What is your dream? There are few college students who can answer this question easily. People tend to have many different types of dreams such as being a CEO, singer, chef, and astronaut when they were elementary school students. Society attaches importance to the results and competitions rather than to the process, and Korean students receive standardized career education. Therefore students are losing their dreams.
About eighty percent of Korean high school students enter university. However, most students choose a major based on getting a job rather than studying something that they are interested in. In a competitive atmosphere, universities turn into a place to prepare for the job market and students do not realize what they want and achieve but try very hard only to get a job. It causes not only severe personal loss but also hurts our nation.
Students losing their dreams
Students on a leave of absence
■ Case of Ms. A (21-year-old, major in Adolescent Education & Counseling)
I did not do well on the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), so I could not choose a major that I wanted. While attending university, I realized that this was not what I wanted to study, so I took a leave of absence. After considering what I wanted to achieve, I decided to go to the Department of Early Childhood Education. I thought it was hard to only study for 6 months, so I decided to take a part time job for 6 months and then study for the test next year for an entire year. After I had taken a job, it was very hard so I quit. Then I did nothing for 1 month. I thought I should do something, so I started a new part time job. Now I am working for 8 months. My plan was to study for the test and then take the exam, but I am not studying anything because I am not sure that I can study Math and English which I did not study hard during high school.
This is common among students in Korea. They do not know what to study and end up changing their educational field. This is primarily caused by standardized testing that does not consider individual wants and dreams.
■ The reason why many students take a leave of absence
According to an educational statistic in 2013, the number of college students who are absent from school is about one million. In 2012, it reached one million, so that year was called the “era of one million students taking a leave of absence.” It is common for college students to withdraw from school temporarily at least once. Among the reasons why they choose to be absent from school include: studying language abroad, taking overseas trips, studying for transformation and getting licenses, and preparing for employment and careers. However, there are few programs for those students. Also many companies prefer students putting off their graduation to typical graduating students; so many students take a leave of absence just before employment. According to a study about the actual condition of putting off graduation and achievement in the labor market, among students who graduated from four-year-course-college, 17.9 percent of students put off the graduation. There is no difference between the hiring rate of those of putting off graduation (76.3%) and typical students (75.7%). However, in the case of public companies and other major conglomerates, they prefer students who take a year off as it gives them more work experience and better skills.
Lots of students choose to leave the university because they want to have time to consider whether their majors fit with them or not and get an advantage to be hired by the major conglomerates and public companies. This is because the Korean education system makes them enter university without considering their interests, and most students want to be hired by only those companies.
■ Program for students on a leave of absence
There are “gap-year” programs. Gap-year means the period of time during which a student takes a break from studying after they have finished school and before they start college or university. Students usually do volunteer work, travel, search for a career, do internships, and find a company to decide their future course. The gap-year first started in England in the 1960s and schools provided students with programs such as oversea volunteer trips, internships, and working holidays. The result of gap-year which spreaded to several countries was good. Now there is a Korean gap-year which helps university students to find their dreams. It helps them spend a time off not for getting more specialized education but researching their lives. During this period, students can do new things that they have not done before, and meet new people. Meeting people does not just mean learning about people, but it also means learning about yourself and who you are as a person.
Students who do not have clear life goals
■ Case of Ms. B (Sophomore, major in Department of Statistics)
I am a sophomore in the Department of Statistics. I will become a junior next year. Considering my score of the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), I entered the Department of Statistics because it’s known for getting jobs easily in the fields relating to economics. When I was a freshman, I just enjoyed campus life and did not study hard. I settled myself down to study during my sophomore year, but it was not easy. Also, I could not receive national scholarships because of my low grades. When I was a high school student, I thought if I studied hard at the time and then entered university, I could do everything I wanted. However, there is a difference between reality and my expectations. After I became a university student, I did many things like studying TOEIC and working at a part-time job, but I still can not decide about my future after graduation although I am two years into my university life. My parents always wish that I would be successful, but I feel burdened by their expectations. I feel like I am just going round in circles in one place by comparing myself with other people who are trying to improve their lives. Also, I worry about my low grades and how to increase them. I promised myself to study hard during my last summer vacation, but there were no differences in my attitude. I thought that if I didn’t graduate from university, people would not respect me. However, it is also difficult to follow other people now. In contrast to my friends preparing their future, I’m constantly concerned about what I will do after graduation.
What is the status of career education in Korea? 34% of middle school students answered they did not decide about their future careers according to the results of a career education status surveys that was conducted by the Korea Employment Information Service (KEIS). This percentage is not different in high school students. 32.3% of high school students responded that they do not have dreams and some people answered that they chose universities or majors based on their CSAT score rather than their interests and aptitudes. To solve these problems, schools should offer one on one guidance to their students about their future. Unfortunately, this has not happened as many schools continue to give standardized lectures on career education. The Ministry of Education published a “Comprehensive Plans for Career Education” to expand work experience programs and establishing education curriculums in 2010, but unfortunately there is no improvement. Furthermore, some surveys conducted in schools like MBTI Test or Holland Test asked students some questions about their careers and they answered the questions using their own mind, so the results were hard to reflect each student’s attributes objectively.
■ Advanced Career Education programs in foreign countries
Many countries offer programs that guide students to better career choices. England, for example, has implemented an “Introduction-to-Working-Life Period.” In Finland, it is part of the education system to match students with suitable and interesting job experiences in real work places. Denmark, for example, also implements a similar program for their students which helps them decide their future job during their compulsory education periods. In addition, universities and colleges implement one week major orientation for students who want to enter university after graduation. Also, there is “Bridge Building Course” during grade 10 when it is time to choose a major and career. It contains work experiences for more than 4 weeks at these education institutions. In this way, foreign countries help students find their way by having job experiences instead of a vague career education. The common things of these career education is that they have a specialized organization of career education. In the past, these countries had a respective education system, now they combine their system and specialized organizations handle the career education professionally.
■ Major Experience Program
In recent years, major experience programs have increased for high school students in Korea. In the past, universities just informed people about their school at open college fairs, but now universities want to both inform people about their university and introduce various majors through major experience programs. It is not just a one side explanation, so students can experience majors. Also, professors of these majors give short lectures. These programs are well-received by high school students. It is formed based on a program focused on experience rather than on a simple presentation. Furthermore, not only enrolled university students but also graduate students participate in the programs and help high school students make their future plan. More and more universities are giving high school students the opportunity to experience various majors. Kyunghee University opened Kyunghee OPEN CAMPUS major experience classes of Humanities and Social Sciences, Literature, Science, and Medicine for high school students. It helps high school students select majors by inviting experts on career education along with seniors who discuss their major via shared experiences directly. Similar programs are implemented at Konkuk University, Sookmyung Women’s University, Ewha Womans University, and Chungbuk National University to name a few.
Workers who are confused about their jobs
■ Case of Ms. C (Retired employee)
When I entered university, I applied to IT major belonging to Natural Sciences and Engineering department which matched my CSAT score even though I was interested in humanities in high school. However, I received a scholarship due to my hard academic efforts but I did not think that this major was not suitable for me. Therefore, I tried to do different experiences to explore and find my real dream. Some examples of what I did include a musical, part-time jobs, volunteering, leader education, interchange student to USA and so on. However, I came back from USA during my second semester of my senior year, and I became more confused. I did what I wanted while doing my best, so I thought I could enter any company I wanted. However, it was not easy. I still do not know the job I want or how to enter and apply for companies. I just feel quick tempered because I do not know the best method to go about getting a job. So I put off my graduation and prepared employment. Also during that time I thought more about employment than my actual dream. I studied hard by entering a study group for employment and participated in debates to find my values. I also started to analyze and explore myself! And I fortunately got a job in a major company with many people’s help. When I prepared for employment, I thought if I had got job, it would have been a good end. However, this was the real starting point of my life. My work environment was good and I also worked very hard so I could receive more pay. However, I was confused at that time. The other conditions around me were almost perfect but I could not be sure it was what I really wanted to do and I lost my passion for work. Finally I left that company and now, I work as a consultant helping students find their way.
It is said that people create their values and complete life goal through work. However, currently work is only considered as a method to earn money, and few people achieve their goals through work. The reason for this phenomenon is that our society puts more and more emphasis on money. This fact has been verified in some surveys. A recent survey asked university students, “what company do you prefer between one that match your field of study well and the other that pays more money?” The result was that 63% of students preferred the company that pays more money. Teenagers replied that their aptitudes and personalities are the most important factor when deciding their job while university students replied that pay is the most important thing. In this competitive atmosphere people prefer their competition to their aptitudes.
Interview with Career Storyteller Hwang Rae-yeong
A) My dream is to help children that have pain in their lives. I want to hug and embrace those children like I am their parent. I hope I achieve this goal as a vision instructor.
Q) What makes you have that dream?
A) I’m the oldest son. My father is a soldier. When I was young, I was weaker and had a higher voice than other boys so I was bothered. When I was 15-year-old, I took part in an essay contest about gender equality. I wrote an essay about transforming the role of men and women. This would be difficult because each character would not familiar with their transformed role. I put all my feeling in that essay and won a prize. After that, I participated in essay contests dealing with gender equality for two years. Even though I was born this way, I won’t cause you harm. When I was a high school student, the principal molested me several times. After that, I was afraid of attending school. Therefore I always thought that I would die. One day while I watched TV, there was a child who was molested like me. At that time, it occurred to me to say, “It’s not your fault.” So I wrote a letter to the children who had similar experiences as me. I repeated, “You couldn’t do anything when they hurt you. It’s not your fault.” From that time, I decided to work with children who are like me. I can tell them, “It’s okay. I’ve got a wound in my heart too.”
Q) What kind of activities are you doing now?
A) I am working as a career storyteller at school to help coach children’s careers. Also, I provide mentoring with students at the community welfare center. The most important thing is that I work as an intern at a company called Career Discovery. I participate in career camps and conduct healing concerts to motivate children to have dreams. At first, it was hard because they did not follow me well. However as time went on, it changed. I feel self-worth when children contact me after that.
Q) What do you want to tell to young people who are losing their dreams?
A) I wanted to die when I was 18 years old, but I am 23 years old now and I am still alive. After that event, I had no dreams or even the will to live. However I did something that I could do easily. I continued living and did other things. Thinking of the things that you want to do continuously is your job.
When you walk on a road named “life” not deciding your goal and just following other people, you will lose your way and wander alone forgetting where you are going. Currently, South Korean students are losing their dreams by just acting in the same way as other people are living and doing work that is not related to their dreams. It is a tragedy to lose their dreams. From now on, I hope that the students think often about their dreams, and go running toward them fully on their own.