2015-05-13 / News

Korean student in Midlo puts education to the test

By Michael Buettner

South Korean native Jin Seo, 16, hopes to attend an Ivy League school. 
Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer South Korean native Jin Seo, 16, hopes to attend an Ivy League school. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Students who are getting ready for their end-of-year Standards of Learning tests are well aware of what the phrase “high-stakes testing” means.

But in some parts of the world, the stakes are much higher – so much so that a student from another country might want to come to the U.S. to get a little more space in her life for things besides studying for tests.

“I always wanted to come to America,” says Jin Seo. The 16-year-old native of Seoul, South Korea, is staying with friends of her parents in Midlothian while she attends Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Catholic School in Powhatan, where she is a high school freshman.

“The biggest reason was the education system,” she adds. “I thought there were more opportunities for students than in Korea.”

The main opportunity, she explains, is to have a life outside of prepping for standardized tests. “Korean students have to study really, really hard to get better test scores,” she says. “It’s more competitive.”

Indeed, South Korea’s system of education has drawn attention from U.S. experts, both favorable and unfavorable. For example, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has mentioned the country as a model for American educators to emulate.

But others aren’t so sure. In a Washington Post column last year, educators Young Whan Choi and Kathy Schultz suggested that the most important lesson to learn from what they called South Korea’s “highly structured, test-driven educational system” might be “the efforts of students to resist this system.”

The authors cited as an example the Haja Production School in Seoul, created 15 years ago to provide an alternative to the typical high-pressure school environment. The school aims to accommodate “students who consciously chose to leave school because of the test focus that overshadowed all other forms of learning.”

For Jin Seo, a better alternative was to come to the U.S., which she had visited previously with her family when she was much younger. A big part of the attraction, she says, is the chance to learn lessons beyond the classroom. “I can join other activities, join clubs, have more experiences,” she says.

Jin’s goal is to attend an Ivy League college, and eventually work as a laboratory research scientist studying human diseases. “At first I wanted to be a veterinarian – I like animals – but now I know there are more problems with human diseases that need a cure as soon as possible.”

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