SKY Castle: What College, Success, and Love Really Mean

SKY Castle, a skyrocketing Korean Drama, is breaking through unprecedented ratings across the country. But what does this drama really tell us about our perceptions on success and love?

A daughter finds out that her mother is not her biological mother, a boyfriend finds out that his girlfriend cheated on him, a girl discovers that her rival’s mother’s step-sister’s nephew is her brother. These are some classic Korean drama plots, exaggerating daily events that may or may not happen in reality. However, SKY Castle, a skyrocketing drama in Korea that is reaching unprecedented popularity not only in Korea but also across Asia, breaks apart this classic representation of K Dramas. Captivating everyone from teens to 60-years-old, SKY Castle reveals one of the most sensitive topics in Korea, and frankly our lives.

Broadcasted from late November 2018, this 20 episode series trails the lives of four families whose children are mostly in high school. While all of them are elite families of doctors and lawyers, these four families each experience their own hardship and pain as they struggle to prepare their kids to enter college.

On the surface, SKY Castle may seem like the over-exaggerated reality of high schoolers journey in getting into elite colleges. However, when dissected further, this drama is not so much of a drama as it unveils on some of the bleak, hidden realities, touching upon the most uncomfortable and vulnerable part of our lives: college, success, and parental love.

SKY Castle is a reflection of our lives that makes us redefine life and love. (

One of the key messages that this drama illustrates is the obsession we have with college —what it is, what it does, and what it disrupts. SKY Castle highlights this strong emphasis in addition to the greed and desire that parents, and sometimes students, too, have on getting into an elite college.

Main student characters in the drama who find their definition of success throughout struggles. (

Many think that getting into a prestigious university equals prosperity and attending a name-value school brings some form of inexplicable joy into the home. But we can all agree that this socially valued norm can consume our thoughts, making us lose our own selves and definition of happiness. Just look at Ye-Suh’s father, a man who for so long focused on reaching the top position and recognition, slowly recognizing how striving straight for the top makes you lose simple things in life: love, joy, sorrow. Things that make us feel human.

In addition to focusing so much on college, SKY Castle also sheds light on our corrupt definition of success.

Sure, killing a rival shown in the drama may not seem realistic, but it does symbolize something: there is an unquenchable desire to win and be number one. Much like how we have been cultured to think that college defines one’s identity, we have constructed our culture to believe that winning someone is a sign of victory. As portrayed by Ki Joon and Seo Joon’s father, we believe that we must reach the top of the pyramid by stepping on others and getting up beyond them. We believe that we can only gain victory by how we compare to  the people around us. In fact, if we think about it, this notion of reigning in victory relative to those around us drives this drama’s plot; the motive of the students is to be ‘number one.’

The other bleak reality this drama uncovers is college entrance coordinators. Across the globe we have consulting groups who help students get into colleges, much like Kim Joo Young in the drama. However, we can often be too consumed by getting into a college that we might let those groups overtake our voice. It’s important to note here that I am by no means saying that consulting advisors or agencies are harmful or useless. I have seen and heard countless students be successful and happy with the coordinators help and I’m sure they do incredible work to support you  reaching your dreams. But we also need to remember to have our own say in our education and life.

Ye-suh’s mother shows desperation to the coordinator.

Ye-suh is virtually controlled by her coordinator, listening to her directions and suggestions rather than directing her own path. Like Ye-Suh’s life crumples throughout the episodes, we are vulnerable just like her to feel hopeless and helpless. Some agencies layout everything in linear order; you must do this and this to get this. But we don’t realize that not everything in life is a straight line. There’s curves, squiggles, slanted lines, perfect lines, and unfinished lines. We must remember to break away from that line drawn in front of you; make sure you control your direction because no one, not your mom not your consulting firm, will determine your future but you.

As exaggerated as it seems, the consulting agencies may in real life “control” you.

But perhaps the most important message of the drama, SKY Castle shares the warmth and commonality we all have: family love. All four families have different lives and personalities; they are all so distinctive that you can’t help it but ask one another, “ which one of the four moms is like yours?”

Despite the diversity of the four, all of them show family love as the common denominator. This universal feeling, the most powerful love that’s stronger than any other relationship, ties all the families together. Take Ye-suh’s mom for example. We feel anger and happiness toward this character for her cruel acts. But we are forced as viewers to empathize with her; after all, her daughter’s life is at risk. Just like any mom in the world, she is just trying to protect her daughter, urging the viewers to feel indecisive about her.

The tension and unconditional love a mother has for her kids. (
A mother having to give up on her daughter’s life to reveal the truth.

The unconditional love of the mother for her child is such a powerful feeling and emotion. It’s the mother’s love that takes in all the child’s sins and brings warmth to the cold soul. It’s the mother’s love that she gives life and breath to the child.

For me, I am fortunate and grateful to have a mother who understands and values my say in my path, who doesn’t make me feel bad about a low number, who doesn’t believe that success is defined by a certain acceptance. But I know that many of my peers and Korean students feel that their moms are pressuring them to achieve the highest; even as you are reading this, you might feel yourself emphasizing with Ye-suh more. But as this drama shows, regardless of which of the four families you seem to lie in, all mothers have the same desire for a child: to be successful in the real world and to find happiness. Sometimes, however, our definition of success may not line up, or maybe you’re like Soo-han and you don’t know what that looks like. That’s okay because that just means that you haven’t struggled enough to find that definition. But regardless, always remember the unconditional love that family has.

There is still so much to delve into in this drama, whether that’s the characterization, symbols, or shootings. But for me, as someone still struggling to find my own definition of success, SKY Castle lent me a perspective. It didn’t give me a solution to the doubts and uncertainties I hold, but it proved to me that I am not alone in this journey- that this is a universal experience we all feel. That joy, regret, shame, evil are all so human. Perhaps, the intro song We all lie aims to tell us the same.

I respect the writer for her audacity to write such a sensitive, veiled topic, to tell us how corrupt our definition of success is, and most importantly, to remind us the infinite power parental love holds.

– Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

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Top 10 Albums of 2018

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

2018 was another great year for music. From the sweet, bouncy beats on Ariana Grande’s Sweetener to the introspective, ambitious Brockhampton project Iridescence, this year marked a turning point in genre-fusion and artist collaborations. Just a few observations before I get into the albums:

  • “Trap” drums are permeating other genres. A drum kit that was originally exclusive to contemporary hip-hop sounds like those of XXXTentacion or Lil Uzi Vert are now commonplace in the work of Khalid’s Better or Ariana Grande’s No Tears Left to Cry.
  • Artists’ personal lives and political stances have had a significant impact on the way people listen to their music. Kanye’s controversial moves, 6ix9ine’s imprisonment, Mac Miller’s death – so much discussion in the music world has been spurred by the circumstances of artists’ lives outside the studio, prompting people to rethink the age-old question: can an artist be separated from the art?
  • Fans are more accepting of experimental projects. I doubt that hip-hop fans, even just a few years ago, would have been accepting of albums like Kids See Ghosts and Iridescence. Now, these artists are praised for their genre-bending and production quirks.
  • The Soundcloud scene has grown at an unprecedented rate. You know that feeling when you find an artist who’s already racked up millions of plays, but you’ve never heard of them before? That’s the Soundcloud effect: when artists can get insanely popular in a matter of days, because of the viral nature of Soundcloud likes and reposts.
  • Anticipation of new projects has reached a fever pitch. This may be because most of the internet has grown up with the popular artists of today; Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter are full of fans overanalyzing tweets they think are alluding to a new release, or trying to figure out if the background music in an artist’s Instagram story is an unreleased song. I thought I was going insane waiting for the new Giriboy album.

And now to my picks of 2018.

  1. Crush – Wonderlost


I didn’t have too many expectations going into this, mostly because I hadn’t been keeping up with how much more sophisticated and unique his production and sound had gotten over the years. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear such a refreshing, well-executed take on a Korean R&B and pop sound, not to mention the extremely clever wordplay and lyricism in some of his songs.

Favorite track(s) – Cereal, Close Your Eyes, RYO

  1. Khalid – Suncity


After Khalid’s impressive debut album from 2017, American Teen, I wasn’t surprised that Suncity was one of my favorite projects of the year. Sure, it may have been shorter and less ambitious, but I think it allowed Khalid to be more focused and better blend the album’s holistic meaning and timbre. Case in point: the outro to Motion includes a snippet of Better, with the chorus “nothing feels better than this” being repeated with a slightly-vocoded, pitched down, and slowed down inflection.

Favorite track(s) – Better

  1. Balming Tiger – ‘虎媄304’


Korean experimental hip hop collective Balming Tiger blew up this year with singles like ONCEAGAIN, CHEF LEE, and I’M SICK, taking the underground Soundcloud scene of Korea by storm. The resulting project of their collaboration was a complete 180 from the music theory and composition norms that had ingrained themselves in Korean producers; Balming Tiger’s producers cite experimental, electronic artists like Flying Lotus as their inspiration. Besides the production, Balming Tiger’s sound was defined by rapper Byung Un’s well crafted lyricism: “but do you remember? 우리 회사?

Favorite track(s) – CHEF LEE, ONCEAGAIN

  1. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran


Continuing with another experimental hip hop project, Veteran showed me the potential and prowess of rapper and producer Peggy. He uses samples and absurd, mind-bending sound effects that somehow stay accessible to the average hip hop fan. The fact that Peggy produced and mixed the entire album by himself shows the sheer talent that went into creating this project.

Favorite track(s) – 1539 N. Calvert, Thug Tears, Baby I’m Bleeding

  1. Ariana Grande – Sweetener


Ariana already has an impressive discography, but Sweetener was probably the first project from her that I genuinely enjoyed from start to finish. Although I did find Pharrell’s production to be a little over-the-top sometimes, as many did, I felt that the project was a departure from her usual pop-oriented sounds and was a step towards Ariana’s own artistic vision.

“I don’t know about the importance or significance the album holds to Ariana Grande’s career as a whole, but I do believe that the album represents an important step in maturity and growth for Grande. From her lyrics to the unique sound that she has come to embrace, the album is an accumulation of all the lessons she learned throughout her career as one of this century’s most renowned musicians.” – Andrew Hong (11)

Favorite track(s) – No Tears Left to Cry, God is a Woman

  1. BROCKHAMPTON – Iridescence


I started following self-proclaimed boyband and hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON at the end of last year, around the time their third SATURATION album was released. I loved the explosive synergy of the group’s members – Kevin, Matt, Joba, Ameer, Bearface – and was excited to hear what was next for the group as they reached mainstream popularity this year. The result was an album that I initially didn’t care much for, but grew to love. Even with a more mainstream audience, the group kept its unique and jarring production quirks and made its most ambitious, yet honest, project to date.


  1. Mac Miller – Swimming


Mac Miller’s death left me particularly devastated because of the message of Swimming. The lyrics on the first track, Come Back to Earth,

“In my own way, this feel like living
Some alternate reality
And I was drowning, but now I’m swimming
Through stressful waters to relief”,

Made me think that Mac had overcome his substance abuse and mental issues and had finally moved on. It was a message that I’d taken to heart, which made his death even more soul-shattering. What he left behind, though, is probably my favorite project from Mac of all time, beating my previous favorite The Divine Feminine. The lyrics flow well and are meaningful (as they always have been) and the use of more acoustic instruments like bass guitar adds a nice R&B touch to the sound of the album.

Favorite track(s) – Come Back to Earth, Hurt Feelings, What’s the Use?

  1. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts


Kids See Ghosts was my favorite album of the summer. I was never a big fan of Kid Cudi, so it came as a surprise to me how enjoyable this album was for me. It’s definitely not the magnum opus that many in the hip-hop community claim it to be, but it’s certainly Kanye’s most well-produced and focused projects as of recently, beating his other 2018 project ye by a mile. The production is futuristic (it reminded me of something Vince Staples would do) and the project never loses its energy for its short runtime.

Favorite track(s) – Reborn, Feel the Love, Freee

  1. Giriboy – Science Fiction Music


What’s always impressed me about Korean artist Giriboy is his versatility. When you listen to his older works, like 2015’s Take Care of You or 2016’s Sooljalee, you would never expect him to undergo the transformation that he did. Starting from his EP earlier in the year, hightechnology, Giriboy’s production became futuristic, forward-thinking, and incredibly ambitious, more so than many of his contemporaries, even within his own record label Just Music. The resulting project is an album I’ll probably never get bored of, for its lyrics, production value, and just how fun it is.

Favorite track(s) –, Keyboard, hooksong

  1. Denzel Curry – TA13OO


Denzel Curry reached virality a few years ago with his angry trap song ULTIMATE. The fact that it was produced by RonnyJ, who’s responsible for much of Lil Pump’s discography, should give you an idea of what kind of song it was: a mindless, repetitive workout beat, and not much more. To shift this attitude, Denzel came out with Ta13OO, a masterpiece which convinced me and many others that trap wasn’t just a phase of hip-hop and that it would lend itself to become one of the most defining subgenres of the decade. The album structure in itself – having three separate sections that each have a layer of darkness and complexity to them – is a long-needed change from the compilation-based albums that artists like Migos have been pumping out. In totality, the introspective lyrics and production of TA13OO make it my pick for album of the year.

Favorite track(s) – TA13OO, Black Balloons, Black Metal Terrorist

Honorable mentions: warrenisyellow – ALIEN, Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD, Various Artists – Black Panther the Album, Kanye West – ye, Aminé – ONEPOINTFIVE, Kamaal Williams – The Return, Sam Kim – Sun and Moon, Lauv – I met you when I was 18, Cuco – Chiquito, Vince Staples – FM!

Biggest letdowns of 2018: Drake – Scorpion, Juice WRLD – Goodbye & Good Riddance, Nas – NASIR, Joji – BALLADS 1, Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth, Rich Brian – AMEN

Featured image: Pitchfork

Jazz Night 2018

Definitely the best Friday night of the year. The annual Jazz Night livened up many teachers, parents, students, and staff of KIS.

Jazz Night is an annual event hosted by the TRI-M Music Honor Society.

Sold out three years in a row and gathered hundreds of teachers, parents, students, and staffs of KIS, Jazz Night provides unforgettable musical performances by skilled performers and fine dining by amazing catering. This year, TRI-M held the Greatest Jazz Night, themed after the movie The Greatest Showman, at the conference hall on the 9th of March, 2018 from 6pm to 8pm. The hall was packed with audience members, exciting atmosphere, and most importantly, the jazzy energy.

“Jazz Night is one of our few tangible remnants of KIS legacy that not only musicians but also staff and general student body have been participating in for the past several years. Jazz Night is the epitome of student-led passion. I believe we cannot achieve progression without having an extent of authentic passion fueling inside us. We can see this through Jazz Night, as we witness from Tri-M members sacrificing days and nights to successfully facilitate this event to student jazz musicians practicing behind the scenes almost every day after school to give one of the most thrilling nights of the year.
Great food, great music, great night. Yes, seems like the best yet also the easiest night to pull off.
But if there’s one thing to be learned from this annual legacy, it is that this night is successful not only because of the talent, but because of pure the hard work that set up the stage..the stage that allows the night to shine in the spotlight.” (Matthew Kim ‘18)

First and foremost, what is jazz? There is a tremendous variety in jazz, but in most cases, it is a highly rhythmic style of music with a forward momentum, often referred to as the “swing”. Jazz musicians place high means in finding their own distinct style to interpret sounds with a color. This genre of music can express many different emotions and powerful voices. Developed in the United States in the early 20th century, Jazz continued to seek from life experiences and to speak from human emotions in a creative manner. Indeed, jazz has been one of the most outstanding contributions to the art of music.

In attempt to introduce and reinforce the rather less popular music genre to the school community, TRI-M came together to organize the big annual event. For months, members have been designing posters, arranging dinner, and contacting performers. This year, unsurprisingly, the night was definitely a success. Despite the slight decrease in ticket sales compared to that of last year due to SAT testing the very next day, the strong promotion allowed many people to become aware of such an event.

The performers included the jazz band, acapella singers, and our very own choir director, Mr. Brown. Some of the notable performances by the acapella singers were “You’re Still a Young Man” by Tower of Power and “Sway” by Cat Dolls. The middle and high school jazz band presented astounding performances with breathtaking solos.

All performances were greeted and appreciated with warm applause. What’s more, even the parents gave positive feedback regarding the overall event. Thank you for coming, and we hope to see you again next year!


-Jennie Yeom (’20)


#KISRAK 2018

The annual KIS RAK week has returned, enlivening this stressful week back from break with all the random acts of kindness from students, teachers, and staff!

Kindness is a fundamental characteristic of good will in human nature that makes people feel happy and loved. Showing kindness, regardless of the magnitude of the act, is one of the best ways to positively influence people around you. Small acts that are habitual in your daily life are greatly appreciated by their recipients—simply giving a compliment or buying lunch for a friend would brighten their day.

RAK week is an NHS-led the event, in collaboration with Student Council, Tri-M, Blueprint, and many other clubs. 

“KISRAK (KIS random acts of kindness) is a week dedicated to showing inclusivity, spread warmth, and of course, to promote kindness. We should be kind at all times, but it is important to have a week devoted to kindness because it is a friendly reminder that anyone can easily brighten up another individual’s mood anytime by doing a simple act of kindness.” – Selena Kim (‘18)

It is difficult to show and appreciate the generosity when overwhelmed with stress and pressure, which is exactly the current mental state of students. The week back from Lunar break was rather aggravating with series of summative assignments, as well as multiple projects and loads of homework crammed in one day. Our KIS community as a whole definitely needed what RAK week is meant for—acts of kindness to cheer up everyone’s agitated mood.

Official event list of RAK week


Every morning during RAK week, hot cocoa and Vita500 were prepared by NHS and Student Council to make an energetic start to everyone’s day. Students, teachers, and staff members were spotted everywhere in school with a smile, sipping on their RAK week refreshments! Kind messages and compliments from students filled the hallways, reminding everyone of how much they are appreciated and loved in our KIS community.

“You’re amazing”, “You got this”, “Looking great today!”.


#RAK kind notes of encouragement and compliments on H3

All messages on notes around the school and on the whiteboard acted as self-esteem boosters, brightening everyone’s day with the warmth the messages held.

When someone received a random act of kindness, he/she did a random act of kindness to someone else, creating a cycle of generosity. The point was to appreciate such kindness and give back by further spreading it.

Numerous appreciation posts were uploaded on various social media platforms of chocolate provided by NHS, snacks given by fellow students, the artsy bumper stickers, and other random acts of kindness around the school. The bumper stickers were very popular, attracting everyone with their trendy design and cute messages of encouragement. Students stuck them onto their computers, bags, on their clothes, and on the back of their phones, having the message “stick around” throughout their entire day.


PC: JD Choi (’18)


The highlights of RAK week were surely the Sing-O-Gram hosted by Tri-M and the surprise dance performance from Blackout. The Sing-O-Gram was a sweet event for people to show their affection and appreciation for people that they care for, whether it be a friend, teacher, or someone you love. Everyone’s Monday was energized by the amazing dance performance by Blackout and as always, students were blown away by their moves.

Although KIS RAK week has come to an end, this does not mean the spread of kindness stops with it. The end of RAK week means that even more kindness should be seen in school because everyone has had a friendly reminder of how much positive influence a small act of kindness can bring. The benevolence of people should always be strongly encouraged, and also greatly appreciated at the same time—remember to do acts of kindness and to be thankful for the kindness that you receive.

– Sophie Yang (’21)

Justin Reviews: Coco

‘Coco’ is Pixar’s latest feature film, but does it live up to its critical acclaim? Read more to find out! (Spoiler-Free)

A mini-rant before I start. I’ve never understood why people tolerate low quality in films intended for children. Their rhetoric can be summarized with: “But it’s just a kid’s film!”. Hmmm, we put so much effort in creating a healthy, safe environment for children, but when it comes to entertainment it’s okay to put out bare-minimum, ‘passable’ movies? I don’t think so. Luckily, Coco is fascinating enough to wipe all those awful Disney sequels we saw as wee lads out of our memories.

Coco’s greatest strength comes from its simplicity and the introduction of high ‘stakes’. If this project had fallen into the wrong hands, it would have been a tensionless, corny story about a boy named Miguel and his love for music, culminating in an overblown cover of Ricky Martin’s Livin La Vida Loca. But Pixar succeeds where others fail by adding in a new aspect – the Mexican Land of the Dead. Once Miguel ends up here, things start to get interesting. Miguel has 24 hours to return to the real world, or else fade from existence – but also to find out the secret behind his ancestry. If he gets caught by the countless security guards, he’s toast. If he gets caught by his dead relatives, who believe music is a curse, he’s toast as well. Again, easy-to-understand high stakes – that’s the backbone for Coco’s brilliance.

Aesthetically, Coco also triumphs most movies. Pixar did their research correctly, spending months in Mexico, wondering how to elevate a culture that’s foreign to them. The results are stunning. The streets of Mexico are not portrayed as colorless, crumbling slums, but rather individually unique houses that are scattered amongst displays of Mexican clothing, music, food, traditional art, and most of all – the bright orange leaves placed on every path for ‘Dia de Los Muertos’, providing navigation for spirits in search of their former homes. The Land of the Dead which Miguel explores is equally beautiful. It reminded me of a Miyazaki film, in that the spirit world and the real world are able to exist in harmony, with macabre and human aspects combined, reflected in the colorful buildings and creatures inhabiting a world that is, ironically, refreshingly alive.


Similar to Lunar New Year, Mexicans honor their ancestors on Dia de Los Muertos.


But what surprised me the most is how much momentum this film had left, even after Miguel’s family secrets are revealed. He even proves himself as a musician, performing for hundreds of the dead. You’d think that these two moments the premise promises would be a suitable conclusion, but there are many twists after that point. They’re executed so well that even if you have a vague idea of what they might be, they still land like a hammer to the head. My favorite twist? When the audience learns why the movie is titled Coco – and not Miguel – tying several themes (death, family, childhood innocence) together perfectly.

Now back to my opening rant. I love Pixar because they don’t pander to a certain demographic or the lowest common denominator. Case in point: Coco is one of the most anti-kid kid films I have ever seen. What kind of animation studio builds their movie around grievance and death? Yet Pixar pulls off this incredible feat by sticking to a tried-and-true formula: a simple story and complex details. Shame on the parents who chose Ferdinand (starring John Cena… as a bull?) instead. 

Good movies can make a 6-year old laugh and a 60-year old cry. Coco is one of them.

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Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

A memoir so human, deep, and breath-taking.

Holding a delicate small figure in his hands, he brings the new human close to his chest. As her eyes slowly opened up to view the world, Paul knew that this was why he pursued his job as a neurosurgeon: to discover the meaning of life. For him, the child was a valuable being—someone’s first daughter, cousin, and grand-daughter.


An Indian American neurosurgeon and writer, Paul Kalanithi graduated from Stanford University and earned a Bachelor and Master in both literature and human biology, two rather contrasting subjects. After earning his degree, he took philosophy at Cambridge University wherein he became curious about what life is. To discover answers to his questions, Kalanithi joined a medical team at Yale university as he believed that neurology—the subject that deals with the birth and science behind human knowledge—would help him. After ceaselessly working in the operation room and explaining to the patients the reason for the failure of a surgery in the white beds, Kalanithi himself ended up lying on the same patient’s bed, feeling hopeless and despair due to a terminal cancer. In an effort to share his experience as a doctor and then a patient, Kalanithi wrote a memoir even till his death in March 2015.



“Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

The novel is divided into two parts, the first about his experience as a doctor and the latter as a patient. What fascinated me most is the former section in which he shares his initial drive to undertake the job of a doctor. Students these days, especially Koreans, are sensitive to the divide between liberal arts and STEM for both the students and parents hold misconceptions on the two areas. Take KIS students for instance: many of my friends who claim to be more on the STEM side set their entire high school courses and extracurriculars solely to those pertaining subjects, such as biology or maths. Even I, as a student who is still struggling to discover her career, have always believed that I should belong to english or maths. As I heard great praises from my teachers and peers on my writing, I expected that liberal arts was the path for me, urging me to preclude any possibility of learning maths or science. However, after reading When Breath Becomes Air, I began to open up the doors to both areas because they complement one another. It fascinated me how Kalanithi could pursue both literature and human biology as they are rather disparate areas that seem odd to be studied together. Nevertheless, his point of view on how they led him to become a more mature and knowledgeable person revolutionized the divide between English and science; Kalanithi claims that though “literature provided the richest material for moral reflection,” he felt that it was “missing the messiness and weight of real human life,” which explains why he took on neurology.


Another beautiful part of this novel is how the author writes his experiences in a clear voice that really speaks to the audience. I used to have a negative view on doctors as I felt as if they were mostly corrupt due to the media depiction of them today. But he intertwines illuminating lines when explaining about the surgeries he conducted that compel the readers to view doctors as utterly humane people who experience the value of life, making me even further empathize with my own father who is a doctor as well.

“The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

Despite how impressive and alluring the novel is, there were some aspects of the novel that I was disappointed with, including the epilogue and the interjections of famous lines. Though numerous fans find the epilogue from Kalanithi’s wife as the apex of the novel that made them weep, I found the epilogue rather dry compared to the author’s strong voice. As the ending of the memoir was a potent saying from the author to his daughter, I expected that the novel would end there, leaving the readers with tears and excitement. However, when I read the epilogue afterwards, it did not make me feel that heart-warming feel I got from Kalanithi’s words since his writing is stronger than that of his wife. Another part of the memoir that I disliked was how the author includes famous saying from other famous authors. Although I was able to grasp some of the quotes, there were many that I was not able to comprehend, digressing the novel away from me.


Nevertheless, When Breath Becomes Air is a heartfelt novel that I believe will resonate with me for a long time as it has taught me not only the value of life but also what it means to be a knowledgeable, humane person. If students are more aware that there is no set formula of courses to be prosperous in the future, they will become more successful in the future and enjoy their learning. After all, Kalanithi has proven to us that regardless of whether the subject you undertake is on the STEM or liberal arts side, if you have the passion and will to take value from the things you do, you will be content with your work and life.

—Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

Featured Image:     kalanithi/

Top 10 Winter Break Reads

Looking for some books to read over winter break? Grab a warm cup of tea and try these winter break reads!

Winter break is just around the corner—just a couple of days left! As our lives have been inundated with an incessant amount of assignments and exams, we finally have time to take a break from school. One way of resting up over the break for the new year and semester is to read some novels that you couldn’t possibly catch up during school. Below are top 10 novels that I, as an avid reader, recommend to get your mind off from work! 

1. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Genre: Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Mental Health


Tracing the life of a young boy who has schizophrenia, Challenger Deep takes the readers through the mind of Caden Bosch. As he is sent to a mental hospital for treatment, Bosch creates a second world inside his mind that is unlike reality: he is the artist of a ship that is headed for Challenger Deep, the south of Mariana Trench. Using simple yet beautiful prose, Schusterman leads the readers into a whole new world where imagination and reality are inseparable, whilst he reveals the truth behind the curtains of mental hospitals. A perfect book to get you out of your reading slump!

“Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.”



2. Station Eleven by Emily Mandel


Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopian


A seemingly dark and sentimental novel, Station Eleven features a world twenty years after a devastating plague. However, one cannot call it a simple survival novel. Shifting back and forth from the current world where Kirsten, the main character,  watches King Lear to a desolate world where she faces isolation and killings, Mandel compares the modern world to that of an apocalyptic beautifully that it makes us appreciate the things we have today: laptops, phones, and even newspapers, raising important questions about the world: Why doesn’t a desolate world urge people to a common goal? Is it better to govern or be governed? Should we teach the children about the previous world? Poetically writing with the strategic diction and pauses, Mandel crafts the each one of the characters so intricately that the you immediately fall in love with them, a rare occurrence in apocalyptic novels.

““First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”

3. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts

Genre: Philosophy, Spirituality, Self Help


More scholarly than the other books but nevertheless invaluable, this book discusses the need for people to find balance in an age where we worry greatly about the future and the past. It is an excellent book to read especially after weeks of hectic assignments and exams as you can start to apply Watts’s teachings of how to immerse yourself into the present to real life! As a student who is frequently insecure, this book plain spoken to me as it shifted my perspective on how to alleviate the anxieties I face everyday. Although some concepts are abstruse and heavy to comprehend, Watts integrates metaphors to help guide the reader, reminding us the beauty of using metaphors even in non-fiction.

“If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.”


4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker


Genre: Classic, Fiction, Historical Fictional


Focusing on two colored sisters that live in south side of America, The Color Purple touches on a variety of topics: racism, feminism, and more. The two sisters face grave situations wherein they are harmed and violated by men- one of the reasons why this novel is frequently listed for American Library Association’s Most Challenged Books. Regardless of the graphic language and scenes, the novel has a much deeper side to is as it depicts not only the history of the early 1900s but also the gravity of feminism in its history. The novel may be challenging to read at first as it uses odd formatting, but it gets better as you read. I would recommend that you read the first couple of pages out loud to understand the text.

“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.”

5. Expiration Day by William Powell

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian


Sometimes as high-school students, we are urged to read more classical books like Crime and Punishment and Macbeth. But sometimes, we need to read some teenage novels that brings the nostalgic feelings from our teenage years. A science fiction novel that ties in artificial intelligence with humanity, this novel depicts a world where nearly all the children are robots, except a few of those who are humans. Tania, who believes that she is a human, sets out to discover the reasons behind the division and whether or not she is truly a human. This novel is much more in-depth compared to what I first believed as it questions the existence of humans and our lives if we cannot distinguish between AI’s and humans.

“What rational being would willingly enter a relationship that’s guaranteed to end in sorrow? Grieving husband buries wife, or vice versa. Or they divorce. But we marry anyway. Because even death and divorce is better than loneliness.”

6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Genre: Mystery, Fiction, Thriller


Need something that will keep you on the edge of your seat? Well, The Girl on the Train is the right book. Riding the same commuter everyday, Rachel watches a young couple from a distance for a few split seconds every day and imagines them to be a perfect couple. However, one night, as Rachel forgets her actions, she entangles everyone into an investigation, including the couple she saw. Told through three perspectives, the novel gets perplexing at times; nevertheless, the characters and plot are well-constructed that you start becoming eager for the next page. Great book that will make you stay up till 3 am!

“Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps”

7. What if? by Randall Munroe

Genre: Science, Humour


For science nerds and non-science lovers alike, this book is an intriguing book for you to engage in your passion or just to learn about the science behind the world. Ranging from questions like ‘ From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?’ to ‘Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?’ this book has great value to it since you can learn about scientific facts, both basic and complex. It can also build your common sense about the world, too!

“But I’ve never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.”


8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


Genre: Romance, Fiction


If you think this is a cliche teenage romance novel like The Fault in the Stars, you’re wrong. Me Before You  has much more depth and meaning, at least to me, than just simple love line; it reminds us about what it means to have a voice, a choice in life. Featuring a rather ill-tempered, disabled man and a young, energetic woman, the book shows the two fall in love despite the barriers that separate them. The male protagonist’s decision at the end of the novel just plain spoke to me about how precious and beautiful the choices we make in life are, and that sometimes, you can’t make someone to become the person you want. You’ve got to read it and experience it for Moyes creates the two characters elegantly and builds up to the climax beautifully. Even the conversations between the the two will make you weep in tears.

“How could you live each day knowing that you were simply whiling away the days until your own death?”


9. Harry Potter by J.K Rowling


Genre: Fantasy


Why not throw in a childhood favorite? As you probably know or heard, the Harry Potter series is a phenomenal book for many children. Students, however, never really get the chance to re-read those books that we used to read since we are so focused on academics. However, this winter, take the opportunity to rekindle the memories of your childhood while remembering Hermione’s sassy line, “It’s LeviOsa, not LeviosA,”and the enchanting wonders of Hogwarts!

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”


10. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown


Genre: Self Help, Psychology


One of my all-time favorites, Daring Greatly discusses the importance of building shame resilience, revealing ourselves authentically, and being vulnerable. She explains how vulnerability lets us connect with one another and build compassion, whilst hiding our weakness and imperfection would make us isolated. Touching on a variety of subjects like sexism and parenting, this novel is continuing to help me grow confidence and acceptance of who I am. Strongly recommended to all students—don’t fear your imperfection, just accept who you are! Perfect book to end 2016 and kick-start to 2017!

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”

As high school students, it is no doubt difficult to fit in reading time with the large amount of assessments. Yet with the winter break approaching, you can catch up with all the reading you missed out on—and possibly even accomplish your reading goal! Regardless of which you books you read, I am sure that they will give you a new perspective wherein you can learn and empathise with.

—Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

*Banner: Crescentia Jung (’19)

The Pho-bulous Emoi Review

Indulge in some pho-nomenal Vietnamese cuisine found in the Emoi Restaurant.

In recent years, a deluge of Vietnamese restaurants have surfaced, bringing delicious Pho, a spice-filled broth served with rice noodles, to the public. For gourmands like me, I couldn’t be happier. Lemongrass and herbs, rice and noodles, all fresh and remarkably healthy – how could one resist such delicacy?

Recently, news happened to travel into my ears that a new pho restaurant opened in Garosougil, a tourist hot-spot bustling with trendsetters, fashionistas, and foodies. As food and passion go naturally hand in hand for me, I was psyched to see if the rave behind the idea extended to the food itself.

Located just around the corner of the massive School Food building was a little establishment with bright yellow-and-orange lights flashing its name: Emoi.

A little side note: the restaurant is open for 24 hours. (PC: Yoo Bin Shin)

The interior was nice and cozy, with wooden walls and interesting looking lamp lights giving off a warm glow all around the atmosphere. As expected, almost all tables were occupied, the whole place humming with the sound of servers scurrying around and the delightful chatter of people filling the air. I was lucky enough to grab a table just beside the window.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get hold of any pictures of the menu itself, but it was very simple and only consisted of six dishes: Pho Bo, Premium Pho, Bun Cha Gio Tom Nuong, Fried Rice, Nem Chua, and Stir-Fried Water Spinach. Within the Premium Pho, the dish was further divided into three different phos – Smoky-Flavored Pho, Beef Brisket Pho, and Tender Beef Brisket Pho. They all looked absolutely delicious, but due to the shortage of ingredients, I had to order the Smoky-Flavored Pho instead of the regular Pho Bo, along with Beef Brisket Pho, Bun Cha, and Fried Rice.

very traditional looking tableware giving off a nod towards Southeast Asian culture (PC: Yoo Bin Shin)

After about ten minutes, the first two dishes arrived: the Smoky-Flavored Pho and Beef Brisket Pho, Hanoi style. One interesting thing I noticed was that unlike other Vietnamese restaurants, Emoi did not provide the regular double-sauce condiments but rather, just a little side-dish of sliced cayenne peppers. Customers could separately ask for sriracha, but I decided to leave the broth as it is and taste its untouched flavor. The Smoky-Flavored Pho did live up to its name; the beef was cooked on fire, which made the broth heartier and generate a deeper, savory taste. On the other hand, Beef Brisket Pho had a clearer broth, and as I sipped it I could definitely detect more of the spicy flavor coming from the peppers that the Smoky-Flavored Pho concealed. I personally preferred the Beef Brisket Pho, which best resembled the original pho itself, although both were very pleasant.

Smoky-Flavored Pho (PC: Yoo Bin Shin)

Beef Brisket Pho (PC: Yoo Bin Shin)


Next up was the Fried Rice. The dish consisted of a lovely mix of thin jasmine rice, little spring onion chunks, sliced carrots, egg, etc, all stirred well together to create a scrumptious combination. No other words were needed – I promptly dove in and ended up finishing it in less than twenty minutes. So pho, so good.

The anticipated fried rice that made me fall in love all over again (PC: Yoo Bin Shin)

Last but not least, the pièce de résistance arrived at the table: Bun Cha. When the plate showed up, it was like peering into a gift box – lots and lots of nice things to discover. The fat wonton-style meatballs were nestled in with raw vermicelli rice noodles, tender pork belly, and fried Nem Chua rolls served alongside a handful of nose-stinging cilantro and a special type of nuoc cham sauce. The sauce had a sweet and sour taste, rather piquant, with ground garlic and carrots that could either be tipped over the whole dish or eaten separately. The beef stock itself was especially rich, had multi-layered flavors, and was overall wholesome and comforting.

a pho-togenic dish (PC: Yoo Bin Shin)

Worth the hype? Word of mouth? Intrigue? Whatever. This restaurant is perfect for a meal for two, a crowd of friends or a solo lunch with the kitchen for minimum company. As always, pho is a welcome and very affordable addition to the Garosougil dining scene. Emoi is a must-go.

– Ashley Kim (‘18)

Six Songs to Fall For This Autumn

Here’s an autumnal list of soundtracks perfect for the sweater weather season.

Autumn: more known as the season of toasty marshmallows and bonfires, digging out your mufflers from the back of the closet and indulging into the glorious, glorious carbs just waiting to make you fat. As summer dawns into fall, our tastes for music change as well — the transition is the only explanation for the groovy autumn playlists pulsating in our phones. And while the perspective of good music never changes, there are some songs that just feel more appropriate to the atmospheric vibe as we move from the sandy beaches to the maple orchards. To get you in the leaves-falling, fireworks-popping spirit, here are tracks that celebrate autumn of all its delicious glory.


  1. Green Day – “Wake Me Up When September Ends”

This band draws some delightfully bleak parallels between autumn and death in the lyrics. More focusedly, Green Day correlates the season with the death of the legendary singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s father. Therefore, fall, to him, is so unbearably disheartening that he wishes to skip it completely, and asks to literally “wake him up when September ends,” just like the desolate song title.


  1. The Weeknd – “King of the Fall”

Just how fall is it? Drinking a spiced, iced pumpkin spice latte out of a venti cup explains everything. The wistful singer associates the appearance of the season every year, yet never promises to be sober in the first place to get into the overall feel of a moody autumn day.


  1. Eva Cassidy – “Autumn Leaves”

For those days of the month when self-indulging in a lugubrious anguish seems the only option for a comfortable afternoon, Eva here is gladly willing to enrich you with a strong dose of empathetic sorrow. After all, there’s nothing like a twinge of collective blunder to begin the season, no?


  1. John Mayer – “St. Patrick’s Day”

We can listen to some good old John Mayer during any season, but this song in particular is perfect for autumn especially. He confesses with heartfelt vigor about finding his true love in this season that will help him endure the cold and lonely months of winter… or rather, using the weather as an plaintive excuse to stay with his loved one. Despite the lyrics, this is a great song that really captures the mood of the upcoming winter.


  1. Yellow Card – “October Nights”

This mellow track describes the pleasant balm of crisp fall afternoons cuddled against girlfriend, adopting a romanticized simplicity and painting a cozy picture of sweet love bloomed in the season of autumn – going on a date to a pumpkin patch says it all.


  1. Ed Sheeran – “Autumn Leaves”

Another song titled “Autumn Leaves” – and this time sung by our favorite acoustic-meets-pop singer songwriter Ed Sheeran. Typically, the best fall songs are about daydreaming, sleeping, or wandering around aimlessly. This track is no different – in the classic Ed Sheeran style, this passionate song soulfully captures the feeling of melancholic yearning of your love leaving. Very autumn-esque and moving, a melody that goes wonderfully with a steaming mocha latte and a nice knitted sweater.


Little things like a good song and good company are what sums up fall best. What’s your style of nostalgic, reminiscent autumn tracks?


– Ashley Kim (’18)

10 Must Read Novels

As hectic as our lives can be, it is essential for us to read multiple novels throughout our high school years.Whether it’s historical, fiction, psychological, our getting exposed to a wide range of literature will enhance not only our writing skills, but also knowledge. Below are ten novels—ranging from fiction to psychological, from historical to christianity—that I find engaging and thought-provoking. I hope you, along with your peers, attempt one or more of these books and truly embrace yourself into the powerful content and prose.

1.Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Genre: Non-fiction, Self-help, Business, Feminism, Leadership

10 Must Read Novels


Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is an empowering novel that has changed not only the lives of women, but also the perspective of the society. Dissecting and examining current gender inequality, anecdotes, data and research, Sandberg reveals the harsh reality that surrounds women in the workplace. She advocates that women should Lean In at work and explains how vital it is for men and women to unite in making progress to this issue. Gender inequality is critical to know in our fast-developing country; yet, so little know about it. Reading this novel will make you ponder about aspects that you have never thought of and will make you want to lean into your work and responsibilities. 

“Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.’”

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”


  1. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Genre:  Non-fiction, Self Help, Autobiography, Inspirational


10 Must Read Novels

Just as the subtitle states, this runaway bestseller novel revolves around two man and a concept: an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson. Through the perspective of the author, Tuesdays with Morrie recounts the colloquial—yet inspiring—conversations that a young man named Mitch have with a dying, old man called Morrie. The two planned to talk about how they are doing; however, it turned out to be a final class about how to live. A heartbreaking and inspiring novel that will change your life completely.

Tuesdays with Morrie has made me hungry to find a teacher like Morrie”- Anonymous Freshmen
The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” -Mitch Albom


3. Everything is Illuminated– Jonathan Foer

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary


10 Must Read Novels

Jonathan Foer’s novel is divided into three sectors and perspectives: recount of journey, history, and letter. The novel mainly focuses on the journey of Foer who travels to Ukraine with a blinded man, a lustful dog and a bad translator in quest to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazi. The other two sectors seem to be completely divergent and non-linear to the story; however, these three intertwine as the story drives through and remind us that confusion is what makes this novel so unique and powerful. Beautiful prose, jargons and sentences that will guarantee you to be illuminated—you will cry, scream and smile.

“She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.” —Jonathan Foer

  1. Letter from Birmingham by Martin Luther King Jr.

Genre: Non-fiction, Politics, History

10 Must Read Novels

Through the play of words, Martin Luther King Jr. portrays the injustice that evolves and dominates in Birmingham. The letter was, initially, to the clergyman who forced him to stop campaigning; however, instead, it is a depiction of the cruel inequality that still lingers around human and a compelling defense of nonviolence. Inspiring and powerful, Martin Luther King  Jr. guides the readers through his cogent logic, enabling you to have a firmer grasp on reality.

“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Anyone who lives inside the US can never be considered an outsider anywhere in the country”

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied”

  1. City of Thieves by David Benioff

Genre: Historical Fiction

10 Must Read Novels

Imprisoned for looting, Lev—a socially awkward, passive Jewish boy—meets an outgoing, garrulous Cossack deserter named Kolya. Rather than being executed, the two are given an alternative: to find a dozen eggs for the colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake. In the war-torn city of Leningrad where even finding a single meal is a rarity, Lev and Kolya venture on a perilous journey that will determine their fate between life and death. What makes this novel compelling is the fact that Benioff intertwines history with humanity, allowing us to know that friendship is what keeps us going. 

“ I have always believed that smile was a gift for me. Kolya had no faith in the divine or the afterlife; he didn’t think he was going to a better place, or any place at all. No angels waited to collect him. He smiled because he knew how terrified I was of dying. This is what I believe. He knew that I was terrified and he wanted to make it a little easier for me.”


  1. Elements of Style by William Strunk

Genre: Non-fiction, Language

10 Must Read Novels

A classic manual that will help amateur or professional writers to find their own style. Starting from basic grammar instructions to tips on choosing the right dictions, The Elements of Style is a short and powerful book that will guide you to writing with power and passion. 

“To achieve style, begin by affecting none”
“ When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.”

  1. The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett

          Genre: Psychology, Non-fiction, Philosophy, Sociology

10 Must Read Novels

As international students, we often see the divergent characteristics among Westerners and Easterns—not only in appearance, but also behaviours, logic and decisions. In The Geography of Thought, Richard Nisbett utilises history, statistics, diagrams and examples to convey and inform the readers about how the two are different and why. Reading this will allow readers to appreciate who they are and the reasons for this difference.

“‎The Chinese believe in constant change, but with things always moving back to some prior state. They pay attention to a wide range of events; they search for relationships between things;and they think you can’t understand the part without understanding the whole. Westerners live in a simpler, more deterministic world; they focus on salient objects or people instead of the larger picture;and they think they can control events because they know the rules that govern the behavior of objects.”

  1. Predictably Irrational– Dan Ariely

Genre: Economics, Non Fiction, Business, Psychology

10 Must Read Novels

In our lives, we always overpay, procrastinate and belittle; for so long, many have believed that we are innate in these actions and that our decisions are unpredictable. Ariely, however, reprimands this commonplace notion and entices us through statistics, economics and experiences that we are linear and predictably irrational. Once one finishes this, he or she will never think about decision making and economy the same.

“We usually think of ourselves as sitting the driver’s seat, with ultimate control over the decisions we made and the direction our life takes; but, alas, this perception has more to do with our desires-with how we want to view ourselves-than with reality”


  1. Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Genre: Nonfiction, Christianity, Spirituality, Inspirational, Autobiography/Memoir 

10 Must Read Novels

Colton Burpo, a four years old who made it  through an appendectomy surgery, tells his parents of how he went to heaven whilst he was in operation; how he met Jesus; how he discovered what happened before he was born. As absurd as this sounds, his parents constantly gets aghast and shocked at his seemingly fictional yet true recount. Heaven is for Real will alter the way you think about eternity, life and love.

“…when I was angry at God because I couldn’t go to my son, hold him, and comfort him, God’s son was holding my son in his lap.”  


10. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teentalk Getting into College  by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Amy Newmark

Genre: Self-help, non-fiction


As high school students, we are always pressured about getting into college—especially with the upperclassmen. In this novel, there are 101 first-hand stories and recounts from students all around the world who have experienced getting into college. Intertwined with multiple emotions, these stories will guide and remind you that although the application process is onerous, the experience is successful and rewarding.

“The best counsel of all comes from reading the real stories of those who have known the anxiety and uncertainty of the college application process”- Sally Rubenstone


– Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)