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Archive for December 22nd, 2009

South Korean ‘Spec’ Craze

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Interesting article from Hankyoreh.  Very true in my opinion and a big (perhaps the only?) reason that there are so many foreigners in Korea teaching English.  It’s a vicious rat-race but how many of the tens of millions can actually claim success?

Seems like the only ones that can get ahead are the ones with money.  Regardless, it truly sucks to be a kid in this country.

» A graphic illustration of what the spec craze in South Korea requires in terms of excessive competition on examination scores, language acquisition and internship experience.

South Korea is in 2009 a “Republic of Specs.” The word “spec,” used to refer to an individual’s academic and career background, has infected everyone. Everyone is perceived through these specs. Teens for universities they are attempting to get into, those in their 20s job seeking, those in their 30s and 40s seeking marriage and promotion, and even those who are older for retirement. Since the atmosphere in which these specs matter has been forced upon us, being able to reflect and live a beautiful life have taken a back seat. The names below are pseudonyms.

The brutal life of elementary school students

It is 7:00 a.m. Mom wakes me up. My name is Kang Saet-byeol. I am 11-years-old and a fifth grader attending an elementary school in Seoul’s Gangseo neighborhood. As soon as I wake up, I have to finish my homework since I have no time in the afternoons. At 2:00 p.m., I attend piano lessons. When that is over, I attend an English language academy to study for the TOEIC since it is required in order to get into an international middle school. Afterwards, I study math. At 5:00 p.m., I go home where a tutor is waiting for me. When vacation comes, my friend and I will go to an English camp in Canada. What am I to do? I want to play, however, I have to go an academy. Only there can I meet my friends.

High school teens with no time to rest
Elementary school kids are crybabies. You, too, will have to go to a multi-subject academy during your middle school years, and Korean, English and Math academies in high school. My name is Kim Yu-na. I am a senior at a high school in Anyang located in the Gyeonggi region. Yesterday, my university entrance exam scores came in. Getting into college during the regular admissions period looks like it will be tough, so I will have to look into other ways to get into school. I found a school though that does not require an essay test, but it still requires aptitude tests. Nowadays, my friends are studying for the TOEFL, TEPS, the SAT and even U.S. AP exams.

The wonderful ‘Lee Taebaek’ Years

After you graduate, you are considered a “Lee Taebaek,” a pun suggesting half of the population in their 20s are unemployed. I will be 29-years-old next year, and I am still looking for a job. I have specs coming out of my ears. I majored in Vietnamese at a decent university in Seoul and my minor was journalism. I scored an 860 on the TOEIC and earned a grade point average of 3.47. I also spent a year in Vietnam. After graduating in 2006, I worked as an intern at a computer gaming company, but when I was not rehired, I took work as an interpreter and translator for a year. I also participated in an overseas internship sponsored by KOTRA. Still, those wicked big companies just look at my documents and dismiss me.

Why is South Korea’s society so strangled by specs? Experts diagnose that the insecurity produced by excessive competition and the struggle to survive is producing this “spec craze.” Accordingly, it easily leads to the indiscriminate accumulation of specs, and it has even lead to the problem of accumulating “false specs” in order to secure college admission. Instances of high schools forging volunteer work certificates or over-issuing testimonials have been discovered. Lee Cheol-ho, chairman of’s policy committee, says the Lee administration’s new educational policy that promotes an admission officer system and foreign language high school reforms is responsible for increasing the numbers of high school students engaged in collecting specs. Lee says as students get caught up in building up specs, they are unable to look at the world more broadly and may get lost in their own vanity.

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Written by recruiterinkorea

December 22, 2009 at 1:27 pm

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Singles Account for 20% of Households

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One of the few readable articles on Korea Times.

Statistics Korea reported Monday that one-member households accounted for 20.1 percent of the total in 2008, up from 15.6 percent in 2000 and 6.9 percent in 1985.

The ratio will likely continue to rise in the future, with more senior citizens living alone in line with an increasing life expectancy.

Additionally, many young adults these days are delaying marriage and choosing to live alone due to financial and other reasons, while more single women are living on their own amid the rising divorce rate.

The statistical office said views regarding the institution of marriage are changing here, with 27.7 percent of the population saying marriage was a matter of choice last year, up from 24 percent in 1998. Only 68 percent thought it was of major importance that men and women tie the knot, down from 73.9 percent over the 10-year period.

Found this statement interesting:

Meanwhile, it said that Korea spends less than other OECD member economies in public education, but that students here perform better academically on the back of booming private education.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy spent $2,426 per head in 2005 to educate pre-school aged students, ranking 24th among 25 OECD members.

The OECD average was $4,888. The story was pretty much the same for Korea’s expenditure on elementary, middle and high school students, as well as collegians.

However, Korean students scored much higher grades in reading, mathematics and science than their OECD peers, ranking within the top five for the respective subjects. Their superior academic performance is attributed to widespread private education here.

I guess that’s perhaps even ‘public’ education systems here are user-based meaning that there is a tuition to send kids to school which allows less taxpayer’s money to be allocated to public education.

In other countries, many who fall behind in public school go to private learning institutes to catch up. But here, the more academically excellent a student is, the more likely it is that he or she is enrolled in private institutes.

Additionally, the richer parents are, the more they spend on children’s private education.

Korea’s employment rate is not higher than the OECD average, contradicting the widely-held belief that the labor market conditions here are better than those of advanced economies.

The country’s jobless rate stood at 3.34 percent in 2008, much lower than the OECD average of 6.05 percent. But the employment rate, which measures the percentage of employed people aged 15-64 against the entire working-age population, came to 63.8 percent in 2008, lower than the OECD’s average 66.5 percent.

Additionally, the employment rate of those aged 15-29 stood at 41.3 percent, lower than the 59.6 percent in Canada and 51.2 percent in the United States.


It said this discrepancy is due to Korea’s larger economically inactive population, which makes its jobless rate appear lower, as those who have given up seeking jobs and are staying home are not classified as unemployed.

Now this is true.  I know of countless able-bodied men and women who simply choose not to work.  I’m not talking about college-aged students; these are folks in their late-twenties and thirties.

With the introduction of a five-day workweek, Koreans are now enjoying more leisure activities and spend more money on outdoor activities. The nation spent 4.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on leisure and cultural activities, much lower than Iceland’s 9.9 percent and Britain’s 8.6 percent.

More Koreans feel insecure about their safety and less trustworthy about others. About 61.4 percent of Koreans said the society has become more dangerous, due mainly to rising heinous crimes, the office said.

What the hell does this have to do with the article?!?!
Only 28.2 percent of Koreans said people are trustworthy, the 14th lowest rate among 19 OECD member countries. About 68 percent of Swedish and 58.9 percent of Finish respondents said they trust other members of society.

Written by recruiterinkorea

December 22, 2009 at 10:05 am

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