Within Europe, Germany has the reputation of a hard working and disciplined nation. For centuries, there have been stereotypes, which declared that southern European countries like Greece or Spain work less than their Northern neighbors. Well, Korea makes every German actually feel like the laziest couch potato on Earth.
The German wonders about…
…the competitive spirit.
Back in Germany there were a lot of times where my peers and I used to talk about the strong competition in class nowadays. It wasn’t only us – even our families and professors had been noticing a rising competitive spirit among younger adults. Compared to South Korea, the pressure is nothing though. I expected – and probably hoped – that I would just be facing a stereotype about Asia being more competitive than Europe. After four weeks of living here, I came to the conclusion that there is a lot of truth behind the prejudice. Of course, I don’t want to universalize and say ‘that’s how every Korean is’, especially since I’ve met some exceptions already, but I can’t deny that I perceive a generally higher competitiveness compared to my home country.
At the first sight, the academic grading seems comparable to the US-American grading system. Many Korean universities use the gradation from ‘A’ to ‘F’ with the letter ‘A’ being the best and ‘F’ being the worst grade. However, Korean universities don’t apply absolute but relative grading, which intensifies the competition a lot. Unlike in Germany, only 30% of a regular class with more than 30 students can get the two best grades (A0 and A+). A total amount of 35% of the class has to get a C+ or below.
I’ve personally never heard of that kind of grading system before and I strongly disapprove it. To underline my disapproval, a little story out of Antonia’s life: Within my third semester I’ve had a class with only seven people in it. For half a year, we worked on a project together; every single one of us putting about the same amount of effort into it. After the project was finished, our professor had to grade each one of us – we all got the same German grade 1,3, which can be compared to the Korean grade A0. From my point of view, my professor couldn’t have done it any better. Not only did she see that we had achieved the goal of the class as a team with everyone of us working as good as the rest, but also did she keep the future in mind. With regard to the upcoming semesters, where our group had to face more classes together, she didn’t start a competitive war and actually focused on upholding the team spirit. Imagine: What would have happened if my professor had to apply relative grading? Since everyone was equally good, she must have made up random (!) criteria to rank us. What would she have picked? Hair color? Age? Hand-writing?
Furthermore, the relative grading system raises negative attitudes towards exchange students. The professors at my university can decide whether they want to apply the absolute or relative grading system for foreign exchange students. Of course, this is a great advantage to us foreigners. However, I can totally understand why some Korean students might be slightly uptight towards us foreigners in class since I do understand the unfairness in it when it’s mainly the Korean students who have to deal with the harsh treatment. It’s even going that far that a Korean student stated in an interview for the September issue of ‘The Argus’ (our English campus magazine) that ‘it is an obvious case of reverse discrimination against Korean students’.
However, that girl should be careful with statements about discrimination. Actually, many of us foreigners had to deal with discrimination themselves when we wanted to join some of the university’s clubs. A French friend of mine, who wanted to enter the tennis club, got turned down with the explanation that they ‘can’t accept foreigners in their team’. A Mexican friend of mine wanted to join the running club but never received the promised call from the team. Was it because his times were better than the ones of the Koreans? I wanted to join the editorial department of the English campus magazine but the girl I talked to said, it was impossible to me as a German without six months of a special practice program.
That was actually the first time in Korea when I was really upset. How could a journalistic product refuse anything that offers different approaches and sights to the world? Isn’t it contradictory that a medium, that presents news, rejects anything new at the same time? How can’t it be theoretical qualification enough that my major covers journalistic tasks, as well? How can’t it be practical qualification enough that I’ve been writing articles for a German newspaper for almost two years now?
I haven’t come to a conclusion yet whether some Koreans underestimate or overestimate us foreigners. From my point of view, both seems possible. It’s either, underestimating our skills and knowledge (a Korean student seriously asked me in class: ‘Do they teach you how to speak English in Germany, as well!?’), which concludes in rejection due to not reaching their group standards, or it’s overestimating us and fearing that we would take up the ‘best spots’. It just leaves me a little frustrated that some clubs shut themselves to new inputs, possibilities and friendships. If a Korean student ever asked me to work for my university’s Campus TV, I would welcome them with arms wide open.
The German loves…
…going to class.
After my little rant above, I need to emphasize, how much I actually love going to class in Korea. I feel like I discover the majority of differences and similarities between Germany and Korea by attending my classes. It’s more than interesting to spot differences regarding economy, politics, culture, morals, habits, dreams and of course public relations. Not only the books and keynotes reveal surprising insights to Korea’s society but even more the professors and group works with my Korean classmates.
So far, I can call myself lucky for having such awesome teams to work with. The first week of my Public Relations Campaigns class, I didn’t print out the professor’s presentation because I couldn’t find anything uploaded on the student’s portal the day before. Stupid little German: You also have to look at night and right before class if the professors upload anything, how could you be so naïve… So entering the classroom, I found every Korean with perfectly printed presentations in front of them. The foreigners – literally all of them without any class material – got away with a slightly harsh remark of the professor that ‘even exchange students should know how to use the Internet and a printer’.
After a little break (one class usually lasts 3 hours!), one of my teammates placed a stack of paper in front of me: the printed presentation. She told me that she had noticed that I didn’t print out the presentation so she used her break for walking down to the copy shop and buying me a copy of the keynotes! That girl made my day. It probably wasn’t much of a big deal, yet it meant a lot to me. The situation taught me to be more watchful and caring in the future if it can have such an impact on somebody’s day like it had on mine.