Korea’s college entry exams and the ‘inconsolable’ desire

 Edited version published in Joongang Ilbo (http://mengnews.joinsmsn.com/view.aspx?gCat=010&aId=2944395)

Last week, over 600,000 Korean students sat an exam that seemingly determines their destiny in life. To most of them, the college entry exam is also a postern to their critical goal of entering Seoul National University, Korea University or Yonsei University. The three institutions are commonly christened as SKY. And they know quite well, that credentials from the “sky” comfortably land graduates plum jobs with big companies or the government. The three institutions are considered the academic cream of Korea.

There is nothing wrong with education that assures one a stable, happy future; after all, it is every parent’s dream to see their children prosper in all aspects. However, observers have termed the College Scholastic Ability Test or CSAT in Korea as either a national obsession or radically esteemed.

On the day of the nine hour exam, the country literally changes. All flight landings and take-offs at the airports are put on hold while the arriving international aircrafts are ordered to circle at altitudes above 10,000 feet for some while. Motorists are also asked to lower their speed and to avoid honking near the test locations during the listening comprehension assessment. In fact, traffic is usually banned from within 200 meters of the test centers until the exam is over.

At the periphery, parents, friends and school juniors of test-takers gather to wish their loved ones success. Some parents would be praying outside the exam centers. In the recent past a mother reportedly vowed to bow 3,000 times, kneeling down with her forehead touching a red cushion perhaps to invoke luck to her beloved son. Most schools will also give a day off to students who are not sitting the exam.

But beyond the facade lies fundamental question that many parents and educationists raise regarding Read the rest of this entry »

The young and unsatisfied? My wonder on smoking and cosmetics in Korea

By Millicent Omollo and B. Kamary, Edited version Published in The Seoul Times – Nov. 3, 2011
 

Puffing off the smoke

Sitting at a roof balcony as I wait for my next lecture to begin, one by one they streamed in, each pulling out a cigarette. Before I knew it I was seated amongst teens – all puffing off streams of smoke into the otherwise blue skies. I have seen similar scenes before, but today’s scenario sends my mind into a wonderland; yes, I simply wondered why.

Don’t mistake me, I have nothing to do with smokers yet I am always irked by smoking itself. Would it be fair to say I detest smoking but not smokers? Yes, I love smokers but hate smoking and I am yet to know why smoking is such an attractive addiction particularly to teens. But as they say, opinion is free and facts sacred. My sentiments on the subjects are likewise freely given and freely to be taken.  Back home in Africa where I was born and raised, a cigarette advert comes along with quite a stern warning: “harmful to your health!” Who doesn’t know that? I have a friend, a medical doctor but a chain smoker, who spares no chance to warn his sons against smoking. “You better do as I say and not as I do,” he would often rumble.

Hey, did you know they now say cancer is a deadlier than HiV/Aids? I think this is where most of us would pause to care. Possibly pharmaceutical companies are better ready themselves to fund a scientist who will be genius enough to discover cure for cancer. And at rate we are Read the rest of this entry »

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