As one of my former coworkers once noted, Koreans have a saying about themselves: they boil up quickly and cool down just as quickly. Matt Van Volkenburg (not sure whether there's supposed to be a space after the "Van"; most Dutch names have a space, as in "van Gogh," et al.) runs a blog titled Gusts of Popular Feeling, which riffs off the same notion: collectively, Korean emotions tend to billow, bluster, and becalm themselves.
I saw this in class today. It's the first day of Week 15, which means it's final-exam review time. Today's class, my Monday kids, had the Buddha's birthday off, so they were a week behind my other three classes. Today, then, we finished Unit 10 of our textbook—the final unit. When I announced that we were now officially done with the book, there was much cheering, which made me smile. We transitioned into talking about end-of-semester matters: the final exam and final grades. For the grades-related discussion, I handed out a sheet that showed some hypothetical scenarios (rather closely reflecting the actual reality of my classes) for how I might handle such-and-such grade distributions. None of my classes is a perfect bell curve at present, and that's doubly true for my Monday kids, whose class is top-heavy with way too many "A"s, even after I took many students down a peg for their mediocre pecha-kucha work. So I told them outright that, given the lack of "C"s, I'd likely have to shunt some "A"s into the "B" range, and some "B"s into the "C+" range to satisfy the curving requirements.
As you can imagine, the kids weren't happy to hear this, and the joyful end-of-textbook mood evaporated almost instantly. This was a bit frustrating for me, because I'd been harping on the reality of the grading curve since the first day of class, so it's not as though any of this was a surprise. One girl in particular said loudly, "That's not fair!"—which is, as I reminded her, the very same thing I'd said during Week 1, when I first explained the curve and made my hatred of it known. "Can I talk to your head teacher?" she asked desperately. I said I'd be happy to email my supervisors, but that I already knew what answer they'd give. (Full disclosure: I did indeed email my supervisors about two hours ago, and the prompt reply was exactly what I thought it'd be: stick to the grading policy.) When it finally came time to talk about whether we were going to have a jjong-party, i.e., an end-of-term celebration, the students were too dejected and resentful to want one. So—no party, then. So be it.
It's sometimes hard to remember that, in Korea, college students really are kids. They aren't considered young adults in quite the way that American college students are.* Korean students—and adults, too—are moody and mercurial: gusts of popular feeling, indeed.
*This isn't to say that American college students act maturely. I saw way too many counterexamples as a Georgetown undergrad to believe that.
I think I've told the story, on this blog, about a guy in our freshman dorm, a Texan dude named Jim, who got puking drunk and vomited all over his dorm room—while his roommate had been trying to repaint the old, peeling walls. I was the only one who stood up to help the roommate, Dave, clean Jim's mess up, so I saw firsthand the horrid mixture of puke and paint that Jim had flung everywhere. Jim ended up in detox, then in rehab, and he eventually turned into a model student, but this took time.
Then there was JT, who got drunk one night, snuck into the Healy Building with some friends, and ended up falling, outside, from one stone balcony onto another. JT cracked some ribs, punctured a lung, broke a leg, and cracked his head. No one found him for 22 hours; anoxia and edema actually led to brain damage, and when JT finally came back to us, he was literally a different person: his voice was different, his speech cadence was completely off, and he'd ditched his boilerplate college-jock fashion sense for the late-80s equivalent of Goth.
I could dish about one of my roommates, who shall remain nameless. This guy fucked everything in sight. He was constantly juggling three to six "girlfriends." Fuckholes, more like, because that's how he saw women. Another guy, Bob, broke his neck over Christmas break after getting into a bar fight. The other dude apparently tossed poor Bob over a chain-link fence, which is how he broke his neck. Despite his neck brace, Bob was out hitting the bars—and removing his brace—the moment he was back in DC, and he ended up very loudly fucking a visiting female student in his dorm room. The grunts and cries were memorable.
Sometimes the Korean brand of social and sexual immaturity, with all its kindergarten-style moaning and groaning, has a sort of charming innocence about it.