Sunday, December 20, 2009

Goose Fathers

When we went to teacher's training a few months back we learned about something called Goose Fathers. I have forgotten to write about it until something came up last week in my classes. Let me explain...

The pressure for education in Korea is so strong, that it often leads to suicides in teens. Suicide is actually the number one cause of death in teens in Korea. Because guns are illegal, and there is virtually no violence here because of the dishonor to families, when people decide to kill themselves it is usually by jumping from a high rise apartment building.

Another thing I must add is that there is a test very similar to our SAT that all high school students take in November. It is extremely difficult. And by extremely, I mean blow your mind can't comprehend how anyone could take a test that hard (and pass). Our instructor at training showed us a sample math problem, and I didn't even know where to look, it was so complex.

The test consists of many categories including several foreign languages, math, reading, comprehension, etc. Preparation for the test begins at a very young age. I have said before how much students go to school. I have asked many of my students how many schools they go to; the answer usually is three or more. Kids are going to school from 8 am - 9 or 10pm every day.

In preparation for the test parents will even send their kids to a test prep school. It is like a boarding school. They wake up early, do morning stretches, and study until late at night. They aren't allowed to talk to someone of the opposite sex unless it is related to study. They are checked at the door and all magazines, cell phones, nail polish, even make up is taken away from the kids.

Its such a big stereotype that Asians are extremely smart... well they are, but they really work at it.

The test is only taken once a year. If you fail, you have to wait another year to take it again. Colleges and universities won't accept you with a low score. There is also a huge pressure on what university you attend. If you don't attend one of the two major universities in South Korea, people don't value your degree as much. People who attend a different university are usually ashamed to admit the school they attended.

Our instructor told us that so many teens jump off buildings after receiving their test scores. He also told us about two twin girls who, after seeing they did poorly for the second time, jumped together from their apartment building.

With such strong pressures on education (learning English being very high up on the lists of must-know subjects) many families ship their children off to other countries to live and learn for several years. Sometimes the mother will go with the kids, and the dad will stay working in Korea, only visiting once a year (hence the nickname "goose fathers"). Other times the child will go alone, only returning home every now and then.

Our co-worker Tony was sent to New Zealand for five years with out his family to learn English. Another Co-worker of mine, Sunny, spent a year or two in Australia learning English. I also have a few students who told me they have spent years in the Philippines to learn English and are now back to Korea.

This information really threw me for a loop a while back when I heard it, and honestly I don't know why I haven't written about it sooner. This week, in my storytelling class, I asked Jully (our boss's daughter) how old her brother is. I was wondering why I had never met him. I thought maybe he was too old for our school (our max-age is 13).

"He is eight."

"Why doesn't he come to LangCon, like you?"

"He lives in Canada."

"Does he live there by himself?"

"With my aunt."

"When was the last time you saw your brother?"

"Last Christmas we went to Canada."

"When will you see him again?"

"He is coming in January."

"Will he go back to Canada, or stay in Korea?"

"Korea. He will be done in Canada. Maybe you will meet him."

I had no idea I worked for a Goose Father. Its crazy how common this actually is. But when we learned about it, we were told that the reason they ship their kids off is because they don't want them to have to grow up in the Korean school system and the immense pressures they have to succeed. I guess it brings a whole new meaning to "if you love them, let them go".

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