Thursday, November 12, 2009


Today is Korea's college entrance exam day. This reminds me of an interview which I had with my dowoomi (foreign student's helper) on the Korea's education system in May. It was a class project given by my teacher. The purpose of the interview was to put our Korean language to practical use whilst learning more about Korean's culture and life from native Korean.

On the day of interview, I had lunch with my dowoomi at the Kyunghee's most famous omurice house. Then, she showed me the way to the student's cafeteria at the basement of the College of Hotel and Tourism Management (her college) where I bought an iced mocha for only 1,500won. I have yet to find another place selling such cheap mocha. Holding our coffee, we found an empty bench in front of the college where we sat to have our interview. It was late Spring but the afternoon weather was still quite cooling.

After the interview, I made a presentation in class and below is my presentation notes.


My interviewee is 24 years old, a 4th year student at the College of Hotel and Tourism Management. She majors in Hotel Management and Japanese Language. She is currently living in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, with her parents and elder sister. Her parents are both teachers while her elder sister is a doctor and also a graduate of the Korea University.

How do I know my interviewee?

We first met in 2006. Back then, I was at KHU for a specially-arranged 1-week immersion programme and she was assigned as my substitute dowoomi after my initial dowoomi 'vanished mysteriously' after only one meeting. We have since kept in contact, although, not regularly. Frankly speaking, it is hard to find a dowoomi who will become your friend eventually. I heard many people crying out that it is very difficult to meet their assigned dowoomi, not to mention, having them as friend. I consider myself fortunate.

About the Interview

The interview was conducted on May 27, 2009 (Wednesday), in front of the College of Hotel and Tourism Management. The interview took about 1 hour and the atmosphere was comfortable and relax. The interviewee's attitude was positive and helpful. I chose the Korea's Education System as the subject for my interview. I was interested in understanding the study stress which the Korean students are experiencing, their college entrance examination's culture and why they don't seem to do well for English despite spending a lot of money on English education.

Korea's Education System

All Koreans have to undergo 9 years of compulsory education which comprises 6-year elementary school and 3 year middle school. High school education is 3 years long and on the third year, everyone will have to sit for the college entrance exam which usually occurs in November. Based on the exam results, students will then choose their college. About 90% of each cohort undergoes college education which lasts for 4 years long. With many graduates walking around, getting a Masters is not something that is nice to have, but, more like a necessity to differentiate oneself from the rest.

High School Student's Weekday Schedule

High School is the most stressful period for Korean students because of the need to prepare for the college entrance exam. A typical High School student will attend school from 8:30am to 4:30pm. After school, there will be a short break before going to tuition centre for their night lesson from 6pm to 11pm. However, night lesson after 10pm has been outlawed recently to protect students from excessive stress and school works. The law drew more flaks than applause from the public. There is serious concern that shortening of tuition hours will affect the preparation for the exam.

College Entrance Exam

The college entrance exam normally takes place in November on the 3rd and the last year of high school. The exam subjects include Korean language, English language, Mathematics, Science and Sociology. The total exam time is 6.5 hours which is almost a day.

On the exam day, apart from anxious parents, it is a tradition for juniors to assemble outside the exam centres to give support to their seniors. They will normally carry banners and placards, cheering their seniors on as they make their way to the exam hall. They will also prepare chocolate and coffee for their seniors. It was said that chocolate is good brain food which can help the brain to think better while the coffee keeps the mind awakes despite a long day.

English Language Education

For a long time, Korean students only started learning English from middle school onwards. It was said that English lessons start from elementary school these days. Students who score 850 or more for TOEIC will only take one semester of English in college while the rest will be required to take two semesters.

There are 3 reasons why Koreans are not mastering the English language well. First, the English grammars are quite different from Korean grammars. Second, students are never required to write in English. Third, all English teachers are native Koreans who may not be good in speaking or writing in English.


  1. wow. I did not know it lasts 6 hrs!! and all taken at once. no wonder the kids are so stressed.

  2. to think we always complain about our A levels! ><

  3. @anonymous, i believe there is break in between tests.

    @shanna, to complain is human nature and it can help to relieve stress sometimes :)