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Culture Shock for Student New to KoreaKorean Education System
Written by Wonjae Jang | Published. 2019.07.19 13:19 | Count : 574

“Culture shock” is a phrase that describes the shock that people face when they encounter a new and different culture. When foreigners come to Korea, there are many new things they experience. However, the largest culture shock for teachers and students is the Korean education system. When students who are ethnically Korean but of a dual nationality come to Korean international schools, they are shocked by the differences they feel in Korea's educational culture.

[Exterior Photo of SJA Jeju (Taken by Wonjae Jang)]

Currently in Korea, dual-citizenship holders are increasing rapidly. According to Chosun Ilbo, people who have given up their Korean citizenship has risen by 20% than the previous year. However, in international schools in Korea, there are many students who have dual-citizenships. But all foreigners, even dual-citizenship students, mention that they are shocked by their school’s education system. I've interviewed, Chewon Han at our school, St.Johnsbury Academy Jeju (SJA), about his culture shock within the culture in Korea. Chewon was born in Mexico but is ethnically Korean. He is new to Korean education culture system but his parents are Korean so he does not have any difficulty speaking Korean.

Q: Have you only been in Mexico before coming to Korea?
A: "I was born in Mexico and lived there for 10 years and moved to China for two years with my family. After that, I lived in the United States for one year. Living in different countries gave me many benefits such as learning other languages and cultures."

Q: What do you think about Korea academic culture?
A: "While I was planning to come to Korea, my parents told me about how strict academics are in Korea. Also, they’ve told me that if I struggle with school work, I will be sent to academy. This was unfamiliar to me because in Mexico, China, and the States, private academies do not exist on the same level as they do in Korea. Unlike Korea, more than 85% of the students in my previous schools got help from school teachers and free online lectures such as Khan Academy. I’ve seen many students in the states who use online lecture to understand class materials by them self. But it was surprising that most of the students in Korea tried to get help from private academies so I felt I had to go to an academy just like the others."

Q: How was your first month studying in an international school in Korea?
A: "It was hard to adjust to Korean academic system in school at first. Even though the school tries American school system, it is totally different. I felt that the grading system is only focused on tests and not participation during class like in Mexico. In Mexico, participation was almost 50% of the grade. However, in SJA, class participation grades are only about 10% and test scores make up most of the grade."

Q: Is there anything else that surprised you academically?
A: "Yes, of course. One of the most shocking things was Hagwon, which is a private academy. While I was planning to move to Korea, I thought I will not need to go to an academy because in Mexico, I always got help from the teachers. Since I was in Mexico, there was no concept of academy so it was very unfamiliar to me. But, after couple of months, I realized why Korean students case to Hagwons. Even though it is an international school, students at SJA go to Hagwon to get good grades in school."

[Picture of Hagwons http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20170807000874&ACE_SEARCH=1]

Q: How is the class style different from Mexico?
A: "When I was attending school in Mexico or in the United States, I felt I was actually learning something. But in Korea, I felt classes were only focused on tests concepts and not the material itself. Also, many students in our school go to academy to do well on tests. Therefore, I’ve seen many students who are not participating in class because they get help from academy just for the tests. When I ask some classmates about the concept of the subject we were learning, only few students could answer me. At the moment, I realized some students that go to academy do not understand the concepts fully. So, it was very hard to get used to the culture."

Chewon Han experienced culture shock through the Korean education system even though he had a lot of experience at other schools abroad. His situation is not unique for foreigners coming into Korea to study for the first time. In fact, the culture shock comprises mostly in academic context which puts heavy emphasis on the test results rather than on actual learning. Even international students who are new to Korean education system cannot evade attending Hagwons, private tutoring institutions that transforms free-thinking individuals into test taking machines.  



Wonjae Jang
10th grade
St. Johnsbury Academy Jeju

Wonjae Jang  student_reporter@dherald.com

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