Education systems in South Korea and the United States are different in many ways. Of course, Korean students wear uniforms as well, but mandatory uniform policy applies from middle schools to high schools only. Some private schools require students to wear uniforms. Different from loose school uniforms that allow combinations of different styled outfits in designated school colors in the United States, South Korea’s school outfits were very fitted in limited styles because the tradition emerged from the Japanese colonial era. These days, students have more options and freedom when they are choosing what to wear to school.
The colonized era traces are still existing today in Korea’s education systems in various ways. The school year in Korea starts in February and ends in December. Spring break is not called Easter break, while there is no such Thanksgiving break in Korea. The length of vacations is different as well. Spring vacation usually lasts for one to two weeks, summer vacation takes around one to two months, and winter vacation too. Elementary to high schoolers tend to have shorter summer breaks than college students. Particularly, high school seniors technically have summer vacation but most of them are so busy studying for Korean SAT, which means they study harder and longer during breaks.
What about the quarters or semesters system? Interestingly, there is no quarter system in Korea. Just first and second semesters consist of a full school year from February to December. In short, Korean students begin a new school year in February, take a short Spring break, continue the first semester followed by the summer break. Around August or September, the second semester commences then winter vacation comes in mid to late December.
Let’s take a closer look at school life in Korea. Once Korean students enter high school, most of them end school at night after a night study session. This unique night study time is called “Yaja” or “야자” in Korean. Students who go to private tutor sessions instead of Yaja time are allowed to go home early to attend tutor classes. After Yaja time, all students officially are dismissed at very late night, 10 or 11 pm. In today’s world, not all schools force students to attend late-night study sessions but it was very common a few years ago.
Last but not least, the Korean SAT is treated as an almost one-time life chance because it holds only one time in November of the year from 8 am to 6 pm. Korean SAT involves five subjects: Korean language, mathematics, English, Korean history/ exploration (society, science, occupation), and foreign language/Chinese characters. It is fair to say all Korean students spare no effort during their school years, K to 12, just for a one-time SAT test. Korea is one of the famous countries that prioritize education in life, so parents sacrifice for their children, and students take every possible means to enter an elite university. To be a successful person in Korea, it is beneficial to have a college degree. But no pressure! Because there are many other ways to achieve personal goals!