Thursday, May 22, 2008

Getting into a College...

Both the education systems in the U.S. and South Korea hold different expectations for college admissions, but from what I've learned, South Korea's universities and colleges have a far more stressful college admissions process than those of the U.S.

In Korea...

Otherwise known as the "Triangle of Death," there are three main factors that
determine whether a South Korean student in his/her final year of high school
can be admitted into a college/university.

1. GPA
High schools in South Korea divide their GPA into Ranks 1 through 9, where Rank 1 is the most difficult to maintain. Typically, students must be within the top 4% of their high schools in order to receive a Rank 1.

2. College Entrance Exam: Suneung

Only students in their last year of high school are allowed to take this exam, which is offered every fall. The exam tests knowledge in mathematics, both the Korean and English languages, and either Social Studies or Science. On the day of the test, TV/radio broadcastingstations take the time to wish the students luck, adults are encouraged to be late to work in order to ensure minimal traffic in the morning,and parents spend the entire day praying for their children. Many people claim that this test does not appropriately reveal students' skills or knowledge.

3. College Entrance Exam: Nonsul

Unlike the Suneung exam, this exam is neither standardized nor run by the government. Instead, colleges/universities prepare a different exam each year for their prospective students.This exam is to be taken a few weeks after the Suneung exam, and the most competitive colleges/universities have been notoriously known to give extremely difficult exams.


In America...

As a Korean-American, I don't have to go through the stress of passing all of those exams in Korea, there are 6 major components of college admissions in the U.S.

1. Challenging Schedule

2. Grades

3. Standardized Test Scores

4. Extracurricular Activities

5. Application Essay

6. Letters of Recommendation

Unlike Korea, college admissions in the U.S. is not solely based on academic achievements. Admission officers look for not only a strong GPA but also extracurricular activities and recommendation letters that display students' characters. As a current junior in high school, I've been told that grades cannot and do not determine college admissions. Although grades represent a substantial portion of the admission process, the application essays and recommendation letters are constantly emphasized. Thus, I may even go so far as to say that whereas Korean colleges/universities look for outstanding grades, American colleges/universities heavily emphasize qualities of strong character, leadership, and service in their students.

Korean students are so bound by the numbers of their test scores. Consequently, when Korean families immigrate to the U.S., the parents usually pressure their kids to stand out as academically bright students with exceptional grades. The U.S. Census 2000 Brief on educational attainment shows that Asian students have surpassed any other race in completing college and achieving a Bachelor's or Advanced degree (Source:

-Alice C.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

News Article from New America Media: The Dark Side of the Asian American 'Model Student'

Long Le of New America Media, August 2, 2006

HOUSTON, Calif.--In his recent essay “Stellar Academic Achievement Has an Asian Face,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof admired Asian American students’ performance on the SAT. In 2005, Asian Americans had the highest average combined math-verbal SAT, at 1091, compared with 1068 for whites, 982 for American Indians, 922 for Hispanics, and 864 for blacks.

Kristof wonders why this group is so good at school. “Frankly,” he laments, “you sometimes feel at an intellectual disadvantage if your great-grandparents weren’t peasants in an Asian village.”

In explaining Asian Americans as “model students,” Kristof cites Confucianism’s reverence for education with enforcement via filial piety, in which “Asian American kids often manage both to exasperate and to finish their homework,” while non-Asian teenagers rebel.

But before anyone else starts to stress out on not having a Confucian background, there is a “dark side” to Asian American academic achievement that Kristof’s admiration piece veils.

First, non-Asian individuals may indeed perceive Asian American students as exceptional, but some are also likely to interpret how the success of Asian-Americans reflects negatively or positively on their own social position.

For example, Professor Stacey Lee of University of Wisconsin, who studied one particular high school found that high-achieving middle-class white students respect the academic talents of their peers. Some, however, hold up the successes of Asian-Americans to dismiss African-American students’ charges of racial discrimination in America. In addition, she found that low-achieving, working-class white students are more likely to refer to students of Asian descent as “chinks and gooks” who are invading their school. And some African-American students believe that the success of Asian-American students has been achieved at the expense of their own.

According to another study, Asian-American college students say that positive stereotypes that non-Asians have of them focus on educational achievement only. Most of the stereotypes, they say, are negative, such as non-Asians’ perceptions that Asians “don’t speak English well,” “have accents,” and are “submissive,” “sneaky,” “stingy,” “greedy,” etc.

Here, the seemingly positive stereotypes conceal negative stereotypes casting Asian American students as “perpetual foreigners."

As a researcher of Asian American issues, I recently conducted a survey at the University of Houston on campus perceptions of Asian-American and Asian international students, with more than 750 student participants. A preliminary analysis shows that non-Asian students perceive students of Asian descent as “model students” and more often than not as a homogeneous group with more similarities than differences. Non-Asian students also have unfavorable impression of both Asian-American and Asian international students, saying, for example, that students of Asian descent are hard to make friends with.

Moreover, non-Asian students were less likely to prefer a student of Asian descent as a candidate for president of student government relative to other ethnic candidates.

Second, as the stereotype of Asian Americans as “model students” spreads, it may affect how some Asian-American students behave and how they construct their self-identity.

Professor Stacey Lee discovered that some middle class Asian-Americans embrace the “model student” image, perceive their role as having to live up to that image and look down on other Asian groups, particularly those from Southeast Asia, who they believe to be welfare-dependents who give Asians a bad name. Such students, however, tend to mask their feelings of depression and desperation, especially when they don’t meet the stereotype's high expectations. In fact, there has been a recent spike in the number of “unexplained” deaths and suicides among high-achieving students of Asian descent at a number of prestigious universities. Similarly, students of working-class families from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos also mask their depression when they feel ashamed about not living up to the “model student” image. They tend to be reluctant to seek academic or emotional support.

In fact, the overall data on Asian American students’ SAT score hides the variation in academic achievement across Asian groups. Southeast Asian students and other student subgroups from South Asia have different standardized test scores, high school dropout rates, college enrollment and completion rates. Their data, in fact, mirror those of African Americans rather than the overall Asian-American numbers.

If the Confucian culture emphasizes and facilitates educational achievement, it may also promote silence on the expression of social and psychological needs.

Source: Le, Long. "The Dark Side of the Asian American 'Model Student'" New America Media. 2 Aug. 2006. 4 Jan. 2008 <>.

-Alice C.

New York Times Editorial: Are Kids Getting Too Much Praise?

Tara Parker-Pope of New York Times Health Editorial, October 29, 2007

Can kids have too much confidence?

An excess of praise may be doing kids more harm than good.

A cover story in this month’s Scholastic Instructor magazine asks whether kids today are “overpraised.'’ The concern is that by focusing on self-esteem and confidence building, parents and teachers may be giving real goals and achievement short shrift. The article cites a recent study in which eighth graders in Korea and the United States were asked whether they were good at math. Among the American students, 39 percent said they were excellent at math, compared to just 6 percent of the Korean eighth graders. But the reality was somewhat different. The Korean kids scored far better in math than the over-confident American students.

The notion that you can praise a kid too much is heresy to parents and teachers who have long believed that building self-esteem should be the cornerstone of education. If kids believe in themselves, the thinking goes, achievement will naturally follow. But confidence doesn’t always produce better students. Scholastic cites a 2006 report on education from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center that found that countries in which families and schools emphasize self-esteem for students lag behind cultures where self-esteem isn’t a major focus.

The problem with this “rah-rah mentality,'’ as the magazine describes it, is that it can take away the sense of satisfaction that comes from genuine achievement. “Self-esteem is based on real accomplishments,” Robert Brooks, faculty psychologist at Harvard Medical School, told the magazine. “It’s all about letting kids shine in a realistic way.”

The downside of too much praise is that kids may start to focus on the reward rather than what they are learning. Worse, failure can be devastating and confusing for a student whose confidence is based on an inflated ego, rather than his or her actual abilities, the magazine notes. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t praise our kids or that teachers shouldn’t try to engender self-confidence. But self-esteem should be the result of good grades and achievement, not false accomplishments.

Last month, Cognitive Daily reported that parents and teachers should be specific rather than general when they dispense praise. An example of general praise is telling a child, “You’re smart.'’ Specific praise would be to say, “You did a good job reading,'’ or “You did great on your math test.'’ Kids who receive general praise about their abilities are more likely to exhibit “helpless” behavior when they encounter problems with learning, compared with kids who receive specific praise about their achievement on a task. The reason: a child who knows she’s a smart girl feels defeated if she has trouble reading a sentence. But a child who has been told she is a good reader is more likely to have confidence in that specific ability and work a little harder to tackle a more difficult book.

Source: Washington, Ruby. "Are Kids Getting Too Much Praise?" Editorial. New York Times 29 Oct. 2007. 5 Jan. 2008 <>.

-Alice C.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Education Fever

You know you're Korean when...

  • everyone thinks you're good at math
  • your parents have either made you play the piano, the violin, or both
  • you bring home all A's and one B, and your parents yell, "Why did you get a B?!"
  • when some mega-mega nerd student is in the Korean newspaper, your parents say, "Why can't you be like him/her?!"
  • you were in Junior High, you were a nerd
  • you either have to be a doctor, lawyer, or some big-time business tycoon
  • you bring home straight A's, and your parents say, "So? You're supposed to get that! When I was in Korea..."
  • your parents have to know everything about your new friends: their name, where they live, their phone numbers, what kind of grades they get, what they got on their SATs, etc.

With only eight bullet points, I covered the main stereotypes of Koreans, but there are so many more. My main goal is to address the validity of these stereotypes and discuss the cultural consequences between the Korean and American education systems. I'm a Korean-American myself, but until I started researching this topics, I didn't realize there were so many discrepancies between these two education systems and cultures.

It's true: For several years now, Korean-American students have topped the charts for academic scores, but the sad part? They have also ranked at the top for suicide rates at universities and colleges. My initial reaction was, "If these students are among the top in the academic world, shouldn't they be happy?" Then I realized the importance of Korean culture and how much it affects these Korean-American students. Korean parents are doing whatever it takes to place their students in American schools, constantly pressuring them to achieve the "American dream". Not only do these demands overwhelm Korean-American students, but they also lose their identities while caught in the midst of two cultures. The traditional beliefs emphasized so strongly at Korean homes conflict with the creativity that American schools promote.

So now, the questions: How do these cultures conflict? Do students of other races develop biases against Korean-Americans? Is there hostility/jealousy among these other races against Korean-Americans for their achievements? Are Korean-Americans' obsessions with education seen in a negative light?

Feel free to contribute any thoughts on this, and I will keep posting with more research.

-Alice C.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Beginning

It's a pretty common stereotype: Asians study a lot. But why? What is so different about the Korean education system? Because of America's education system, American children tend to believe that Korean students are more uptight and too demanding, but is this assumption true? Being a Korean myself, I know schools in Korea can be incredibly intense but also relaxed at times. On the other hand, Korean children may view American children as living in a more privileged society. How do all these assumptions and perceptions play into cultural consequences?

-Alice C.