In Korea suicide is now the leading cause of death among those aged 15-24. Is the cramming culture to blame?

A WEEK ago South Korea observed “Children’s Day”, an occasion when every school and office is closed, and the nation’s families march off in unison to chaebol-owned theme parks like Lotte World or Everland. Cynical expat residents are fond of asking “isn’t every day Children’s Day?” They mean it sarcastically but their sarcasm is itself ironic. In reality the other 364 days of the year are very tough for Korean youngsters.

Results of a survey released last week by the Institute for Social Development Studies at Seoul’s Yonsei University show that Korean teenagers are by far the unhappiest in the OECD. This is the result of society’s relentless focus on education—or rather, exam results. The average child attends not only regular school, but also a series of hagwons, private after-school “academies” that cram English, maths, and proficiency in the “respectable” musical instruments, ie piano and violin, into tired children’s heads. Almost 9% of children are forced to attend such places even later than 11pm, despite tuitions between 10pm and 5am being illegal.

Psychologists blame this culture for all manner of ills, from poor social skills to the nation’s unacceptably high rate of youth suicide, which is now the leading cause of death among those aged 15-24. Recently, a spate of suicides at KAIST, a technology-focused university, has drawn national attention. For most students the pinnacle of stress is reached somewhat earlier, in the third year of high school. This is the year in which the suneung (university entrance exam) is taken. Tragic reactions to the stress it creates are all too common.

Every suneung period is accompanied by national soul-searching and endless newspaper articles, but nothing ever seems to change. For hundreds of years civil service examinations were the only means by which social advancement was possible; testing became the means by which a person’s value in Korean society would be defined. In this ultra-competitive country, no parent wants their child to be seen as a B student.

Private education of course also costs a great deal of money, and is a major factor in South Korea’s low birth rate—it is a lucky couple these days who can afford to raise two or more children. South Korea is due to achieve the perilous status of being a “super-aged” country by 2026. Between those demographic consequences and the sheer misery it inflicts on its young, South Korea’s approach to education is starting to look like a matter of two steps forward, three steps back.

day 27 – A song that gets you “pumped”

E M I N E M  –  K I M

This song has been my pre-workout song for a while now… I’m not sure why I like it so much, it might be because I’m a little bit psychotic, but I just enjoy the story telling of Eminem. There’s just so much emotion in his voice, and his choice of words is mesmerizing. Sometimes there just isn’t a way to express your feelings for someone by using just words and Eminem demonstrates his power of imagination right here. He could have just made a public announcement about how much he hates his wife, and how much he wants to kill her… but he goes about 15 steps further and releases a song about exactly how he wants to kill her! LOL amazing.

Before I go to the gym, I devote a good 6 minutes to this song and just getting mentally prepared for my workout. There’s like a good 15 minutes when I get home that I have music playing while I’m looking at my schedule for the night, reviewing homework etc. but I ALWAYS make sure there is a good 6 minutes for me to sit down and do absolutely nothing but listen to this song, with 100% of my attention.

I’m not sure if there’s a music video for this song, but I haven’t seen it and I don’t ever plan on seeing it. I think if I saw how a director, or even Eminem himself wants to show this on screen, it would ruin it for me. I have my own vivid illustration of what’s going on in this song and I think that’s the greatest part of the song. The fact that a simple 6 minute song can bring out so much emotion in me, and such a vivid imagination within myself, is simple breathtaking.

Okay… well I’ve written completely too much about this song lol.

P.S- I’m not a psycho 😀


Alex Kang:

  • Agitation or irritation
  • Elevated mood
    • Hyperactivity
    • Increased energy
    • Lack of self-control
    • Racing thoughts
  • Inflated self-esteem (delusions of grandeur, false beliefs in special abilities)
  • Little need for sleep
  • Over-involvement in activities
  • Poor temper control
  • Reckless behavior
    • Binge eating, drinking, and/or drug use
    • Impaired judgment
    • Spending sprees
  • Tendency to be easily distracted
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Eating disturbances
    • Loss of appetite and weight loss
    • Overeating and weight gain
  • Fatigue or listlessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and/or guilt
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Persistent sadness
  • Persistent thoughts of death
  • Sleep disturbances
    • Excessive sleepiness
    • Inability to sleep
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Withdrawal from activities that were once enjoyed
  • Withdrawal from friends

One Final Day

If you had 24 hours to live, what would you do? We have been asked this question at least once in our lives. It’s an important question and it really helps us learn more about ourselves in many ways.

“What would you do if you only had 24 hours to live?” Seems simple enough, very straight forward… If I had 24 hours to live, I would tell my parents that I love them. I would thank them for everything they’ve done for me over the past 20 years. I would tell my friends how much they’ve meant to me. I would go out and watch the sunrise/sunset. I would go for a walk and just reminisce. I would donate my money to those who need it. I would play some basketball. I would have an engaging conversation about… I don’t know… about Love, with a complete stranger. I would tell a stranger to live their life to the fullest and never take anything for granted.

You would say the same exact things as me. You and I are no different. We do not live the perfect life we know we should. Ideally, we all should be living a life where we thank our parents and tell them we love them. We should all live a life where we can just take a walk and take in the beautiful day we were given. We should always have the courage and curiosity to speak to strangers and share ideas. We should always help those in need, not only in our final days of life. We tend to forget that we are not promised tomorrow. So we musn’t take today for granted. Take a moment out of your busy day to remember that this day was not promised to you, and it is a gift. Remember to thank those around you, and never forget; no body ever gets tired of hearing “I love you,” especially your parents.

So go… go out and play! Play in the grass with your fancy suit! Let your hair down! Blow some bubbles! Play a little soccer! Write a letter to a loved one! Say ‘Hello’ to a complete stranger! Dance to your favorite song! Live your life!

“Life is like a carousel, so enjoy the ride and try not to puke.”

It’s closing in…

…the beginning of the rest of our lives. What will you chose to be? We all think about what we will end up doing for the rest of our lives. We will all graduate soon, and it’ll be time to make a decision. I wonder… What will I be doing in five years? Where will I live?
Can anyone see me as…

A mature, composed, well-rounded businessman?

Maybe a struggling writer for a newspaper somewhere?

Maybe I’ll somehow find the cure to cancer, and retire early and just fish all day.

Well whatever the future holds for me… I’m living right here and right now. And now, I just want to work hard, and play hard! Wheeeeee