My Experience As a High School Student in Korea
“So… I just take off my shirt in here… right now?,” I hesitantly asked the teacher while I was hoping she would just laugh and say no. Instead, she laughed and said, “Yeah.” as if it would be unusual for her to leave the room. I was making a one-day visit to a high school in Korea that had graciously allowed me to experience what it was like as a student there. To enhance the experience, they offered me one of their uniforms, which I gratefully accepted in the teacher’s office. Two of the female teachers ushered me into an empty room in the back so I could change. However, they walked in and handed the clothes to me, waiting so that they could get another size if it didn’t fit. I was waiting for them to leave, but it seemed clear that they didn’t know what I was waiting for. I quickly took off my shirt, and they stood talking while I changed. After they saw that it fit me, they casually took me out of the room and one helped me to the classroom I was staying at for the day. Although I was shocked initially, I realized that the relationship between student and teacher was much more friendly and casual than any that I had seen in America. Despite the educational differences between that of Korea and America, the social environment also presented unique differences.
I arrived in the classroom about fifteen minutes before it began and the homeroom teacher, the one who had given me the uniform, was busily talking to students and walking in and out of the classroom. She made small talk with me and the conversation made it feel like I had known her for a couple of years, rather than a mere thirty minutes. She playfully scolded students and walked down the hallways with their arms around her shoulder. I watched their interactions as students would joke and she would join along. I had never seen a teacher and students converse with such little awkwardness and genuine friendliness. The maximum conversation that goes on between a teacher and student at my school outside class is to ask a question about a test grade, an upcoming test, or a makeup test, never a willing conversation about buying Ed Sheeran concert tickets. I felt awe and a slight sense of jealousy, understanding this close bond would be difficult to find at my own school.
Despite the stereotype that Korean high schools are harsh and never lenient towards studying, the teachers presented a very relaxed and pleasant energy, even amongst their professionality and strictness as a teacher. Throughout all the lectures of the day, the teachers would talk to the students as if they were friends. Random stories and childish jokes were exchanged without the teacher admonishing someone for getting off topic. Although jokes are also said in American classrooms, I have always felt the clear distinction between the body of students and of the teacher. No matter how nice or funny the teacher is, it is still difficult to see them as a person outside of school who goes to Trader Joe’s for their groceries. They rarely discuss their personal life and in the instance that they do, it is usually always about their five-year old son. However, in the school that I visited, students eagerly and voluntarily ate lunch in the teachers’ office, not for a club, but to talk and eat with them. In most scenarios at my school, students go into teachers’ classrooms for a teacher’s recommendation, approval for a club, a raise in a borderline grade, or a missing assignment that they actually turned in. Because to us, the teachers are purely teachers and even if they might be a friend, there is usually a gap that consists of pure awkwardness.
Being able to witness this new interaction and relationship between students and teachers in Korea has motivated me to see my teachers in America as ones that transcend just their occupation. Realizing that they have a greater life outside the one in school should allow me to have a deeper kind of respect for them as a person who I see for more than my grade.
<Soma Chu, Clevealand HS 11th Grade