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.

No, this isn’t an airline asking if you want a certain seat on the plane – it’s getting your ticket for an assigned spot in my university’s library. Which is probably even harder than getting the window seats on a plane.

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?

You can rent your own ‘long term booth’ in the library: Just notice the towel and mouth wash on top and put it in relation to the amount of time spent in there…

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?

Bildschirmfoto 2015-09-23 um 16.47.01

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.

First week of class 

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.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-09-22 um 17.48.14
Guess my classes!

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’.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-09-22 um 17.48.27
The English solution!

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.

6 thoughts on “LAZY GERMAN

  1. ronaldl93 says:

    Was an awesome read! 🙂
    I still don’t quite get the grading system, although I fully understand how it works, why they are using it is another story… However, it maybe either benefit or completely screw you over. Example, lets say the Korean with the best mark (on the curve system) gets 10/20 or 50%, he/she would get an A+ because of the curve. Whereas you on the absolute grading system, scores 11/20, means that you will basically get an F as the minimum to pass a class with a D symbol is 60%. – Of course this is all theoretically, whether they do that in practice is another story.

    So yes, it would either help you, or not at all.


    1. Tadej Laslo says:

      Pretty good and solid observations, I wanted to expand a little though and maybe offer an insight or two.

      Curve grading is actually very often used in the west too, it’s not applied as directly and openly as in Korea, where they literally tell you “only x% can get grade y”. If you have any national exams, entrance exams, etc. chances are you were subjected to it be it in Europe, US or wherever. On smaller scales too, actually.

      Why do they do it so openly in Korea? I heard it’s apparently because a lot of their university programs are/were a joke and gave out A+ like candy (still often happens if a class gets absolute grading) as less than ethical professors (or too nice ones) like to give out good grades for various reasons, plus it looked good for the school to have such good grades on average. Grade inflation was a serious thing and when everybody is exceptional, nobody is of course. (and it’s assumed therefore some will be able to do better, hence the curve)

      As to why Korean people get so obsessed over it, when even when we do get graded on a curve in the west we generally don’t care? Companies will put a lot of stock into your transcript, so if your GPA is not above x.something they flat out wont even give you a chance for applying for a test to get an interview.

      As for the German feeling lazy, don’t worry. The truly tragic thing is even when they work hard, they tend to be dreadfully unproductive, when last i checked productivity was the German’s ace, no? 😛

      As much as i love this place and its people, they might work hard (or pretend to work hard) but they are mostly really good at looking like they work hard, while actually having worse ADD than the average young kid (phone every few seconds) straight up falling asleep in the library because they always study at stupid hours and get too little sleep (so they always forget everything they learned 0.2 seconds after the exam) and generally waste so much time on entirely pointless or counter-productive things that might look good and get good grades but are meaningless in the end.

      If you want a kick read up on the working culture in big companies (unless you’re an intern, then you’re screwed).

      Liked by 2 people

  2. antonialeoniemayer says:

    Thank you very much for your interesting comment which even highlighted the background of the grading system! Referring to your last paragraph: I actually noticed and wanted to mention the issues about productivity while ‘studying 24/7’, too, but it would have busted the length of my blog post ;D


  3. wrog says:

    Hi Antonia,
    you’re not allowed to work at a korean Campus newspaper??? Don’t be afraid about. In Editorial Office of Lingen Daily News ( ) we are waiting for your report about your studies in Korea. Remeber: It will be printed at January, 7th 2016, and we need the report some days before 😉

    Lovely Greetings



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