Testing, Suicide and the Solution


April is the cruelest month, they say. Well, in Korea, although it may not be the cruelest (what about the extreme winter cold?), but it is definitely a cruel one, especially if you’re a student: it’s time for mid-terms. Conspicuously there are fewer students partying late into the night, more students at coffee shops pouring over stacks of books, and middle and high school students in uniform with troubled expressions on their faces.

Tests and exams are LIFE in Korea. Korean’s are born and raised with this lifestyle and become habituated to having regular exams thrown at them.  There are tests, exams, mock exams, pop quizzes, try-outs, evaluations, and more tests and more exams with every title possible. They get tested on every subject in school, and they have to contend with the tests they dish out at the hagwons (private institutes) as well.

Middle school and high school all culminate in the quintessence of all school tests: the college entrance exams. It’s not hyperbole to say it is what dictates those 6 years of school; everything they gain knowledge of is for that exam (and of course life in the long run, but no one really tells them that during that time). And all those tests they take in between? The mid-terms, the finals, the national scholastic tests, the school administrated exams, the many other little tests? They are simply preparation tests for the big thing.

So they make it into college, a reputable university! It must be time to let loose and get rid of those late-night, no-sleep, stuck-at-school-until-midnight, and study blues, right? No way monsieur. Sorry. You’ve got to graduate plus graduate with good grades on top of that, no? Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. It’s a competitive world out there and rivalry is fierce for those highly desirable dream jobs. First you have to master your major (and double major and minor), and then English, some computer techie stuff and knowledge of software programs; college is setting you up to take more tests prior to entering the real world. You need to be prepared 100%, and how do you know if you’re prepared or not? Of course, take tests!

For those who have a clear career path in mind, studying is focused on those special tests and exams. Exams to become civil servants or diplomats, bar exams for those who want to pursue a career in law, exams to enter into the world of broadcasting and journalism, exams to take to qualify to become a teacher, language proficiency tests to take in order to study abroad, the list goes on and on.

On entering the real world, many companies carry out tests and exams of their own to appraise employees. Most are just ingenuously called “promotion tests”; if they pass, they get promoted; if they don’t, they don’t. Besides the promotion tests, tests are carried out after educational training sessions, to assess certain skills the job would take, and there are also “leadership quality” tests and other career oriented personality tests that many companies like to take. Tests are a stable in the working field as much as they are in school.

After school, probably one of the tests taken most widely is the test to get a driver’s licence. (Although the way they drive I seriously doubt if they do a test). There is supposed to be a rigorous process people have to go through in order to get a license, which means it’s yet another test to tackle.

A 2010 government report reveals that suicide is the number one cause of death for those under 40 in South Korea. South Korea, already facing one of the world’s highest suicide rates, has seen those numbers double in the last decade, and the government is facing pressure to come up with a resolution to the escalating problem.  South Korea’s figures for 2009 show more than 40 people killed themselves each day, more than double the number who committed suicide a decade ago and a five-fold increase since 1989. Its 2009 number, 22 deaths per 100,000 people, was the highest suicide rate for the 31 wealthiest members of the OECD.

Some suggest the increase is among younger age groups, where they are using the Internet to create suicide groups.  In July 2011, a 24-year-old woman was rescued after an apparent group suicide attempt. The South Korean woman was found floating unconscious in a river near Seoul, rescued by a local resident. She had jumped off a bridge with another woman and three men she met on the Internet. It may be that possible stress factors for younger people are the educational arena, a highly competitive environment, and the job market?

Suicide in South Korea has also been connected to the Korean concept of “han,” a stoicism linked to thoughts of anger and helplessness which might arise when faced with a seemingly insurmountable situation. Han has a deep history in Korean society and is linked to depression.

I have a simple solution…ditch the books and get on yer bike! It is well-known that cycling reduces stress and improves well-being. For example, someone who weighs 80kg (12st 9lb) will burn more than 650 calories with an hour’s riding, and tone their legs and bottom! If you ride up hills or off-road, you’ll also work your upper body. The best way to build cardiovascular fitness on the bike is to ride for at least 150 minutes every week.

Feeling absolutely no stress other than the need to reduce the weight my knees have to carry, I did another 5 hour ride today, heading towards Jungangtap and continuing to Jojeongji Dam and the army training grounds across Imperial Lake. I am used to the jet fighters flying over the school every day but had not realized the extent of the military presence in the Chungju area. I took a circular route around the peninsular that would bring me back out along the river and then to Tangmundae Park.  The parks were crowded today, lots of older folk around.  It was Children’s Day yesterday so I suppose it was like an extension to that. The temperatures are sitting around mid to high seventies now so it’s best to set off early and get back early afternoon.

I got back at 2.30pm to edit the pictures and write-up this stuff and now I’m building up to the next big un City vs. Newcastle, fingers, toes and everything else crossed.  I just hope Aguero’s finishing improves he should be on 40 for the season now, not 25!