“You are terrible at this. Why are you even here?”
“You are not good enough to do this.”
These are some of the most common comments from our peers that make us feel uncomfortable and self-doubt. As students, we face criticism and shame from people on a daily basis. Consequently, many students attempt to either hide their true selves or ignore the criticism.
Brené Brown, who is a researcher and author, proposes the revolutionary claim that we need to accept our vulnerabilities and imperfections in order to connect with others and live wholeheartedly. In her widely acclaimed novel Daring Greatly and Ted Talk, Brown explains the gifts that come with embracing vulnerability and building shame resilience, such as the three components to a wholehearted life: courage, compassion, and connection.
As the academic competition and expectation in South Korea are consistently high, students are always under pressure to perform well at school. One notable way of measuring the competitiveness is shown in the annually increasing high school student suicide rates. In fact, the Voice of the Youth Organisation reported that suicide is the leading cause of death in Koreans aged 15-24 years old.
As a student who attends an international school in South Korea, I find that the problem with cultivating shame resilience and accepting our imperfections is from the high expectations in academic excellence. For instance, if a Korean student gets less than 95% on an exam, this means that they are inferior to the friend who received a 96%, which leads one to conclude that the latter student will go to a better college than will the former student. Therefore, the former student’s self-esteem will diminish in response to the misconception.
In an image analysis conducted by Yang Liu, easterners tend to be less confident with themselves compared to westerners as depicted in the image below. One reason for this gap between the two ethnicities lies on the idea of how we view our imperfections and faults; westerners tend to accept their mistakes while easterners usually take them more seriously.
This accounts to why I have seen my Korean peers often act artificially in front of teachers in order to maintain their status, just to hide that they are imperfect. These acts no doubt portray how determined and eager students are to work hard to achieve their goal of attending a prestigious university. However, these acts are making the community disconnected, preventing opportunities to build meaningful connections and impacts. If we want to connect and learn from one another, we need to reveal ourselves authentically and vulnerably and believe that we are enough.
This is not to say that we should all not aim to be as perfect as we can be; rather, it is to advocate that sometimes we need to be vulnerable. If students start to embrace their imperfections, they will begin to understand who they are and what they need to work on. By doing so, we can not only grow as a courageous, compassionate, and connected students but also as changers in our world. So students, start showing yourselves—be vulnerable and proud.
—Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)
*Featured Image: Hannah Kim (’19)
Daring Greatly & The Gifts of Imperfections by Brené Brown