Thursday, April 09, 2015


Here's what happens when you tell a class full of tired Korean university students that they can have a break for a few minutes:

All my students this week, except for the Monday class, were lethargic as hell. Not sure what it was; I wondered out loud whether it had anything to do with the arrival of spring. Some students, who were evidently beyond caring, nodded drowsily, then drifted back into their comas. It could also be that these kids are teens, and teens need their sleep.

I can understand kids under college age when they look exhausted: life for a child in South Korea can be nasty, brutish, and grindingly long—there's the neverending school day, followed by classes at various hagweon (cram schools). There's the unrelenting parental pressure and the pressure of competing with one's classmates. The system is a soul-crushing mess, but most of that pressure lets up when the students finally reach college. They suddenly find themselves with more free time than they've had in years, so if they're having trouble relaxing, it's probably a question of poor time budgeting.

I admit I wasn't that different as a college student; I don't think I managed to get my shit together before junior year (which I spent in Switzerland, hiking daily), and even now I contend with the demon of procrastination. I'm better than I was, of course, but the process of self-improvement takes years, so maybe I shouldn't judge these kids too harshly. Besides, I'd rather have a classroom full of conked-out kids than a classroom full of twitchy, violent, possibly armed felons-to-be.


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