Today is the annual Suneung, or university entrance exam in Korea. It's similar to the SAT, but incorporates so much more than any college test I ever took!
All high school students arrived at school (hopefully early) to take an 8-hour test that will determine what university they will enter after graduation in the spring. Over the past year, they've logged countless hours studying with little sleep (less than they were used to getting before high school) to prepare for this exam.
Parents place all their hopes on their sons and daughters getting into one of the SKY universities (Seoul National, Kyeonggi, and Yonsei) so that a good job may be secured. It's such a serious test that other schools in the area will close or delay their start times, as well as local offices and businesses--just so the testing seniors can get to school on time. Extra transportation runs to ferry students to school, and the police make sure that the roads are less crazy than usual, even. Underclassmen arrive early to cheer on their senior classmates, and some friends and family will remain camped outside the school until their student is done testing. Stores stock up on special foods and drinks promising good test results and increased concentration, while family members are cautious not to affect the mood of their student whilst he or she is studying.
All the prep for a good college doesn't come without negative consequences, however. The stress levels of high school seniors is sometimes so much that it drives them to suicide. Suicide rates among high school students numbers in the few hundreds every year. It has been such a problem that President Lee Myeong-bak passed a law limiting the operating hours of private cram schools (hagwons) to stay open only until 10 pm. These days, officials patrol and routinely crack down on schools who violate this rule. They are trying to ensure that students don't overstretch themselves studying to the point of exhaustion, illness, depression and suicide.
Best wishes to all the students who took their suneungs today!