Nov 7, 2012

The Day The Country Holds its Breath

In case you had any doubts about the level of seriousness to which Koreans take their education, today should put those to rest. Today is the day every high school student in the country takes the KSATs. They're the SATs, only... you guessed it... Korean. The exam is only  held once a year, and it's so important that the entire country stops functioning for a few hours. It's 9:40 am and I just got to school, because every workplace started an hour later. They wanted to make sure the students didn't encounter rush hour traffic on their way to the exam and risk being late. Yeah. I know. My friends teaching middle school (not even high school-- middle school) have the whole day off so their coworkers can help staff the exams. Get this: the airspace over much of Korea is a no-fly zone right now, because the sound of planes could distract the students from their test. The whole country is holding its breath.

This is all very convenient for me. The extra hour of sleep was great because yesterday was a Rather Big Day in American politics, and the local foreigner community had some celebrating to do. I met up with a group of my fellow Americans (and a few Obama Supporters of Other Nationalities) for dinner at a pub in the foreigner district, Itaewon. On my way up the escalator from the subway, a man caught my eye and smiled. He said he was from Nigeria.  He asked if I was American. When I said yes, he smiled and asked if I was happy. I smiled back.

Dinner reminded me a bit of the end of the very first chapter of Harry Potter-- when small groups of people all over the world come together to raise their glasses. Team America took up just a small corner of the pub we were in. One of my friends had commandeered a tiny paper American flag, which we stuck in the top of the plastic sign on the table and saluted periodically. The mood was proud and optimistic, as we excitedly discussed the outcome and the details of our respective states' elections. We congratulated people whose states had done exceptionally well in our eyes-- states who had passed groundbreaking legislation or who had made history in the people they decided should represent them.

We rehashed the President's victory speech, and many of us (including me) confessed that it made us a little teary. I was just happy I'd been able to watch it live. It just so happened that daylight savings time gave me the extra hour I needed to be done teaching when he took the stage. I put the speech on my classroom smartboard, cranked up my speakers, and settled into one of the students desks to watch and be exceptionally proud, for a few moments, to be an American.

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