“What water?”

Sometime in the second semester of my high school senior year, I told myself I had no time to do anything. Wow, what a blatant lie. I partied nearly every day, going real hard what I was told would be the “best time of my life.” I had time, and lots of it. But I had wasted it, my excuse being that I was being a social butterfly.

Looking back, I wish I had spent those couple of months more wisely. College has deprived me almost entirely of free time, to the point where my calendar often has no white space to spare. Yet this exact deprivation has taught me that free time is possibly just as valuable as time spent doing work.

I’ve found that there is always time to learn something new, especially with so many resources accessible around me. Our generation is blessed with the Internet. Learning how to code in a new language has become easier than picking yourself up to go to the library. Talking to an upperclassman about their classes or asking a prof a question or two prods my views in different ways, opening up new doors and uncovering ideas unheard of.

Learning has become almost a fascination, an addiction that continues to grow with everything I learn. To state an idea from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, we only question what the water feels like today after we realize there is water around us.

But for any of that to happen, we need to start questioning like little children–Why does that happen? What is that thing? How does that work? How do I do THAT?

Eventually, it becomes a habit. No time? You get to realize you don’t need a lot of time. Scroll through a Wikipedia article, Google something that was thrown around in class, find out how to read a Japanese character, or whatever. In a world where so many of us are super talented, it doesn’t hurt to expand your knowledge even the slightest bit here and there. It also feels really nice to be able to hold interesting conversations with others, or to share a little something about what you read on a wiki article about bananas being berries. Who says it has to be academic?

True, side effects may include becoming that one annoying kid in class that asks a bunch of questions, but hey, no one can stop you from learning when you’re supposed to be learning (though it is true that the real smartypants tend to make use of office hours).

And to justify myself, there are definitely times when the decision to nap overrides everything else. But nothing beats the sensation of going to bed feeling like, “Oh man, I learned so much today.”

“What water?”

Privileged

During this break, I had an opportunity to explore San Francisco, a truly beautiful city full of youthful energy and bustling streets, peppered with unique sights.

It is also a very expensive city.

The homeless populate sidewalks, coin cans rattling and cardboard signs pleading for spare change. On a particularly drizzly night, walking up Irving Street, my brother and I found a man struggling with his upturned shopping cart, his belongings scattered like debris across the wet blacktop. We stopped to help. The stare from his one greyed-out eye stung me as he thanked us and left us on our way.

Privilege.

It is a euphemism for the unfairness of the world we live in. The cliched talk of the gap between the rich and the poor remains at just that–talk. The greater majority that settle in the middle class merely shrug and look up at the richest to reach down and help the poorest. The mindset most of us take is selfish but sadly realistic: it is what it is, and there is little I can do to change anything.

Growing up among the rich, I had everything I needed. Words of being grateful for having a roof over my head at night with a full stomach seemed only superficial. They never really hit home or held me in tears. My immigrant father was careful to make sure that his three kids were never stressed over money, spoiling us with whatever we wanted and making sure we wouldn’t feel poor next to our friends at ridiculously expensive private schools. Simply put, I grew up a brat.

In high school, I began working in nearby cafes that I frequented for studying and became surrounded by an entirely different demographic from what I was used to. Many of those I befriended had to be satisfied with dollar lunches or cheap flea market clothes. Some had loans that burdened their backs since a very young age. A few dropped out of high school to start working and sustaining themselves. My closest friend once broke down crying in front of me, a mere teenager seven years younger than he, absolutely exhausted from work-related stress.

Money was something that strained their lives to misery, grasping them by the neck and refusing to let go unless they won the lottery.

One particular day at work, I experienced how abusive wealth could be. A customer demanded that her money be refunded because her young son had received the wrong drink. My coworker, the cashier at the time, had initially tried to explain that because the drink had already been consumed by more than half, a refund would be difficult. The customer proceeded to bark out grotesque statements, remarking on how disgusted she felt to be served by a “young little bastard.” She then turned to threaten the manager, claiming she had enough power in her (husband’s) hands to shut down the store. The manager gave her a refund, apologizing in every moment possible to get her to leave. After smashing the cup with what remained of the drink on the ground, she stormed out the door, dragging the young son behind her.

The coworker wept quietly in the back, returning fifteen minutes later with a shaky but cheerful voice and a forced smile. She was just a year older than I was, a first year pharmaceutics major at a revered university in Korea. She worked harder than anyone I knew–studying during break times, working two part time jobs, commuting for two hours on train every single day. My heart sank when I asked her if she were okay and she replied, “Yeah, it was my fault anyway.”

Similar incidents occurred to me as well, and each time I became more and more disgusted by what it meant to live a privileged life. Customers with flashy brand-name purses and obvious ostentatious stances screamed at me and my poor coworkers: “I’m rich, and I have power over you.”

The poor are helpless in the face of money. It is rather sardonic to see the faces of powerful figures on bills and coins. They pity you and your fate.

I am a privileged being. I go to bed each night with a satisfied tummy in the warmth of a cozy room. I have the liberty to be educated, to have what I want, and, sadly, to walk briskly past those in need, feeling only momentary guilt.

Who is responsible to decrease the gap between is not of concern here because we can all feel grateful for what we have and understand that all individuals have a story behind their eyes that give them the right to deserve respect as human beings.

The world is unfair. Privilege is decided randomly upon birth, a choice we cannot make. But the choices we make in the rest of our lives are in our hands. The most we can do, then, is to be fair upon the rest of the world.

Privileged

The Banality of Korean Education

Around this time of the year, I hear as much Christmas and New Year celebration as college decisions and application news. My familial gatherings and phone calls always involve gossip about who got in where, who’s applying where and whether so-and-so should be taking the upcoming January SATs.

“It’s a Korean thing,” we would joke.

Ever since and even before the release of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the standard stereotypes and phenomena of the Asian education systems have been more known to the rest of the world. For many Asians, the brutal lifestyle of “study, study more, study till you get into Harvard” hits close to home.

I, a Korean-American raised both in the States and in Korea, was no different. But here I intend to focus on a more personal and specifically Korean aspect of this style of education that has affected me in ways that I could never have imagined.

Perhaps most well-known as “hagwons,” institutions and cram schools were attended by nearly all my Korean friends and peers since as young as first grade in elementary school. Growing up, a typical day would consist of school and hagwon every day, every other day focusing on a different subject. Winter break meant I would be introduced to the family tutor (who’s taught my older brother and his friends as well as my cousins) to get through all of Pre-Calculus. It didn’t seem weird– I was used doing third grade math in first grade, Geometry in sixth grade. And not to mention that Mom’s friend’s daughter had already finished Trig in seventh grade. It wasn’t anything special.

As I entered high school, I found myself constantly bored during class. Not just bored but also extremely sleepy. I was never home before 11, a curfew that the Korean government instilled as the latest time for hagwons to be in session. Each break I spent cramming in AP and SAT prep books into my head so that I would for certain score perfectly.

Why? The answer was simple, as told by my mother and universally shared by all other tiger moms–“for you to be successful.” Did it work? I got into a prestigious college along with all my other friends that suffered through a similar path. Princeton, Brown, MIT, Stanford, you name it, I have a friend that I attended hagwon with that got in. So yes, Mom, I did get into a college. I succeeded.

But am I doing well now, in college?

The frank answer is no. At least not to my satisfaction. I am no longer ahead in any of the subjects, I am no longer attending class outside of class, taught by another teacher that would teach me just the “integral” points that would help me ace the tests. I am no longer scoring the straight A’s with my eyes closed.

Instead, I have to work for it, all independently. I have to stay awake and alert in class, and expect that I don’t know anything about what will be taught today. The consequences of my hagwon-spent years slap me smack in the face–“You don’t know this, and there is no one but yourself to understand this to certain proficiency to pass the class.”

The sad fact is, it’s not just me. My peers and upperclassmen have told me in shame that they were going back to Korea for the break to “catch up on the OChem class that I failed” or “get ahead with multivariable calc before I go back.” These are not stupid people, all attending great schools. These are definitely not lazy individuals, either. They’re just experiencing the aftermaths of the institutionalized and droning education culture. And numbers prove this.

To be fair, my mother wasn’t as hardcore as she could have been. The average “hagwon time” I spent was significantly less than those around me. Yet I still feel the effects.

This break, the first one in years that I’ve not had to sign up for a class polishing APs or search for tutors, I’ve found it awkward to not pick up a pen to take notes and be read from a textbook. I’ve felt like I was going to get behind, wasting time.

It’s almost a disgusting thing, to have this feeling. In retrospect, after speaking to so many of the other amazing individuals I’ve met in college, I realized that I could have spent the exact same time doing so much more. I would have done just the same in school by listening in class and studying for school during school. I would have had the time to do things that we call “hobbies” for fun, not for filling up another section in the extracurricular section of the CommonApp (and yes, there are mothers who send their kids to hagwons to build hobbies that would be appropriate for this exact purpose).

I see this as a banality of the Korean education system. There are lots more, and people have written countless articles and books on the gross sides of this topic. We’ve been raised to be machines, producing answers the way we were told to memorize them. We’ve little to state as uniquely ours, and “fun” is term used to merely describe the rebellious nights spent partying, but only after the hagwon session ended at 11. We’ve grown to be helpless, craving the spoon that has fed us how to be boring for years.

Too many of us therefore feel absolutely lost in the world where success was once just getting into college. Okay, we’re here, so what are we supposed to do now? Mom? Is there a hagwon for this?

The Banality of Korean Education

Myers-Briggs

Personality types have always been an interesting area to explore, starting from simple Type A/B to blood types to more complex ones like Myers-Briggs.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (MBPI) is based off of the psychological theories of personality suggested by Carl Jung. Creators, Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers, constructed a total of 16 different personality types, using four main indicators:

  • Extroverted / Introverted
  • INtuitive / ObServative
  • Thinkers / Feelers
  • Judgers / Prospectors

A more detailed explanation of the 16 personality types, as well as a test to find out your type can be found here.

I go to a small, liberal arts college that focuses in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects called Harvey Mudd in Claremont, California. Recently, I conducted a school-wide survey asking for their personality types, dormitories and major. By the third day the survey was released, I received 250+ responses (out of about 800 students in total). The results were fascinating.

Here is the breakdown of the entire school.

HMC

Data as of 1 pm, Nov. 19, 2015.

For ease in viewing, I have color coded introverts in cooler hues and extroverts in warmer ones. The apparent majority is the introvert, comprising approximately 70% of the sample.

To some surprise, the percentage of INTJ-type individuals in the world is about 2-4% of the population (myersbriggs.org). The percentage of INTJ’s in Harvey Mudd is about 21%.

Response bias is definitely not to be overlooked here. INTJ’s are well-known to be highly curious individuals who would be certainly interested in finding out their peers’ personality types. Yet, a near 10 times the frequency is statistically significant.

What’s more intriguing is the breakdown of these types based on dorms. Harvey Mudd has 9 dormitories of mixed gender and year. Each dorm is known for characteristic personalities ranging from quiet and reserved to party-on-Mondays.

Here we have some more pretty pies for each dorm (click to enlarge):

 

From this we see that Linde, North and West dorms have a greater density of extroverts in stark contrast to East, Sontag and South dorms, where 80% to 90% are introverts.

What does this say? Well, if you’re a Mudder and you’re reading this, you know these dorm personalities definitely exist to some extent. If you’re not, it may be some indicator to show you that these dorms are microcosms of real-world cultures, in which alike personalities tend to cluster.

As for myself, an ENTJ who loves to get to know others and is active in doing so, I took this one step further and broke it down by major.

Harvey Mudd has six majors: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering. Students are able to major in more than one, or take a joint-major. As of November 19th, 372 responses for majors were tallied.

We now know that that math majors are extroverts.

Before looking into these graphs though, it must be noted that the distribution of majors at Mudd is rather unbalanced:

majors

There are various limitations on how deeply we can interpret the data collected. I have kept the survey open for further responses here for any other current Mudders and for alumni.

Though this survey was conducted out of pure fun and giggles, I’d love to see this taken out to the other colleges and compared.

For the time being, I hope this was as fun to look at as I did.

Myers-Briggs