Korean Culture: What Does Competition Affect in Korean Life?

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Written by: Minh Châu


Korea is one of the world’s most developed countries, with an outstandingly advanced economy, advanced human and technological level, and modern life.

However, “it’s only when you stay in the blanket that you realize it has lice,” for Koreans, their country has never been a place worth living because of pressure from all sides, resulting in the world’s highest suicide rate.

Everyone’s life in Korea is always a struggle; the pressure follows them throughout their lives; one must fight hard to get a university place, a job, a marriage partner, and many other things. The pressure to compete with others begins in childhood and continues even after retirement. However, in South Korea, the baseline never seems to be enough. This article will discuss some of these competitions and how they affect Koreans of all ages!

The Cost Of Competition Has An Impact On Children

According to one recent university entrant, competition results in “a lack of a childhood” for South Korean youth. Children have a limited number of opportunities to play and socialize with their peers. Children are constantly tested and ranked in school, rather than taught to collaborate with one another. After the final bell, the majority are sent to hakwons, which teach English, mathematics, music, and other subjects. When school holidays arrive, children are not allowed to relax and instead spend more time in hakwons.

Many students also have private lessons with expert tutors. However, the desire of parents to gain any advantage for their children rendered his efforts futile. Some tutors, particularly Korean graduates of prestigious American universities, can earn well over ten million Korean won (nearly US $10,000) per month giving private lessons in subjects such as English or mathematics.

Unrelenting study can be difficult and unhealthy for Korean children. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Korean youths, which is not surprising given the country’s educational culture and the pressure to succeed.

competition in Korea

The Cost Of Competition Has An Impact On Adult

Companies in Korea force their employees to work long hours, and the workers comply. South Korean workers work an average of 2,193 hours per year, the highest figure in the OECD. Due to the large amounts of unrecorded, unpaid overtime performed by the majority of workers, this figure will understate the actual hours worked. The lack of adequate breaks, holidays, and sleep has a significant impact on the amount of work that people can produce in a given time.

Even finding such a demanding job is difficult. Because of the perceived necessity of having academic credentials, Koreans are overeducated, so there is always a large pool of well-qualified applicants for every position. As a result, companies develop additional criteria, such as English test scores, to evaluate candidates. The new criteria force people to put in more effort and money to study English or pursue additional higher education, and the vicious circle continues to turn.

When people reach their late twenties, the race is on to find a suitable marriage partner. Parents press their children to marry by their early thirties for fear of being left behind in the pursuit of the husband or wife with the best “back” (influential family) and the best appearance. When a partner is found, one set of parents may still veto the match: for families who consider themselves to be of high status, a would-be in-law lacking the necessary degree, family background, and work history may be unacceptable.

All of this makes life difficult for South Koreans. Undoubtedly, competition plays a role in the country’s high suicide rate. Many parents, no doubt, want their children to be happier and more balanced. Groups of Korean mothers compare their children’s educational performance and, even among friends, feel a strong sense of vicarious competition over their son’s or daughter’s grades. Though their own competitive days are over, they still feel compelled to compete through their children.

competition in Korea

3. The Competition in Education Has An Impact On individual

The combination of a level playing field, equal access to education, and individuals’ desire to escape poverty, combined with a natural limit to the best opportunities, increased competition among individuals. It became necessary to outperform others, first in school, then in professional exams, and finally in the workplace.

When the first generation of elite graduates had children, they were eager to pass on their hard-won advantages to their own children. Their children may study for fifteen or sixteen hours per day, between school and expensive private tutors, in order to gain admission to elite universities and the best jobs. When their hard work and advantages paid off, a new elite, dubbed “neo-yangban,” emerged.

However, the rest of society did not simply give up after the emergence of the neo-yangban. When they noticed that the new educational upper class was pulling away from them, they responded as they had learned: by competing even harder, sacrificing more of their income to send their children to academies and private tutors.

Because almost everyone strives for academic success, there are far more graduates with extremely high test scores than there are good jobs available. Korea is now Harvard University’s third largest source of international undergraduates. English test scores are highly valued, and as a result, parents who can afford it will send their children to an English-speaking country for at least part of their education. All of this is done so that their child can eventually get ahead of others in the job market.

competition in Korea


To summarize, Korea is a modern country with the highest standard of living in the region, but life here is not as glamorous as it appears in the movies. But beneath the glitz is a layer of intense pressure forcing each person to live. Every human being’s core must become excellent in order to avoid extinction. People are disconnected because they live in a fast-paced society where they do not have time to care, share, or understand one another. Everyone has their own battle to fight, and it is difficult to live a happy life as desired.

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