Letter from Korea, April 2014


Suwon, South Korea
28/4/2014

Dear Ireland

I haven’t written in several months, I know. Perhaps Thailand got in the way of my regular correspondence, although there was little to stop me from writing a Letter from Thailand, other than the sunshine and other things I was writing. So here is my first letter of 2014, and it is of a sombre note.

Today’s letter takes an obvious theme, and one which is flooding both the Korean television and media outlets, as well as many of the English blogs, websites, and twitter and facebook posts and profiles. It is the sinking of the Sewol ferry off the south-west coast last week.

I’m still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy. I still struggle to read anything beyond the headline of an article, let alone watch longer than a few moments of the news. There is no hope of any good news any longer, I can only report, with every story coming out with more talk of bodies found, often clutching together in a final communion of hope for survival together.

What gets to me every time is the victims. Like everywhere, but I think in Korea the bond is reinforced and probably well documented, when we go through a tough time together we become closer to those who share the experience with us. High school students in Korea of course suffer through the insane hours of study before the 수능, an experience which leaves so many shocked and both over and underwhelmed. But when we grow, and feel ourselves changing and growing, we know how important is to us in later life, and we recollect fondly on these times regardless of how frustrating or challenging or hated they were, at least to a certain point. It is this loss here, that so many will never be able to recollect, and those who are lucky enough to be able to will struggle to emerge from this nightmare, this is where our hearts are bleeding for most.

I wrote a poem about this sinking. It took a mere twenty minutes, and even though it was an accidental poem it was the right way to write about the tragedy because any other way would have resulted in a rant, and right now what we don’t need is more rants. We need to sit and we need to wait and let the people bring about the nearest thing to the end of the misery the families and friends of the deceased are suffering.

A lot of writing that is coming out on the internet seems intent to point the finger and blame, be it Korean culture, Confucianism, laziness, the weather, the laissez faire attitude to safety, the captain. I can’t do this. Not because I don’t want to, because I’m so pent up with frustration now it seems like the only thing to do, but because it’s not place to do so. I wish I knew if there was a place to do this, and I wish I knew that there was someone who would listen to me.

This is not something that my pontificating will fix. I might explain something or offer some insight which will allow for someone’s clearer perspective, but it would be an absolute lie because I have rarely seen less clearly on any aspect of Korea before.

There is hope in me that this tragedy will force us all, both foreigners in Korea and Koreans themselves, to learn and not repeat the mistakes that have been made. These mistakes lie in our assertions, our actions, and our words directed in hatred or in casual passing.

Never have I witnessed Korea so tied together in its famed brotherhood before, despite reading of it, I imagined it, but now I am witnessing it, and I hope that I am a part of it. There is a call to pray for South Korea on the internet, and I hope that these prayers are for not only the recovery but also the rectification of all that was done wrong, so that something like this never happens again. We pray, even those of us who are of no religion. Amen.

Image courtesy of wsj.com

The Lockup – Continued


*You can read about what encouraged me to write this particular post here*

 

A test is an objective means of analysing who is the best at something in particular. A test is a way to see who is best suited for a particular job, course, or future, so it is the best way to choose applicants, or at least make the decision a lot better, right? Well, no it isn’t. Tests have as many disadvantages as they do advantages for both those giving the test and those taking the test, which I’m sure most of you are aware of.

I couldn’t feasibly or reasonably accuse every test in the world of falling into this category, and I am not going to point the finger at anyone who does or gives tests regularly. What I want to do here is to use Korea as an example of how testing effects not only the people taking the test, but also the rest of the country.

*

 

Korea is a country that, one could say, loves a good test. Tests are used to decide practically everything in terms of a person’s career. There is a phenomenon here that exemplifies this; the country starts work an hour later on the day the national exam for entry into university, called 수능 (Korean SAT), takes place. This so that the students taking the exam won’t get stuck in traffic and be late for the rest of their lives – of course it can always be done next year but when you are under so much pressure to perform and then you have to delay it another year, why would you want to?

It’s a massive national effort to make sure every eighteen year-old has as much a chance as everyone else to do the test. So much rests on this test that people all over the country get behind the students in a peculiar.

The test puts so much pressure on students that many lose all impetus to study hard when they get into an actual university. In fact the competitive and progressive learning atmosphere that you would usually attach to university is removed. This is because once they are in the university they essentially are prepped for their next examination, which is usually for a professional qualification. Students are frequently given high grades because it is recognised that employers look at grades before ability. Students don’t really learn, they just get the qualification without actually being qualified.

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