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Life of a High School Student in South Korea

By: Jiwon


Hello. I live in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. I want to tell you about my life in high school. I used to wake up at 7am and arrive at 7:30 in school. My school was just 5 minutes away from my house so I could get there really fast. Most of my friends came to school by walking and some of them came by bus. I think the way I was going to school was much different than when I went to school in Kuwait. Where I live in Seoul is full of apartments and lots of markets, schools, stores, cafes and all things are gathered so I could get there by walking rather than using a car. When I arrived at school, I studied Math, Korean, English, and Social Studies for 5 days, Monday to Friday. Every class is taught in Korean, as South Korea’s first language is Korean. Students in their 3rd year of high school need to prepare to take a big exam in November, to get into university in South Korea. It is called “대학수학능력시험'' in Korean, shortly called “수능(soo-neung)”. It is like the SAT in the USA. But how big is this exam in South Korea? Well, airplane’s aren’t allowed to fly, the police must control traffic, and some people don’t go to work! This is only on soo-neung’s day because the noise outside the streets might disturb students who are taking this exam. 


Students study really hard and it is very competitive to get high grades in school. The grading scores in my school were divided in levels 1 to 9. Level 1 is the best grade and level 9 is the worst. Classes that count in this system are Korean language, Math, English, 8 Social Studies courses, and Korean history. If you get all level 1 in every subject, you can enter the best university in South Korea. This is the basis of the Korean education. After studying, we had lunch for 50 minutes, from 12pm to 12:50pm. In Korea, we have lunch only once a day. The special thing about our lunch is that we have a dietician in every school. They organize the best nutrition for students and serve lunch. The lunch is usually organized with rice, kimchi, soup, vegetables, meat, and juice but this changes everyday. My favorite lunch was rice with seaweed soup and meat called bulgogi. The lunch is free for students as the government pays for it. After lunch, I had to go back to class until 1p.m. and take classes until 5p.m. After school, some students are left at school and study until 10p.m-12a.m. or some students go to an academy to get private lessons. Some of them also take individual online classes at a private institution. Online classes are well developed here in South Korea. There are many professional teachers that teach students online so that students can take classes they want to learn more about. It is not a school course but it is available for all students in South Korea. The subjects in the academies and online institutions vary from Korean, English, other languages, math, social studies, science, history, etc. Also, the government provides a free online class called ‘EBS’. Students can choose subjects and courses that they want to study more. This system allows students to deeply study their choice of class subject.


For me, I went to various academies after-school for math, Korean, English, social studies and also took online education. I know it is tough but it is popular to study these courses in high school and this is part of the Korean education system. Especially in Seoul where it is very competitive. 


But of course there are some joyful events in high school too. We go traveling all together for 3 days in school and have fun with friends. We call this ‘soo hak yeo hang’, which means school trip. Usually we go to Jeju island where nature is really beautiful. We can have “healing time,” and many students look forward to this trip. Another big event for students in South Korea is sports day. I heard that other countries have prom culture but we don't have that. Also, we have many clubs and every student has the opportunity to join the club of their choice. There are many clubs that feature activities such as dance, journalism, film, yoga, and other things. It is a great opportunity for students to develop their skills and think about their future or enjoy their hobbies. I was in yoga and helping children in Africa (Save the children) club. 


This was my story in high school and the course of how the South Korean education system works. Yes, it is competitive and difficult but the education system is this way because going to the highest/best university gives more chances to work in the best place in the country. This system also leads students to gain essential knowledge to make a living. After graduation, most students choose their major and study in university. My experiences in high school helped me think about my future, especially in saving the children's club. I learned that I am a caring person, I want to help people and from that, I chose healthcare as my major. I’m studying health administration now in university. I’m satisfied with what I’m studying now, and I like my memories in high school.


This is the picture of when I went to Jeju Island with my classmates where nature is beautiful.