Lime, my girlfriend, was reading a book by a Chinese exchange student named Wang Xiaoling (I’m guessing, from the Hangeul ì ì¤ì¤ë§?) who’d visited Korea, called íêµ ë¦¬í?¬í¸ (Korea Report). She was quite excited to find another Asian voice criticizing Korea in the way she does, personally, and doesn’t see others around her doing.
Generally speaking, I, of course, cannot read the book. (I did trudge through a couple of passages she pointed out to me, but the whole thing would be waaaay too hard for me.) But I can repeat a few of the things that Lime translated to me with glee. I offer these with the caveat that (a) I may be misremembering what Lime quoted to me, (b) Lime’s not a translator, and (c) she was probably simplifying some of what she’d read for the sake of brevity.
- “Koreans often speak of ‘doing my best in my University life’. However, this led to months of being perplexed on my part, as To a Korean, ‘doing one’s best in one’s University life’ doesn’t mean studying hard; it means attending club meetings, going to Membership Training outings [seasonal weekend-long countryside drinkfests with students of the same major], parties, blind dates, and drinking appointments. The more of those you attend, the more you are doing your best in University, but this does not relate at all to studies.”
- “In Chinese, we don’t talk of ‘cramming’, nor do we have a conventional word for it, as Koreans do. Koreans study like crazy for the week of exams, and maybe just before, until they are exhausted. At exam time in China, Chinese students tend to rest more, eat well, and simply review their studies, but since they’ve been reviewing for a month already, they don’t get stressed out like Korean students do.”
- “When I arrived in Korea, at the University where I was going to study, I was amazed at how beautiful the campus was. I thought, ‘Ah, I can sit in that place and memorize vocabulary in the mornings… and I can go to that place in the afternoons and work on my homework. I soon realized that I had been mistaken, however. As soon as I sat down somewhere and began to study, a Christian walked up to me and asked me if I believe in God. When I said I had no time to talk, because I was studying, he ignored me and told me he would only be ten minutes. Half an hour later, I was crying, because all I wanted to do was study.”
- “A Christian told me if I don’t believe in God, I will go to hell. That hurt me very much, and I wondered, how can he say that to me?”
- “Koreans, in a group, are afraid of nothing. But alone, they are afraid of everything.”
- “In Korea, people always wait for a group to arrive before they eat their lunch. Me, as a Chinese, when it is lunch time, I sit down to eat, even if I am alone. But Koreans, do not eat without a group. This wastes a lot of time.”
There were some very interesting photos included in the book, and one of the most interesting was shots of a Chinese campus. The shots showed a wooded area, empty of people, and then, (one would presume) later in the day, the wooded area full of people calmly, quietly studying. This was supposed to be in contrast to students in Korean universities, who stand around in the outdoors doing anything but studying, according to the author of the book. (And she had attended Kyunghee University, which Lime tells me is considered a relatively good school.
Interesting, and I wish there were a version in English, but… well, there isn’t, and won’t be.
More interesting were Lime’s comments about the future of Korea. She said that among Koreans, the nation is widely compared — during drinking discussions, but never when sober — to Argentina. She actually used Argentina as an example of the kind of collapse a lot of people are quietly, desperately expecting to come to South Korea eventually… and which others are, apparently, often using. Corruption rampant; politics out of control; the gap between rich and poor widening: well I don’t know how it measures up with Argentina, but I do know that I feel much less alarmist now, hearing that others see things this way too.
So much to change, and reasonable portions of the beginnings of solutions are not so impossible that they couldn’t be attempted… educational reform is totally possible, for example. But it doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Is it this way in every society?