The work ethic here is intense, especially among the students. Just the fact that there are so many English teachers here is telling when it comes to how much everyone wants to learn English. But it's not limited to English. Most, if not all, of my students are also currently attending probably 3-4 extra classes, which meet multiple times a week. They go to science, math, music, Japanese and/or Chinese academies in addition to their normal school and, of course, English classes. I have at least two students who are attending TWO English academies at once. And my students are from 7-14 years old, most of them between 10 and 13. Most are up until midnight doing homework. Katy, one of my most advanced students, told me she had to spend Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) in her room studying for the huge tests middle school students have next week. She missed all the family celebrations and didn't even get to see her grandparents or cousins.
While this may seem depressing, and certainly I think kids need free time, I can tell you that this is going to help them, and give them a huge advantage over American students when they all compete for jobs, which they will most definitely have to do. It makes me want to go home and tell kids to wake up! Maybe not so young, but I definitely think that a lot of high school and college kids need a wake up call, to stop messing around and not taking school seriously, or there won't be jobs for them. Especially college students.
I don't know much about college student here, but I do spend some time in the university area, which is full of restaurants and bars and shops. At the coffeehouses and restaurants you can see groups of students huddled over notebooks and textbooks. Not to say that they don't know how to relax. The bar and karaoke scene here is hopping every day of the week. I have found Koreans to be hard workers, and hard partiers. Proof to the American college student that you can do both. Even the adults go out drinking, and on the weekends grandparents hang out under bridges with cases of soju (rice liquor). As for the kids, they seem well-adjusted enough. They're still kids, they still goof off and complain about homework, and I always see them hanging out around town, giggling and acting like, well, kids. And the college students can be seen wandering the streets socializing, looking relaxed and happy as any college students.
This brings me to my next observation. There are more coffeehouses here than I could have imagined, even if this were an American city. They're nice, too, and most aren't franchise. I haven't seen a Starbucks, though I saw where one was being put in. It amazes me how coffeeshops can survive when they're surrounded by others. In Jeonbuk-de (the university area) there are probably 4 per block consistently throughout the 10-15 blocks of pedestrian shops. And they are all always pretty busy. A few weekends ago, the coffeeshop Jon and I went to to hang out and read in was packed, people were searching in vain for tables, yet it still didn't seem too bustling or annoying.
I read somewhere once that coffeeshops are crucial to the intellectual and political development of a society. I'm not sure how true that is, but I do know that public spaces, where people can interact outside of work or family institutions and where they sit around and talk, are very important to development of community. And I also know that coffeeshops were the epicenter of much revolutionary and reformist discussion and debate in very different societies at very different times. Cafes in Paris, Argentina, Russia and India teem with discussion. It's the very nature of coffeehouses. In this vein, the coffeehouse trend I am witnessing here in Korea is good, for a private society, one who prides itself on putting on a good face. Since I don't speak Korean, I can't attest to any intellectual conversations at coffeehouses, but I'm sure there are some, or that they will at least develop. People can only sit around, relax and talk about superficial issues for so long before they broach larger, deeper topics.
I did some research into the connection between coffeeshops and intellectual development, and I found some interesting ideas. Some of these ideas went a little too far, in my opinion, in crediting coffee with about every political, economic and social reform during the Enlightenment. Some, however, seem quite interesting. Here are some passages I found most interesting:
This one is from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"Over the centuries, 'cafes became places where informed men, some educated and some not, could come together and talk about stuff,' including literature, plays, poems, economics and politics...'Having a place to do that enriches a culture,' Weston said. 'It takes us out of the cocoon of private life and into the public world. Cafes are important for creating a public life, particularly in a democracy. It becomes a place where the town, or, in the big city, where the neighborhood develops.'"
This one is from a review of the book "Coffee: A Dark History" in the Washington Post:
The role of the coffeehouse, he argues, simply cannot be underestimated. In the Arab world it "was, other than the reviled tavern, the only place to meet friends outside the home, discuss politics and literature..."and thus is became "an integral part of the imperial system, providing a forum for the coming together and dissemination of news and ideas." ... "It has been argued that, until the arrival of coffee, the population of Europe had existed in a constant state of mild intoxication, since the quality of water was such that many people drank the weak beers of the time morning, noon and night. By switching to coffee, they were not only reducing the muddle-headedness resulting from alcohol consumption, but also ingesting a powerful new drug. Indeed, it could be said that the introduction of coffee to England led to a ... 'brain explosion.'"
The author of the book, Anthony Wild, continues to cite Lloyds of London, the Stock Exchange, the East India Company and the Royal Society as among those British institutions having their origins in coffeehouses.
Certainly food for thought, isn't it? Or at least 'drink for thought.'