Even though I don’t have any solid Christmas plans, this is the first time I’m looking forward to it in a very long time. It also helps that this is the first Christmas since I’ve been in Korea that’s fallen on a weekday–which means I get the day off! I also got a box from my mom full of Christmas related goodies, including a stocking!
This is also the first Christmas where I suspect I won’t feel the shadow of what happened Christmas Eve when I first got here (Fall 2010). I didn’t talk about it to very many people, but let’s just say it significantly changed my life in more ways that I expected.
Without going into too much detail, I will bring up a tragic aspect about Korean society. Korea has an abnormally high suicide rate among teenagers. One reason, which doesn’t effect a lot of students, are those who can’t deal with being ‘outcasts.’ Unfortunately, it’s much more severe than it is in English-speaking countries. These students are completely ostracized and tormented; and not even changing schools will help…it will follow them and making friends will be exceedingly difficult. That said, the biggest reason many students attempt suicide is because of the stresses of the test for college. This “college-entrance test” (수능) is what all their education prepares them for and it basically sets their social and economic future of the rest of their lives. Doing poorly shames themselves and their family. Simply retaking it is not only embarrassing, but they have to delay college entrance for another year. Therefore, suicide rates during this winter season are exceedingly high (the test is in November, and then results come in later).
Perhaps I also feel more light-hearted because it is my first year with elementary students and none of them are dealing with major test stress. If there are any ostracized students, I don’t see any harassment. The students are cheery and not overwhelmed with all the tests and practice tests that high school students have been dealing with for the last two of months of the year. So, needless to say, it’s a much more pleasant atmosphere and I’m actually looking forward to Christmas–despite the cold(!).