With the end of the semester which is usually longed for by most students the finals exams also came rolling around. And the exam culture in Korea is hardly comparable with what I’m used to from Germany.
While so far, I have only studied in Korea for one year, at one university in the social and cultural studies field my own experience as well as what I heard from friends and students at other universities and other fields of studies have given me a pretty distinct picture of Korean exam culture.
In general the norm at Korean universities seems to be to memorize enormous amounts of data, facts and formulas and to reproduce them. While from Germany I was used to get acquainted with general concepts and theories and then apply them to diverse situations through logical conclusion, simple memorization seemed easier to be on first glance. And it might be in some way – more than once I have heard “system critical” students and professors use the term “study robots”.
And this bitter alas fitting expression does capture the extremely stressful situation of Korean students to a frighteningly accurate degree. Not only do they have to memorize ridiculously extensive material – for example a 300 page textbook out of which they need to give verbatim quotes – these materials are often not available until days before the exam. And it doesn’t help either that all exams are written in the span of one or two weeks, which means that sometimes two or three exams have to be taken in one day.
But the students make the best out of their lot: many of them move into the library temporarily which is operating 24-hours during exam season. Others come together in study groups with their friends to cheer each other on. And it generally motivates and comforts you if you take a walk during your study break and meet your friends in front of the library to lament about the torments of exams together.
If you as an exchange student are wondering why your Korean friends seems to have disappeared while at the same time the library and all cafes near university are packed, they have probably caught the study bug. It seems to me that the best course of action is simply to join them. That way you’ll at least be able to spend a little bit of time with your friends – while hopefully also improving your grades. 😉