Hagwon? I hardly know won!

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State of the Union January 26, 2011

I just finished watching President Obama’s second State of the Union address in which he mentioned South Korea four times. The only other country he mentioned as many times was China. This says to me that Mr. Obama takes South Korea very seriously. And why shouldn’t he? Not only are they a freshly minted economic powerhouse, but they got themselves to this point in just 60 years.

Seoul 1953

At the end of the Korean War, South Korea didn’t look terribly different from modern day Afghanistan. It was a mountainous, war torn place. Not just the Korean War’s effects but the recent Japanese occupancy left the country burnt, bombed, depopulated and undereducated.

In just three generations, they have picked themselves up and built what is arguably the best education system in the world. They have started companies like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. They’ve taught an entire generation of students the English language. All this, while the North looms above making progress difficult.

The key to this success is South Korea’s diligent investment in education. The best educated students in the world are here in South Korea. These kids wake up, go to school, go to hagwons and then go home and do homework and then go to bed to repeat. They go to school every other Saturday and their summer vacation is one month long, a vacation that they spend at English or science camp. This is a people who do not mess around when it comes to school.

What a difference 57 years makes

If they can do all this, we can build a better America. South Korea is an example to the world for self improvement. They have a successful blue print of how to build a vibrant nation. America prides itself on a can do attitude. There is not a more can do nation on Earth than South Korea.


Shots Fired and the Sun Still Shines November 24, 2010

Yesterday, about an hour before my classes started, while I was in a workshop to get ready for fall term, North Korea fired shots into a village on Yeonpyeong Island. Is this unsettling? Sure. Is it worth writing an e-mail home to worried parents? You bet. Is it worth changing my daily routine over? Absolutely not.

The first thing you should know is that while I am just northeast of Seoul, mere miles from the DMZ, Yeonpyeong is smack in the middle of the disputed border in the Yellow Sea. The island itself rests firmly above the 38th parallel, while I am snugly below at the 37th parallel.

Please keep in mind as you watch the news that every time North Korea shoots something or sinks something or bombs something the press claims it is the most aggression they’ve shown since 1953.

The chances of North and South Korea going to war with each other are exactly the same as the chances of the U.S. and China going to war with one another. With 30,000 U.S. troops enjoying the services in Ieteawon, there simply isn’t a way for America to not be involved in a war. North Korea knows it. If they don’t want to become a parking lot for the next E-Mart, they would need to be pretty sure about China’s readiness to pour across the Yalu once again. A fresh Cold War does not a thing for the Chinese economy. Communist they may be, but the Soviet Union they ain’t.

For you worry warts out there, worst case scenario: If a “foreign government” invades the Republic of Korea my contract is automatically null and I use the money I have tucked away to buy airfare home. Then, in a short 24 hours, I will enjoy a french dip sub from Tanks with hand cut fries and a cup of drip coffee.

As of this moment it is another sunny, fall day in Namyangju, South Korea. The kids are still playing at the elementary school across the street. Family Mart is still selling Pepero. The squids are still swimming in tanks outside restaurants oblivious to their imminent demise. And I still have a meeting to go get ready for.


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