, are also to inspire interest in learning vs boredom. When you use these tools you can insert images, animations & videos, etc… to make learning fun. As for the fashion- Koreans tend to be a very fashion/looks oriented culture, esp when you hit the urban/suburbs. First impressions and superficial appearances can count; Koreans can be subtle or not in their “hints” as to what’s “appropriate” dress attire. Recently, some teachers have even experienced mild hints about their “physical appearances”.

      @Michela: As of our teacher orientation, that’s what we were told. Not all schools choose this method though. I heard the system has had some complaints & might be trying to deal with this in a better way.

      @SoloFriendly: Actually, correction- they have school until 10P & then many will go to a hagwon school afterwards for extended learning. Essentially, students get home at midnight. As for CP- it’s a totally diff. culture- if not at school, it’d be enforced at home. Students DON’T have a choice about school. I asked my co-teachers about the ratio of kids who “drop out” of school in Korea only to meet w/ puzzled looks. They said- No such thing. “Dropping out” is unheard of- parents would “make” their kids go to school. (In Korea, many kids live w/ their families until they’re married, so parental control is pretty strong)

  60. Michela says:

    Interesting article!! I can’t believe that corporal punishment is still in effect !!?? that’s awful…this should make us think about how freedom and dignity is perceived.

  61. Gray says:

    Wow. Their school system is very different from ours. Very impressive, how seriously they take education there. (Except for the CP, of course). Taking classes until 9pm sounds pretty darned exhausting, though. I like the idea of rotating teachers so it’s more fair.

    I wonder how successful their methods would be without the corporal punishment, though? Do the students themselves share the general respect for education that adults do, or are they just toeing the line out of fear?

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