Friday, May 7, 2010

Teacher, my life is so difficult!

Korea is home to the unhappiest kids in the OECD, according to this article.  It's no wonder why kids in Korea super stressed out and unhappy—more so than their counterparts in the U.S. or Europe. From the time they reach preschool/kindergarten age, they are sent to private academy after private academy to study music, English, Chinese, Japanese, taekwondo, science, math, and countless other subjects. This, when coupled with public school, means that these children are in school from the early morning until late at night. They even go on a few Saturdays out of the month!

Children are groomed from an early age to be as successful as possible, as easy as possible, so they will be able to take care of their parents later on in life. In Korea, it is very common for children to live at home with their parents until they are married with their own stable, secure careers. Ask many Korean children what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll usually get the same responses: doctor, dentist, scientist, lawyer...etc. Korean children want to make as much money as they can and be as successful as they can to please their parents. Rightfully so, I suppose, as their parents spend millions of won (thousands of dollars) each year just for their primary and secondary education alone. This includes all of those hagwon (private academy) fees, which aren’t cheap. But parents do it unfailingly, knowing (and hoping) that it will all be fruitful in the end.

It is not just the pressure to "super-succeed' that has these children stressed out and unhappy. They also deal with the same pressures that other children/teens around the world deal with on a daily basis: friends, relationships, identity, and personal appearance. Physical appearance is highly emphasized here, just as it is in the U.S. or other countries, but it’s seen in a different manner. Men and women strive to look as perfect as possible while looking as unique as possible from their counterparts. A big trend among Koreans is trying to look more "Western"—hence getting nose jobs or eyelid surgery to mimic features seen on foreigners.

Societal pressure to be handsome/more beautiful will only continue to increase as more Western influence pours in, and as more Korean youths get an eyeful of "role models" from the U.S. and abroad like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or Britney Spears. Given that, and the burgeoning elderly population in Korea reliant on their children, I don't imagine kids in Korea will be enjoying a stress-less life anytime soon.

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