Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Yesterday I had a rather weighty conversation with one of the interns.  It started with education in the US.   

He asked whether it is true that Asians do better in American schools than Americans and whether Asians succeed better than Americans in the US.

It is common knowledge that that per capita Asian Americans do better academically, and generally hold good jobs.   They account for a higher percentage per capita for admission to most of the top universities.  They are considered a model group.

So why do you think that is he asked.

I'm sure there are many studies that take a go at answering this question; from this layman's point of view, I would assume it's due to culture and traditions that place more emphasis on developing strict study habits from a young age and not engaging in behavior that could affect the reputation of the family or group.

So why did Asian cultures stagnate for so long?  How come the west became predominant?

I don't think there is an easy answer for that question, but as a guess, the same aspect of culture that is a strength can also be a weakness.  Maintaining face and following the dictates of elders can just as easily result in stagnation.  Strict study habits are only useful for producing good results if applied to material that includes more salient 'knowledge' than how the best rice comes from Ichon or that Korea has four distinct seasons.  The rulers of yesteryear closed their borders and became more inward looking.  When those nasty westerners showed up and forced the borders open, the game plan changed.

So in other words the west has precipitated its own downfall by forcing Asian countries to become more like them, mainly so western powers could make more money?

Er, yeah that could be one way of looking at it.  But you also need to consider the whole "White Man's Burden" thing that was common at the time.  Even though it could turn out that less 'developed' countries at the time would probably come to hate the imperialist western powers, it was still considered in the best interest of humanity to forcibly bring about change.  Force in the religion, medicine, ideas, since in the end it would be the best thing.  The ends justify the means kind of thing.

He stared at me for a while.

So why are you here?

Ha!  Originally, I never wanted to feel fettered and tied down to a soul crushing job, where I'd have to wear a suit and tie and do work that was ideologically repulsive, so I cashed in and went walkabout.  But now I work under fluorescent lights wear formal attire and find myself shilling plastic for a living.  Funny how things turn out sometimes, and funny how you can justify all kinds of compromise so as to sleep easier at night.

He shuddered.

Then it was time for lunch and we left it at that.


Anonymous said...

This is way too high brow. Post more cat and fail videos

F5Waeg said...

cat videos?

Anonymous said...

Vidoes. Of cats.

F5Waeg said...

yeah I got that, and I suppose you're right: I haven't posted nearly enough cat videos.

Jake said...

When first graders in Korea are being taught the same math as American sixth graders, and when high schoolers in Korea attend class for 10 hours a day while their American counterparts attend exactly half that, why is it surprising at all that Korean students can easily complete American school work? This seems like common sense to me.

It reminds me of all those Mexicans at my high school who enrolled in Introductory Spanish for an easy-A.

Societies that are more focused on material greed tend to create, seek out and strictly follow systems that will allow them to escape poverty and to prosper. In the case of Asians (and Indians and many eastern Europeans), they've recognized that simply doing well in school is an easy path to success in America.

They recognize something that American students often do not: Doing well in school actually CAN affect the rest of your adult life, even if it's a stupid concept (it is), one would be stupid not to recognize this easy path to success, and that when followed, it all but guarantees and easier and more pleasant adult life.

Americans take a more 'I'll do what I want to do and study what I want to study, and life will just fall into place' mentality, while clever immigrants to the USA have recognized and adhered to the 'study hard = good job' mentality. Americans are idealistic. They want a job that they will enjoy. Asians for the most part are money hungry, and will very nonchalantly work a job they hate or are not interested in for their entire lives solely because of the higher than average salary.

The same holds true for the children of poor immigrants, whose parents pressure them to study hard, but are also driven by the fear of poverty and the drive to upgrade their social status, which when they set foot in America is at the very bottom of the pile.

Ben said...

I was listening to Niall Ferguson a few days back.
He suggested several factors that saw the Western world speed ahead including property rights, public health improvements and a few others that I can't recall.

The West, particularly the UK, also had captive markets for a long time.

A little theory of mine developed during my many years in S. Korea is also how Anglo-saxon males operate... we are quite aggressive with an individual streak but will "co-operate" with eachother to get a job done.

F5Waeg said...

I'm somewhat ambivalent about Ferguson myself. The guy has cred, but I still find some of his ideas counter-intuitive.

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