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11/07/2016 Special > Special


The Life of Korean High School Students

Preparing for a Better Future


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This year's suneung, the Korean university entrance examination, is on November 17th, which only leaves one weekend. Right now, at this moment, Korean high school students, especially the seniors (3rd year students), are exerting themselves in a final push to prepare for the test. High schoolers brace themselves not only for suneung, but also for midterms and finals in each semester, taking classes from early morning to late afternoon, and studying well into the night. This, at first glance, seems tough- but most Koreans who study in Korea go through and overcome this tedious livelihood.

A Day of a Korean High School Student

6:30 a.m.~7:50 a.m. Waking up and preparing to go to school. Most Korean students are required to wear school uniforms, which include PE clothes. Nowadays, however, more casual clothes are provided to enhance comfort for students. In some schools, seondobu, the student committee for enforcing school rules, is present with teachers who are in charge of student supervision to check students’ dress and hair. Students in each class take turns doing jubeon activities, which requires arriving school early and being the last to leave the classroom. Their job is to clean and tidy up their homeroom.
High school students wear uniforms in Korea. 
(Photo courtesy of

7:50 a.m.~1:00 p.m. Classes start.
 After the homeroom teacher’s short announcements and words of encouragement for the day, jaseup is held, which means that some time is given to students to do some self-studying in the morning. After jaseup, classes begin. Students stay in each of their designated classrooms which is decided before the beginning of each year, and wait for teachers come to the classroom to teach. The education curriculum for Korean students is divided into two different parts: i-kwa (Natural Sciences) and mun-kwa (Liberal Arts). Students can choose between these two divisions, regarding their preference, skill, and future careers. However, the long tradition of i-kwa and mun-kwa will end in the school year of 2018, being merged into one curriculum.
The subjects that students typically learn are Korean language and literature, English, mathematics, science (biology, chemistry, physics and earth science), social studies (such as history, economics, and ethics), and a second language (Chinese, Japanese, French and more). On Wednesdays, there are special hours that allow students to engage in club activities, such as the school news broadcasting system, the school press, bands, or sports clubs. On the other hand, students who are not associated in any clubs are able to engage in other activities, such as cooking, watching movies, or drawing cartoons.

1:00 p.m.~2:00 p.m. Lunch break.
School lunch is equally distributed to students in the student cafeteria, or the homeroom if there is no dining area in the school. After eating lunch, male students tend to play soccer or basketball in the school yard. Girls like to chat with their friends or go around the field for a walk. Others visit their friends in different homerooms. Some students use this time to study more, or get some sleep.
Korean school lunch.
(Photo courtesy of

2:00 p.m.~5:00 p.m
. Three more classes are held. After they end, the homeroom teacher comes in and gives some additional announcements and dismisses the students. When the teacher leaves, pre-arranged groups of students take turns to clean up the class as designated cleaners for the week.
6:00 p.m.~10:00 p.m. Yaja session. Students participate in yaja, studying by themselves after school, or go to hagwons (private academies) to complement their learning. There are also after-school lessons provided by teachers as well, usually at a much lower fee than private academies. Yaja session is held in each classroom or in a separate building or room. Students study by themselves, doing their homework, revising, or preparing for the next day's classes.
Yaja session in high school.
(Photo courtesy of

The Sun Shines at the End of the Marathon

Living as a Korean high school student is extremely burdensome because of high competition, an immense workload, a tight schedule, and the stress arising from the pressure and the uncertainty of whether they would be able to enter their dream university or not. However, many Koreans treasure memories from their high school days. They reminisce that those days were the time of their lives when they put in their best efforts and achieved the huge accomplishment of entering university. In addition, because high school students need to depend on one another to find the strength to carry on, Koreans typically make lasting best friends in those years. As the saying goes, “The night is darkest before dawn”, students’ hard endeavors are not in vain. Their work would be rewarded as a lasting reminder of what they earned through their efforts to reach whatever dreams they aspire towards.

Jang Soo-hyun
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