Leave of Absence for Korean Students
By Kang So-yeong
Our society today can be described with one simple phrase ― ``Always on the go.'' Whether it is socially, economically, or politically, our society is constantly morphing to fit the wants and needs of the people. However, one of the biggest yet most undermined changes in society is within our very own lives, the lives of average college students.
When many think of the average college student, they think of an easy-going student having a great time studying in the library or reading a book on the front lawn of the university. What most people do not realize is that there are radical but subtle changes taking place to the paradigm of college life.
One of the biggest changes within the college realm is the sudden increase in absences from school. While mandatory military service and part-time jobs were the only two culprits behind absences in the past, the reasons for absences nowadays have become a great mystery. It has become increasingly difficult to find the college student that graduates in four years.
The amount of students that stay out of school temporarily has gradually increased, from 500,000 in 2000 to 600,000 in 2005. Many students in Korea have no choice but to take a break from school due to the anxiety of not being able to succeed after college. Many students take breaks from school to prepare for a job or earn money, basically preparing themselves financially and emotionally for the world up ahead. However, those who go through college without any breaks usually end up without any hands-on experience, leaving them confused and disoriented in the tough job sector.
Although many students enter college planning on having the ultimate college experience, many regret not taking the opportunity to earn some outside experience in addition to the academic experience.
A big reason why many college students take leaves of absence from school is the anxiety of not being able to find a job after college and the inability to adapt to the real world quickly.
Because it is so hard to get a job considering the state of the economy today, many students resort to SPEC.
SPEC uses the student's GPA, school status, and test scores as criteria for picking applicants. During the leave of absence, some students leave to study or to gain insight into different cultures while others leave to get experience by participating in internships in order to be more versatile in the job world. There are also students who leave to make money to pay for tuition, and those who use the time to think about changing schools.
As many companies become global in our modern world, the criteria that they require for applicants become much more stingy, leading to a larger workload for many students.
Because a majority of students choose their majors not on their dreams but on their test scores, many find out later on that their major is not for them and usually choose to change schools ― either to apply for a SPEC position or because the school does not match their dreams. The number of students who choose their major according to their Korea SAT score outnumbers the students whose dream is defined from the beginning.
Many wonder, ``What do other countries think about the concept of taking leaves of absence from school?''
The viewpoint on leaves of absence is quite different between Americans and Koreans. To American students, a leave of absence is a time when they can go overseas and volunteer to attain knowledge and experience in that area of life. However, a typical leave of absence for Korean students is usually geared towards self-interest, either to attain a job through SPEC or earn money for tuition. In America, because the financial aid program is so great, it is rare to see an American student leave school to pay for tuition.
One's college career is an integral time when an individual can expand their dreams in life. Many American students are given the opportunity to challenge themselves against their peers through multiple SAT retakes, extracurricular activities, grades, and much more.
However, Korean students are only able to take the SAT once a year, and that blow inflicts much more than a temporary disappointment. Even students who survive the competition often lose their drive and use the time to earn money instead of studying. In the end, the mental strain that the Korean educational system places on its students forces students to choose this route instead of them being able to choose their own routes.
The time in which a student leaves school is a crucial part of a student's life. However, that period is only as useful as the individual makes it. The more the individual uses the period for experiences that can prove useful later on, the more meaningful the period is. However, if that crucial time is wasted by just earning money or having fun, it becomes meaningless and an obstruction to a smoother life.
During my break from school, I have discovered a competitive and passionate side that I had never seen before. Before I was this person, I always thought the world I knew was boring and routine, mainly because my college life offered no excitement or challenge. In just one year's time, I have seen my own development. I have become more responsible and more adapt to unfamiliar situations. After this period is over, I will be able to express this year as the time when I learned something that could never have been achieved in school.
Although it is useful to attain some experience outside of school, there are many benefits to staying in school for the full 4 years. I personally think it's up to the individual to decide whether attaining experience outside of school or taking the full college experience for what it's worth is more important.
Kang So-yeong is a sophomore studying media communications at Sungshin Women's University in Seoul.