5 Korean School Culture Quirks

I could never pretend I am an expert on the Korean public school system but after working in two different schools for a few months, I have noticed some quirks.  These quirks are new for me, as someone whose entire education took place in America.  Maybe if I grew up here, I would not find them so strange.

1. The physicality of students

On my first day of classes, I was certain I would have to break up 10 fights.  All the boys seemed to be rough housing and teachers just walked past them going on about their day.  Now the students come up to me and say “teacher it’s not a fight, they are playing”.  Thanks kids.  I’ve only experienced 3 “legitimate” fights so far.

But it’s not just the play fighting, the students are also incredibly affectionate with each other.  The girls will sit on their friends’ laps and braid their hair and boys will hold hands when they walk down the hallway.  All of this PDA stays between friends of the same sex, I have never seen girlfriends and boyfriends hold hands or cuddle.  Koreans have their own Konglish word for this affection, “skinship”.

2. The food is actually good, and healthy, and there’s plenty of it

I usually brought a sandwich with some chips and fruit to lunch when I was in school.  The school lunch always looked unappetizing, and the few times I had school lunch, my predictions were correct.  America has a reputation for giving out unhealthy foods like greasy hamburgers, tater tots, and pizza to their students and they served only tiny amounts of food.

Korean students get a healthy and filling meal that always has rice, soup, and kimchi, and then a kind of meat like grilled fish or stir-fried pork and a fruit or vegetable.  On special days, students also get a small piece of cake or maybe fruit sherbert.

I don’t remember ever getting fresh kiwis, sweet and sour chicken, pasta with fresh tomatoes, or tofu soup in American schools.  While I sometimes skip the kimchi, the food at both schools has been delicious.  Although sometimes it is too spicy for my weak taste buds.

3. The lack of supervision, and the ping pong table in the hall

When I was in school, I needed to have a hall pass to go anywhere.  You couldn’t go to the bathroom, to the library, or to the room next door without a hall pass.  The Vice Principal roamed the halls making sure no students were walking around unsupervised.  I’m not saying students here run wild but they don’t need written permission for every move they make.  The students also play ping pong in the hallway and it doesn’t seem like they need permission to do it.

4. The lack of sports teams

I know there are special schools for students focusing on athletics but at normal schools there aren’t any soccer, volleyball, or baseball teams.  They all have to take P.E. class but there are not official sports teams.  The clubs are academic, such as a debate club, and a lot of times when students stay after school, it’s for a study group.  My students are getting ready for final exams and they have exams in 11 subjects.  With that many tests, it’s no wonder they have no time for sports.

5. Punctuality doesn’t seem to be a concern

If you showed up late to class at my middle school you got written up, and if you did it repeatedly you got a detention.  Some students here don’t even walk into the classroom until after the bell rings.  Teachers also show up to their own classes late, so I guess they can’t get angry when students do the same.

No matter the quirks, I enjoy the view.


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