Seoul is quite nice during fall, possibly the best time to visit the city. So I went around western Seoul and shot some video around the Jongno, Hongdae and Yeouido areas. It's been far too long since I made a video.
"I spent 19 years preparing for this exam..." ~651,000 high school students took the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) on Thursday, November 7th. The test, only given once a year, is very much viewed as something that will decide the rest of their lives, or at least that's what all the pressure put on them leads them to believe. It's a test so important that it is created each year in extreme secrecy, deep within the mountains east of Seoul. No...seriously.
South Korea is consistently ranked as having the best educated students in the world, beating the US (no surprise), Iceland, France and Luxembourg, who has the world's highest GDP. Most of this is due to students spending much more time studying than students elsewhere in the world. Studying is likely the only thing most students do. They also spend a hell of a lot more money on it than anyone else. Sending their students to cram schools and private tutors for practically every subject.
The systems of learning and testing themselves are quite different than elsewhere. Classes are often just dictated by the teacher, with practically zero discussion or questions. Rote memorization is key.
Much to the happiness of their parents 70%+ of South Korean high school students end up going to college. However, pressure from families and Korean society as a whole has increased recently, creating extremely high stress levels, with suicide rates amongst people under 24 are up 50% since 2000 to 9.4 suicides per 100,000 people.
The test holds so much significance in Korean society as a whole that many businesses open at 10:00 AM, an hour later than usual, to ease up traffic to clear the way for students. Businesses such as banks, offices and the stock exchange. Students running late can even be escorted by police. Flights are even reduced during the listening portion of the test.
Not satisfied just the pressure of college entrance exams, 100,000 people around the world took Samsung's recruitment test this past October. Many of the biggest corporations in South Korea have an aptitude test to go along with their applications and interviews. Different tests that also have their own cram school classes and private tutors devoted to getting recent college grads an extremely coveted job at a huge conglomerate. Most of these big companies have specific hiring seasons, Samsung will be hiring 5,500 new employees at once for this second half of the fiscal year. Some distinctions between South Korean and western hiring practices. Information about the applicants parents is often required during the application process. Interviews take place in groups, with a handful of interviewers and upwards of a dozen interviewees. Successful applicants will then sometimes go through a huge team building/boot camp retreat.
Koreans Are the Most Widely Dispersed People In the World, with 7.3 million people, 14% of the population of S. Korea, living 175 countries around the world. via KorAm
Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Seoul to talk with S. Korean president Park Geun-hye about all sorts of things. What I'm most interested/excited about is the deal that brought South Korea into pre-existing railroad pact between Russia and North Korea, with the hopes of creating a rail line connecting Moscow to Busan, located on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, going through and stopping in North Korea. Not only may that be monumental for North/South relations, both economically and politically, but it will make the gap between east and west even smaller. Also, it could possibly encourage a link between Busan and southern Japan, as well as a link to North Korea with China. Ultimately interconnecting Tokyo, Seoul, Pyongyang, Beijing, Moscow and the rest of Europe. It's all speculation, no money has been spent yet, these are talks about ideas and realistically a passenger trip from Tokyo to London would by no means be convenient. But what a thing it would be.
About 80 people were publicly executed in cities across North Korea on November 3rd. They were executed for various crimes, including watching South Korean movies, possessing a Bible (North Korea is officially an atheist state), prostitution and distributing porn. Some were executed in a stadium with about 10,000 local citizens of all ages reportedly being forced to watch. Accomplices and the family of the executed were then sent to prison camps to atone for the crimes of their loved ones, a normal practice in the North.
Executing this many people on the same day for these seemingly minor infractions can be seen as an attempt to send a message to the public.