The Uncertainty of Flu Vaccines in Korea

There has been a rise in deaths of citizens who recently received the flu vaccine. It is unlikely that the vaccine was the cause of their death, but what is the right course of action of vaccine-providers to ease public concerns?

With each spike in Coronavirus cases, hospitals have been on the verge of overflowing, without enough equipment or rooms for their patients. Now that the Flu Season is underway, South Korean officials are concerned over whether hospitals can handle the influx of flu patients on top of COVID-19 patients. In order to prevent an overload of patients in hospitals, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has started a free flu vaccine program for which 19 million people are eligible (BBC News). However, concerns have been growing over the safety of these vaccines as several deaths possibly linked to vaccination were recorded. As of Friday, October 23rd, at least 48 South Korean citizens have died after receiving a flu vaccine (KBS World Radio). The highest recorded number of deaths that occurred after flu vaccination was six deaths in 2005. However, the number of people being vaccinated in 2020 is much higher, which could be the reason for the sudden spike in deaths (The Korea Times). In addition to the deaths, according to Jung Eun-kyeong, the KDCA Chief, there have been 353 cases of abnormal reactions linked to vaccinations this year. 

Although most of the deaths that occurred were among elderly citizens aged 70 or older, a few of which having underlying health conditions, a 17 year old boy died two days after receiving a flu shot. His vaccine was one of around 5 million doses that had been accidentally exposed to room-temperature. This batch of vaccines was re-collected and tested for quality control, however, the testers found no irregularities or toxic substances in the vaccines. The death of such a young person sparked fears amongst parents who were planning on getting their children vaccination as well. Lim Yi-young, the mother of a four year old son, stated that she was “too frightened to get him the vaccine” after hearing of the recent deaths (The Korea Times).

The KDCA has decided to continue with the vaccination program, assuring the public that there is no definite correlation between the casualties and the flu vaccinations. KDCA officials say that it would be difficult to suspend the program at such a critical time, emphasizing the number of deaths caused by the flu itself each year. However, the KDCA also states that the vaccination will be suspended immediately if any issues are found with the vaccines. On the other hand, the Korean Medical Association (KMA) has a contrasting stance, stating that the government should put the program on hold until the cause of the deaths have been confirmed. According to KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong, confirming the cause of death by conducting autopsies on the bodies would take around two weeks to complete. KMA President, Choi Dae-zip, states that the government should pause the program in order to identify the “cause of the recent deaths and ease the people’s concerns” (The Korea Times). 

Although the beginning of the flu season is a crucial time and the influx of patients could overwhelm hospitals across South Korea, reassuring the public and ensuring public safety is also extremely important. As Jeong Eun-kyeong stated, completing the autopsies and tests would take around two weeks to complete. Following the advice of the KMA, the KDCA should take the time to re-collect the released vaccines and conduct one more quality-control test on all of the vaccines as well as confirm the causes of the deaths. This will ease public panic, allowing more parents and families to feel comfortable getting vaccinated and ultimately having a positive impact on flu cases if completed in a timely manner. 

– Michelle Lee ‘22

Featured Image: Sam Moqadam/Unsplash

How Korean Slang Words Discourage Individuality and Voice

Do some words we use every day somehow contribute to a harmful culture, without anyone knowing or intending it? Follow writer Hope Yoon as she discusses Korean culture and language.

The English-only policy at KIS does little more than to make students quiet down a little when they pass a teacher in the hallway. Understandable, given how deeply rooted most students are in their native culture. You can take a child to the States for a few years, take away the school uniform, and take away the Korean curriculum, but ultimately, you can’t take the Korean away from the kid. So for the majority of the school, the dictionary of Korean slang terms is a necessity for surviving the trials of social life. It seems pretty harmless, even when used as lighthearted insults— after all, if it gets the whole class to laugh, how bad could it be?

But there is a pattern here. While Korean culture has both its charms and chains, the teen lingo in particular seems to enforce only the harmful byproducts of a society based on Confucianism. The prime example is “나대다”, which loosely means “to act up”. But there is a specific nuance here not captured by the English translation— one of putting people down if they speak out or express themselves in a way separate from the masses. A student who asks four questions in a row in class, simply to satisfy their curiosity. A student who cheers unusually vigorously at a pep rally. A student with flashy clothing. All could be put down in a single strike with the label “나댄다”.

A slightly more crass and somewhat outdated synonym is “깝치다”, which is, incidentally, often used to criticize an underclassman who opposes an upperclassman in any way. Yes, even Korea’s age-old emphasis on seniority status bleeds its way into slang usage.

One insult hugely popularized in the last couple years is “관종”, or attention-seeker. This word teaches teenagers that it is not okay to garner too much attention; that one should strive to be soft-spoken, to blend into the crowd without disturbing the established fluidity of conformity. Not only do people call each other a “관종” for going against the status quo, this also makes people doubt themselves. One often observes a fellow student wondering if they should say something in the group chat or post something on social media for fear of coming across as a so-called attention seeker. This subconsciously oppresses willingness to be different, or to be true to one’s identity and expression. And besides, why should people take this as a criticism anyway? Don’t we all seek some form of attention from other people? Isn’t that just human nature?

The list goes on and on. Someone who goes out of their way to help another, even when genuinely acting out of altruism, could be criticized for their “오지랖”. Someone who takes a subject seriously during conversation, or poses a heavy question could be called a “진지충”, which is a term for someone who is “too serious”. A literal translation is “serious bug”. Consider an example— if you hear a passively sexist remark and decide to address it seriously by pointing out the offensiveness of that comment, you are suddenly reduced to an “insect”.

Everything boils down to an all-encompassing term. “눈치”, or the ability to tactfully pick up others’ unspoken opinions and feelings. We are supposed to always be hyper-alert of what other people think of how we act and what we say. We are supposed to be careful. Of course, we need some 눈치 in the sense that we need to be sensitive of how others feel, and it is practical to be able to tactfully steer a conversation. But sometimes, our culture places too large an emphasis on being someone that has 눈치— but how will we live our lives the way we want to live it if we are forever thinking about how other people live theirs?

Slang words may seem harmless. After all, they are only names to label existing patterns of behavior. But names are never just names— words carry a world of magic, dirt, and history, accumulated from every situation that word has been used in. Language is a shifting, palpable manifestation of culture. Once you create a name for something, that concept becomes a real and concrete presence in that society. And a powerful, catchy name combined with a harmful connotation is a dangerous concoction. It then permeates throughout society to silently shift people’s viewpoints. I am not arguing this is a uniquely Korean thing— consider the term “pussy”, which at once promotes hyper-masculinity and misogyny. The existence of that word wrongfully connects femininity to cowardice and shame, and this exercises an influence on society, no doubt.

Language is a powerful tool, and perhaps we should take more care in choosing when and how we use it. Once in a while, I believe we should feel free to throw away our 눈치. To be unafraid of being someone that acts out, someone that gets attention, someone that knows how to be serious, or just plain different.

다르다고 손가락질받지 않는 사회가 되었으면 하는 바램입니다.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (‘19)

Special thanks to the members of Project Echo, whose discussion largely inspired this article.

Hockey and Reunification

Anything that looks good on paper has unforeseen drawbacks.

On January 20, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed the South and North Korean governments’ decision to have a joint women’s ice hockey team for the upcoming event. The decision was made to promote peace and unity on the Korean peninsula, which has experienced precarious situations regarding North Korean missile tests.

During the Olympic games, the joint team will include 23 South Korean players and 12 North Korean players. This is an exceptional moment in history; it is the first time that the two Koreas have joined hands in the Olympics. However, voices of concern are raised that the South Korean government should address in order to have a successful event in February.

The Atlantic reported that South-Korean president Moon Jae-In supports the joint ice hockey team. He said, “Fielding a joint team, more so than North Korea’s participation alone, would be a much better starting point for the improvement of North and South Korean relations,” thereby suggesting that the joint team will help to resolve the current diplomatic tensions between South and North Korea.

Moreover, according to The Korea Times, the president said, “It may require bigger efforts to create teamwork with the North Koreans. However, it will be a historic moment if the two Koreas put up a good fight as one team. I’m sure this will impress not only Koreans but also the whole world.” In other words, the decision to form a joint team will be a symbolic gesture that will promote world peace by fostering camaraderie and cooperation among the two Koreas.

Nevertheless, is it fair for the government to sacrifice individuals for its own purpose? Some people are expressing dismay regarding the fairness of the decision. The Korea Times reported that Coach Sarah Murray of the South Korean female ice hockey team commented, “It’s hard because the players have earned their spots and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics, then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players.” Also, Channel A broadcasted an interview with the South Korean players who expressed frustration and dismay that their efforts may go to waste.

Indeed, the players on the team have worked hard to earn their spot for the past years. Joongang Ilbo, one of the major South Korean newspapers, reported that there is only one female ice hockey team in Korea, so athletes have to practice hard under dire conditions. According to Joongang Ilbo, the Olympic athletes get paid only 1.2 million won (equivalent to 1,130 dollars) for practicing 20 days a month. An anonymous athlete had to work a part-time job at a restaurant in order to make a living. Considering their efforts and harsh conditions under which they practice, they should be compensated with an opportunity to play during the big event; however, it seems that not everybody will be lucky enough this time.

Many people, especially those of the younger generation, sympathize with the players’ situation. As many young Koreans try hard but fail to secure a job, they comprehend the plight of the players who practice hard but yet get eliminated from the roster. A sports commentator said, “I really feel for the female ice hockey players who had to form the joint team.” It seems like many young people respect fair competition, even more so than reunification.

Also, some people are skeptical that the decision will result in the “best case scenario.” Clearly, the Korean government hopes that this decision will encourage North Korea to have high-level summit talks or multilateral dialogue. However, during an interview with The Atlantic, the former senior South Korean diplomat Kim Sung Han said that North Korea may try to pressure South Korea to cancel the joint military exercise with the United States in exchange for a peaceful Olympic season.

As much as every Korean wishes to have a successful Olympic game in Pyeongchang, people also want to see fairness and thoughtful decision. It is absolutely needed that the Korean government addresses the issues that have been raised and respect the athletes as well as the criticism from the public.

– Willliam Cho (’21)

Featured Image: The Hangyoreh

Park’s Impeachment & Her Legacy

Learn more about Park’s impeachment and its impacts on South Korea’s future.

Former President Park Geun-hye was a lot of firsts; she was the first female president in South Korea, the first female president popularly elected as head of state in East Asia, and the first democratically elected president to be removed from office in Korea. On March 10, 2017, the Korean constitutional court upheld the impeachment that had been approved by the Korean parliament in a unanimous 8–0 decision, terminating Park’s presidency 11 months early.

During her 2012 presidential campaign, she had an approval rating of 45.5% when competing against all potential candidates because she inherited many supporters from her father, Park Chung-hee. He was a Korean military dictator during the Cold War, and he was the icon of the conservative establishment that collaborated with Washington in pressing a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations. Many elderly citizens talked nostalgically of the past when Park Chung-hee had led Korea through rapid economic development (often called the Miracle on the Han River). They felt they have been left out in today’s prosperous South Korea where Confucian family values have largely vanished and the rate of old-age poverty is the highest among OECD countries. Park Geun-hye’s conservative stance on all issues had reminded them of Park Chung-hee, and so she was sworn in in 2013 with high approval ratings.

However, support for Park Geun-hye followed a downward trend throughout her presidential term. It hit a low in April 2014 after the sinking of the Sewol ferry when the Park administration’s failure to act quickly resulted in systemic lapses was blamed for the Sewol ferry tragedy. Even so, Park’s true fall from grace began on October 24, 2016, when JTBC, a Korean broadcasting company, uncovered a tablet computer belonging to Choi Soon-sil. Choi was a friend of Park who held no official position in the government, yet the documents found on the computer suggested that Choi had received confidential presidential documents and edited key speeches that she was not authorized to handle.

PC: Global Research

Choi Soon-sil is the daughter of Choi Tae-min, a cult leader that became a mentor to Park after her mother (then the First Lady) was assassinated. Since then, Choi Soon-sil was Park’s confidante, but after Park became president, Choi became one of the most powerful people in Korea; she secretly wielded almost unchecked influence, exerting control over Park’s policy direction, the hiring of government officials, Park’s speeches, and even what she wore.

After Park publicly apologized about the scandal, prosecutors began to question Choi and Lee Jae-yong, the vice chairman of Samsung. Although Park had promised to cut the government’s close ties to Korean conglomerates, or chaebols, it had been evident for a while now that she not only failed in this regard, but actually reinforced the corrupt system. Samsung, among other conglomerates, was thought to have been pressured by Choi to transfer millions of dollars to “nonprofit” foundations (Mir Foundation & K-Sports Foundation) controlled by none other than Choi Soon-sil.  

After a series of mass rallies calling for Park’s impeachment and interrogations of the heads of conglomerates, lawmakers voted to impeach Park among charges of corruption on December 9. Power was immediately transferred to Hwang Kyo-ahn, the prime minister. A pro-Park group, Park Sa Mo (which literally means “the people who love Park Geun-hye) that mostly consists of elderly people held counter-rallies, expressing their disapproval of the motion to impeach their beloved president. Meanwhile, Park blocked investigators from entering the Blue House where she had holed up after the National Assembly motion to impeach her. She refused to be questioned and attended none of the 20 hearings at which the court heard evidence against her, but in the end, the constitutional court voted to uphold the impeachment motion. A snap presidential election is to be held within 60 days, and opposition parties have been rallying support for their candidates.

Park’s downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics from the conservative Saenuri party (which is now called the Liberty Korea Party) to the liberal opposition whose leaders want more diplomatic engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major military confrontation against North Korea and China. Of all the candidates running for the position, Moon Jae-in, a liberal Korean politician, is expected by many to be the front-runner.

Democratic United Party Leader Moon Jae In At Party Headquarters
PC: Fortune

However, many consider the impeachment of park to be a victory of Korean democracy because it was change brought about by a politicized youth. This controversy fostered political awareness in generation that had been showing downward trends in voter turnout all around the world. Although millennials are better educated than past generations, more likely to go on a protest or to become vegetarian, and less keen on drugs and alcohol, they lost many of the habits that inclined their parents to vote; they are less likely to watch news on television, read the newspaper or listen to news on radio.

The increasing disparity between the rich and the poor in Korea especially after 1997 Asian currency crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis have led to many young people struggling with precarious working conditions and job insecurity. The mass public demonstrations that ultimately led to Park’s ousting was led by the nation’s youth who have grown increasingly vexed at the corrupt elites who seemed to be above the law. The nation’s youth who were at the forefront of the peaceful protests learned that their actions ultimately could bring about change and even hold to account the most powerful people in the country: Lee Jae-yong and Park Geun-hye.

– Kristin Kim (’20)

Featured Image: CNN

Choi Da-bin: Korea’s Rising Female Sports Star

Read on to see which rising Korean female athletes are most likely to become the next Kim Yuna or Son Yeon-jae.

South Korea has had many male sports celebrities since it started to compete actively in international sporting events; Son Heung Min, Park Ji-sung, Ki Sung-yeong, Park Tae-hwan, and Ahn Jung-Hwan were among the most famous of them all. However, most female athletes were not successful in garnering the public’s attention; that is, until Kim Yuna came along.

No female athlete in the history of Korea has been as idolized as much as the first and only figure skater to have never finished off the podium in her entire career under the current ISU (International Skating Union) judging system. The Korean media had been covering Kim Yuna since she was a junior, but she really started to become popular in 2009, when she broke three world records in the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and World Championships. When she claimed gold in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, she became a household favorite all around the country and received international recognition; even Hillary Clinton praised her record-breaking performance. By the time she retired after the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, she had won too many titles to count and was nicknamed “Queen Yuna” or “Queen of the Rink.”

PC: Today

After Kim Yuna retired three years ago, competition for the top position in the figure skating world has been tough, especially in Korea. However, a couple of young ladies have been rising in prominence: Choi Da-bin, You Young, and Kim Na-Hyun. In the South Korean 2017 Figure Skating Championship, Choi Da-bin placed fourth, You Young placed fifth, and Kim Na-Hyun placed third in the senior division. Although they had been well-known to avid figure skating fans in Korea, they have only started to receive major spotlight quite recently.

Choi Da-bin did have a rough start this season during the national championship, but she surprised many by claiming the gold medal for women’s singles at the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Obihiro, Japan. She exceeded the public’s expectations of a skater who had been an emergency replacement for Park So-youn, who suffered an injury and could not compete at this year’s Asian Winter Games. This is the first time a Korean figure skater has won gold at the Asian Winter Games, for Kim Yuna had never competed at the events. Kim Na-hyun did compete at this year’s Asian Winter Games as well, but she was not very successful, ranking only 13th out of 24 athletes due to an ankle and hamstring injury. Choi has been named one of Korea’s rising figure skaters, and some point out her similarity to Kim Yuna; the two skaters both call their strongest jump combination the triple Lutz/triple toe loop combination.

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PC: The Korea Herald

Choi is at the beginning of the prime of her career; she is of the ripe age of 17, and experts predict that she will be representing Korea at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.  By claiming third place, Kim Na-Hyun, Choi’s major rival, had received a ticket to the World Figure Championships, but due to her injury, she decided to hand her ticket over to Choi, who had placed right below her. Kim also had to withdraw from the Four Continents. How Choi performs at the 2017 World Figure Championships will be crucial for Korea’s representation in figure skating at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. If she places in the top ten, South Korea’s figure skaters will receive two tickets to next year’s Olympics. This was precisely the reason Kim Yuna, who had planned to retire early, decided to compete again at the 2013 World Figure Championships; she wanted to give an opportunity for some of her country’s rising skaters to compete at the Sochi Olympics.

You Young, on the other hand, is too young to worry about world championships or the Olympics. She became the youngest national champion of Korea at age 11 last year, breaking a record set by Kim Yuna when she won at age 12 in 2003. She is currently 12 years old, and the first Olympics she will be eligible to compete in will be the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

PC: The Straits Times

However, she is not one to ignore; she raises one or both arms overhead almost every time she executes a jump, which rewards her with higher GOE (Grade of Execution) due to its technical difficulty. She became the first Korean figure skater to attempt quadruple (four spins) jumps beyond a triple axel jump in an official figure skating championship. Quadruple jumps require immense speed and power and are therefore rarely seen in female figure skating competitions. It is, however, a necessary skill for males wishing to be competitive in international competitions. There is only one male Korean figure skater, Cha Joo-hwan (15), who successfully executed a quadruple jump in an international competition. You’s coach says that the young girl had performed quadruple jumps nicely during practices, and that she had fumbled during the competition only because she had been nervous. Many consider this girl to be the successor to Kim Yuna (check out this video made by the Olympic Channel on her), but they say that we must wait until she hits puberty to see how she matures as a skater.

With the recent retirement of Son Yeon-jae, there remains no decisive female sports star in Korea. Who will be the next female athlete to be placed on a pedestal? It is unclear who the next Kim Yuna will be yet, but it’s a safe bet to say that she might be one of these rising starlets.

– Kristin Kim (’20)

Featured Image:



Arrest Warrant Served for Samsung Heir: Rejected in Court

Choi-gate prosecutors file charges against the de facto chief of Samsung for potential bribery and perjury.

SEOUL – On January 16th 2017, it was revealed by the Choi Soon-sil Gate prosecutors that they filed charges against Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong for bribing President Park Geun-hye. The South Korean multinational company, of course, did insist on Samsung’s de facto heir Lee’s innocence, as he himself spoke of having been coerced by President Park into contributing funds in cooperation with Choi Soon-sil. However, Lee still ended up being questioned by prosecutors for 22 hours. Moreover, prosecutors seeked to have Lee detained for potential perjury and bribery.

Bluprint S1 1 .png
Illustration by Hannah Kim (’19)

According to the Choi-gate prosecutors, Lee paid 36 million US dollars (43,000 billion Korean won) to entities owned by Choi-Soon sil, including Mir foundation and K Sports foundation, through government affairs in exchange for full support of inter-subsidiary mergers within his multinational company. However, despite the issuance of this arrest warrant, the district court was not in favor of the prosecutors. The court rejected the warrant, claiming that there was insufficient evidence for charging Lee with bribery.

As for what the public has to say about this incident, many were seen to be appalled by this warrant rejection. Numerous Korean internet users disagreed with the court’s decision, saying that whether Samsung perishes or not, it is necessary to punish those who have committed illegal action (in reference to Lee). Many displayed discouragement. They spoke of the nation no longer being able to trust the South Korean judiciary system as well as Samsung. A few mentioned this was South Korea’s last chance to expose chaebols, or large, family-run conglomerates, as Lee’s arrest could prove fatal for Samsung, but overlooking possible corruption could prove fatal for the country.

Although chief Lee Jae-Yong managed to get away without being arrested, it is estimated that this scandal will negatively affect South Korea’s economy as a whole, reemphasizing the heavy influence this single ‘chaebol’ has on an entire country. Prosecutors have claimed this result to be “very regrettable,” but also that they will continue working towards reissuing a warrant, according to spokesman Lee Kyu-chul.

– Leona Maruyama (‘17)



Light ’em Up

What really happened at Gwang Hwa Moon Square last week? Hear from the field reporter who was actually there.

On the 5th of November, the day of revolution in the movie V for Vendetta, the citizens of Seoul lit up the city with candles as a non-violent protest against President’ Park Geun Hye’s continuation of presidency. As the scandal regarding Park’s intimate affiliation with Choi Sunsil emerged on the surface through investigative journalism, the public’s disapproval of her qualification as a president reached its peak. According to a poll from November 4th, right after Park’s second official response to the allegation on the day before, only 5% (Hangeorae News) responded that she should remain in the office. Among the surveyed subjects, the approval rating amongst the age group 20s and 30s converged nearly to zero. As the voice of the public demanded her resignation conflicted with Park’s decision to stay, mass rallies were held by political activist groups, the most notable one on 5th with two hundred thousand people. This is a first-person account of the scene of the protest.

I got to the square at 4 p.m. Countless people had already filled the arena. Everyone had one goal and one goal only: to get Lady Park to step down from the Blue House (Korea’s presidential office). The rally had already started out at 2 p.m. with the funeral of Baek Nam Gi, a farmer who died due to a severe head injury he got during the violent police suppression of another non-violent protest. Leaving the protesters’ demands for labor law reform unsolved, the government showed meagre sign of taking responsibility.

Never have I ever seen such a massive crowd, probably numbering up to one hundred thousand before the sun came down. The stone ground was cold, but the spirit of the people kept the venue warm. The leaders of various groups spoke shouting out chants with the crowd, speaking up for their reasons to fight with us. To be honest, they seemed more or less intimidated by the number of people gathered, which far exceeded the ideal prediction of fifty thousand.

College students led the rally, each university representative proclaiming its ‘manifestos of current affairs’ (or 시국선언). Personally, the president of Seoul National University’s student body Bomi Kim’s speech was memorable. Her charismatic tone and well-organised thought regarding the issue made the crowd ignite once more, even with the incident they are well-informed about. Her ability to grasp the audience made her presence more distinct amongst many other brilliant student leaders. She had already made her name through the social network media by being elected as the first homosexual female student body president in a Korean university.

Perhaps because most young Koreans have not yet participated in protests of = similar scale before, the crowd was not used to the ambience of the protest initially. However, they unleashed the outburst from years of deception and unfairness, in the most citizenly manner imaginable. We all marched down to Jongro, against the unconstitutional restriction by the police. The local station, however,  ended up securing the streets and emptied the traffic for safe progression of the march. Snowballing even more people, we came back by 7:30 p.m. with almost two hundred thousand people lighting the candles in Gwang Hwa Moon Square.

At the second assembly, notable political figures stopped by the stage. There was a speaker from Korea’s Secondary School Activist Group, independently gathering a fairly impressive number of younger participants. When one of the organizers emphasized our presence at the scene and the crowd cheered for us, I imagined, it might have been the first time our generation marked the footstep in the history of Korea.

Under the statue of General Lee, we were an army with spears of candles, igniting our yearn for democracy. Although our struggle is only at its initial phase, the November 5th rally was a leap to take us forward.

#하야해 #hayahae

– Paul Jeon (‘17)

Sources  – Hangyeorae News

(Featured Image from myself)

Lounge with Leona: Hagwons

Sit down, take a chill pill, and relax for this week’s edition of Lounge with Leona; Hagwons.

Waiting for the elevator. The door opens, and teenagers rush out of the no longer sealed box, frantically running towards the nearest convenience store to buy snacks and drinks within the five minute break time. Upon arrival, a sweet looking young woman welcomes everybody, and perhaps offers them tea or coffee. In one classroom, students all face down only to stare at thick packets of endless questions, desperately flipping through the pages to finish before the timer rings.

“Remember, you don’t have to say anything when the same questions you solve today comes out on the test tomorrow.”

In another, a teacher stands in front of the whiteboard, speeding through a semester worth of course material within a mere hour.

“If you don’t feel like you understand the entire concept, just memorize this, this, and this. They always come out on the AP test, so you have to know them.”

In another, a single student with their parents meet with the director, discussing about which colleges they should apply to. The director flips through their calendar, telling the student to take which standardized test and which AP course at exactly what point in their high school career.

“The average accepted SAT score for [insert IVY league school here] is [insert any number between 2200 and 2400]. We recommend you enroll into this SAT program at our hagwon to ensure you finish it in one try. You will come in every day during summer break for 8 hour classes. 6 hours of lectures and 2 hours of solving questions.”

It’s unnerving. It’s frightening to think that this has become our norm; students worshiping hagwons, or cram schools, and feeling as though it’s only right for them to attend one (or more). I guess it’s not that surprising. It has become a norm, after all. Millennials are so obsessed with getting perfect scores, even if that means they have to pay millions of dollars to hagwons for some “extra help”.

According to Yonhap News, a 5 week SAT program (5 days per week from 8:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.) offered in a hagwon in Gangnam costed around 2680 dollars (around 2400 dollars for lectures and 280 dollars for materials).  Another hagwon offered a SAT program starting 8:30 A.M. and ending 11:30 P.M. (that’s 13 hours stuck in hagwon, even with lunch and dinner hours subtracted ). This program was offered for 7 weeks, and costed over 5000 dollars [1]. If a student can’t finish the test because of an unsatisfactory test, that’s doubling costs so that they can repeat the whole process of going to hagwon all over again. This is the problem with private education today. 

Clearly, the current education system is not efficient by any means. Nobody wins in the scenarios. Students who come from households wealthy enough to be able to spend thousands of dollars in order to prepare for standardized tests (or anything else, for that matter) end up receiving scores they don’t deserve, perhaps get accepted into schools too high-level for them, where they may fall behind. Parents will be wasting a fortune on their children’s “education”. It could perhaps be said that hagwon teachers “win” if the concept of winning is measured through a materialistic scope, but at what cost? They’re emphasizing the fact that to memorize is to learn, which is obviously false. Moreover, certain teachers who don’t know where to stop even commit crimes by providing students with leaked tests, encouraging them to cheat.

Sure, whether or not a student wants to go to hagwon should only concern what they think as well as their parents. Sure, parents are willing to pay – ultimately speaking, it’s their money anyway. Personally, I think these parents can be broadly categorized into two groups. Those who support and encourage the idea of their children cheating, and those who are terrified into buying part of the entire process. It’s a no-brainer why the former group of parents only worsen the status quo. The situation with the latter group, however, is a bit more different. They are those who are manipulated into fearing their children may not get accepted into college (and by college, I mean either Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or any other ivy league school). Behind them are hagwons that prey on ignorant parents who don’t speak English, for example. Though extremely unethical, parents who are oblivious to the entire process of applying to colleges can’t help but fear. And those parents are exactly the type of people hagwons target for money.

The education “system” is no longer simply a system. It’s an industry. Hagwons are essentially machines that are destroying education, and the parents are byproducts of those machines. This industry is where money gets people into places. In such capitalistic society, money comes from money. Children born into families who are financially stable enough to pour millions into their private education are those who typically get accepted into private universities and find a stable top paying job, only to recreate the entire process again with their children. Name any billionaire you can think of. Elon Musk? Stanford. Mark Zuckerberg? Harvard. Also, throw in the fact that he went to Phillips Exeter Academy. Warren Buffett? Columbia. In our world, especially in an education-centered country like South Korea, high education is pivotal for a successful career and life. And to receive high education, money is a necessity. In essence, this mechanism is only an unfair and vicious cycle controlled by the movement of money.

Of course, in an ideal world, there would be no private education. Rather, there would be no need for private education, unless it’s for special interests purposes. For example, if a student wants to learn public speaking skills or how to play the ukulele, by all means, they should find professionals to teach them; most likely at a hagwon specialized for the purpose. However, this is different when it comes to academia. Schools are supposed to be a place in which students, as long as they pay attention in class and do the assigned work, receive high grades. Such proper practices of studying should guarantee high grades for students, which they so desperately yearn for. However, because the idea of “no hagwon means failure” is deeply rooted within not only the minds of students but also parents, they assume it’s natural for students to attend hagwon for hours on top of regular school.

You don’t need hagwons for success in your academic career. You absolutely don’t need hagwons to replace schools with. If students feel as though they’re falling behind, extra studying may perhaps be encouraged. Moreover, things that aren’t taught in school such as measures on tackling the SATs or SAT IIs can also be a reason behind attending hagwons. However, the moment a student begins to rely solely on hagwons is when problems arise. This rewards people who prioritize profit more than actual education. There are countless accounts of students who fall asleep in class or simply not pay attention to the lectures because they know they have a backup plan; catching up at hagwon. And most of the time, those hagwons only push the idea of memorization (if you’re willing to argue, tell me you haven’t seen all the kids forcing SAT vocab definitions into their brains without even knowing how to use them in sentences, or worse, pronounce them). This lack of pressure at school only allows them to slack off even more, hence the higher demand for hagwons. Like I said before, it’s an endless cycle. The answer to “I’m failing this class” should not be “Mom, can you get me a tutor.” It should be, “I should clarify confusing parts with my teachers.” Teachers are here to answer the students’ questions. It’s their job.

Now if the hagwons are for cheating purposes, it’s a completely different story. Cheating will get you nowhere. It’s true that certain questions from the SATs and SAT IIs are recycled. Certain AP class teachers at school may reuse old AP questions for their test questions. For both cases, certain hagwons have the capability to provide students with those questions. And both of those cases are illegal. Sure, it may be the easy way out. It’s indeed pressuring to not cheat on those pesky tests when virtually everybody around you receive those packets. And what if you don’t get the scores you truly deserve (in terms of your intelligence) because you’re not a good test-taker? Whether standardized tests truly measure one’s capabilities can be written about in an entirely different article. My point is, if it’s just to get into a brand name school, don’t. It’s not worth it. The education system is corrupt, and Collegeboard should be well aware of that. But hagwons that take advantage of this fact, as well as of students who fear of getting accepted into decent colleges, perhaps is the mastermind behind the entirety of this hypocrisy.

– Leona Maruyama (‘17)

Featured Image: Hannah Kim (’19)


The Rise of Twisted Misogyny

Recent news regarding a young woman’s death has especially caught people’s eyes, for its relation to gender-related issues.

On the night of May 17th, a woman in her 20s lost her life to man, in a noraebang located in SeoCho-dong, Seoul. The reason why this tragic incident raised a lot of media attention is that Kim, the perpetrator, claimed he intended to kill a random woman because ‘women ignored him’. The night after the murder, many people showed up at Gangnam station and commemorated the victim. The media then began to report on misogynistic implication behind this incident, as viewed by the numerous attendees of the ceremony. This surely led to a heated discussion. In response to their claims, some people advocated that it is unfair to generalize males and aggressively highlight gender issues.

(Chosun News)

As the self-proclaimed feminist groups like Megalia and Women’s Generation were involved in the event, the commemoration of the tragic victim tarnished into a big mess through a series of violence and controversies. In fact, the event itself is questionable of its intention because it was held by these very groups. For example, the ‘commemoration’ event entailed writing notes on post-its for the victim. Many of the notes had genuine messages from people. Some, however, incorporated the ideas raised by the aggressive feminist groups and fixed men on the safe and powerful side and women on the vulnerable and weak side. To those who posted contents involving a rather neutral perspective (i.e: promoting gender equality, hoping this does not cause division between men and women) were explicitly targeted for insults and humiliation.

(Chosun News)

According to the police reports and responses from various criminal experts in universities, the murderer was clinically ill and had been suffering from schizophrenia and paranoia derived from his personal trauma involving women. Therefore, the incident itself is rather distant from misogyny. The general public is currently following this notion and condemns the aggressive feminist groups who are encouraging divisive atmosphere, deteriorating the victim’s unfortunate death.

Of course, sexism is a prevailing problem in Korea, more serious than that of other developed countries (including categories outside crime). In fact, some statistics show that 52% of crimes committed targeted women, while 48% targeted men (Korean media recently reported on 90% of crimes targeting women but this is without any basis). Moreover, almost every sex-related crime is committed against females, and their genetic characteristics make them physically weaker beings. Unlike men, women actually feel fear when noticing an unknown presence while walking down a dark alley alone.

Perhaps, the lesson we can learn from this incident is that we should rethink about women’s position in our society, whether or not we developed certain prejudice that makes women susceptible to any type of discrimination and violence. Nonetheless, it is important we do not resort to extremist viewpoints, as displayed by some of the protestors at the commemoration event.

– Paul Jeon (’17)