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Between hearing snippets of a supposedly excellent book Lime’s reading, containing a Chinese student’s reflections on University life in Korea, and one of my student’s essays on the education system here, I realized something else about why so many Freshmen are so whacked out and extreme in their socializing and drinking and everything else when they first start University.

It’s not just the group thing — you know, the having to follow along, and “because everyone else is doing it”, which is so widespread here. And it’s not just the relief of finally being finished with college entrance exams, either, though I imagine that’s part of it too.

What I realized is that their education, and especially the latter part of it, teaches them the exact opposite of balance. Once they hit high school — or, even now in some cases middle school — it’s all about extremes, about ultra-high pressure, about ridiculous amounts of stress, about all-or-nothing. There’s something to be said for a baptism by fire, but onle if one has enough balance to walk across the coals. The Korean public high school experience is about anything but balance, with prescribed courses (no electives for most students, claimed this essayist in my class) and ridiculous stakes riding on the College Entrance Exams.

So with so little in the way of establishing a balanced attitude towards learning and studying, it’s little wonder that, feeling forced into University, students just comply, attend, and party like mad. (Especially since, according to my student essayist as well as my own experience, even students with not-so-good grades routinely graduate with degrees in this country.) Perhaps some of that ill-thought-of freedom North American teenagers experience in high school actually helps them learn to balance social life with studies once they get to University?

Well, except the frat boys. They’re just a subsidy to the University — doomed to flunk out, not allowed to bring the overall quality of the system down, but willing, semester after semester, to pay tuition nonetheless.

I’m about 80% done marking my essays and ready for it to be over, already…

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