When I went away to the university, there was so much that I didn’t understand. You see, My dad had some college hours from taking classes in the military, and my mother didn’t go to high school. My mother was one of 12 kids, and they just didn’t go to school much. I think it all began several generations back with my great grandmother who was an American Indian.When she got married, she couldn’t read, but taught herself to read using the Bible after she got married. My mom’s dad thought going to school was silly. He discouraged it. It didn’t mean he wasn’t smart because he read one book right after the other. He just didn’t understand its importance of school. Number 10 of those 12 kids was the first one to graduate from high school, and they made a really big deal over him! After that, some of them went back and took their high school equivalency tests. My dad had one sister who was always going to school and making A’s. They were always talking about her saying she was studying at the university again. She was a translator for an American general in Korea during the Korean war. They all knew she was smart, and the idea was that only the smartest went on to the university.
I happened to make extremely good grades growing up. I was one of those good little girls who did everything she was told. I understood that my parents had been around longer than I had, so I listened. When they said,”Do your homework,” I did. When the teacher said, “Read the chapter,” I did. I worked in a restaurant in the afternoons after I got out of school, and my boss wouldn’t let me start my work until I had done all my homework. I ended up on the governor’s honor roll and got lots of awards in high school. My dad saw the benefits of going to college because of the college classes he took in the military and thought I could do it, and kept telling I was going to go to college. He explained to me that in the past, women got married, stayed home, had babies, and kept house, but he said things were changing, and that I would have to get a good education to get a good job. I didn’t know much about it because no one close to me had ever gone away to college. I didn’t know that not just anyone who decided to go could go. I thought it was a choice if you wanted it, and I was told I had to do it, so I did.
In America, there are two national standardized college entrance exams, the ACT and the SAT. I took the ACT and got a score so high that I missed getting a scholarship by one point. If I had known you could take it again, I would have tried for a scholarship, but I didn’t know anything about it. When my oldest son took the test, he got about 2 points lower than I got, and when he realized I got more points than he did, he couldn’t take it. He thought he always had to be the smartest everywhere. He wanted to compete with me, so he took the test again and ended up going to the university on complete scholarship. In America, that is really needed because the cost of going to the university is off the charts! It is so expensive that most people can’t afford it. He and I both went to private Christian universities, and the price was unbelievable. I only got mine paid for because I figured out I could declare that I was financially independent of my parents, and the state kicked in with lots of grants and loans to help, and I worked all the time when I was a student to pay also. When I entered the university, I had no idea that anyone who wanted couldn’t go. My best friend from high school was accepted into a music college on probation. She was a beautiful singer and had even sung in the Blue Room in the governor’a mansion. I was shocked when she said they told her they would only accept her if her grades were high when she went there. It was all new to me.
I learned more about entering the university in other countries as time went by. I went as an exchange student to Japan when I was in the university. I stayed in a Japanese home one semester, and my younger Japanese brother was a high school student. He had no social life at all. Every day after school, he was in his bedroom at his desk studying to get into a university. I learned that Japanese students have no social life at all in high school like American students. I learned that many Japanese kill themselves every year because they didn’t pass the entrance exam to the university. There really are students who don’t get in.
When I went to Romania, I learned more about getting into the university. I met several Romanian young people who had graduated from high school and were just taking a year, two, or maybe three years off just to study to get into the university. They took the university entrance exam year after year until they were finally accepted. The system was very different from what we had in America. They had to study the subject they wanted to major in. I was actually told that I couldn’t study for that ACT. They told me that it was a general test of knowledge testing everything I had learned all the way through school. My son proved them wrong, and you can study for the ACT or SAT. These Romanian students were studying everything they could in their major field. Their university entrance exam was not a general knowledge of several fields, but a specific knowledge of the field they wanted to enter. At each university in Romania, for each subject, there are only a certain number of seats. The students compete for those seats. Often, if they are studying to be an English major for example, before the enter the university, they have read many of the classics in Literature that I read as a student at the university. They have to learn it all before they ever get in just to get in. If they are wanting to be an English major, though, they don’t study Science, Math, Music, or any of the other subjects I was tested on to get into the university, but they only study English grammar and Literature. Only the most elite can go to the university in Romania. If they live in the village, many schools only go up to the 8th grade, and then they quit school. My friends from the village said they don’t need any more education than that because they plan on being farmers or carpenters or something like that. If they want to go on to high school, they have to rent a room in the city and live alone through the week to go to high school. Most families from the village don’t have that kind of money. When I was in Romania, going to the university was free once you got in, but I don’t know if it has changed with time or not, but I heard talk of change when I was there, and they could be charging the students now.
Here in Korea, they have an exam for entering the university too. They study hard in high school like the Japanese. Many high school students in Korea don’t have a social life like the Japanese. I have heard that some here also commit suicide when they don’t get into the university. If they score high enough on the entrance exam and have high enough grades, they can enter an Ivy League university which is extremely important in Korea. Only the smartest can go to the Ivy League universities. The big Ivy League universities are cheaper too because they get more government subsidies. Korean universities are much, much cheaper than American universities. When we were sending students to OVU, and American university, from KCU (the Korean university where I taught), I learned that the dorm at OVU was $10,00, and that was how much it cost to go to school for a year at KCU. At KCU, the dorm was only $400 a semester. When Americans see those prices, they think KCU is very cheap, but they are one of the more expensive universities in Korea. They are not an Ivy League university, so the government doesn’t give them money and try to keep the cost as low as the big Ivy League universities.
Students who go to KCU are more like the students at the community colleges in America. Many of KCU’s students live close to the school and live at home to go to school. The dorm really isn’t big like an American college dorm. They have two floors, one for the girls, and one for the guys, and there is only one hallway of dorm rooms on each floor. If students live across Seoul and come to KCU, it is because their scores weren’t high enough to get into a better university. I had a student when I was there who felt completely humiliated because her sisters had gotten into one of the big Ivy League universities, but she didn’t. She worked hard at studying and trying to leave KCU to join her sisters, and finally did.
Korean students all think they deserve an A+ whether they do or not. They campaign for A+. There are big signs in front of the school, especially at exam time asking professors for an A+. When I went to school in America, my professors gave no one an A+ because that means we got more than 100%, and no one does that, but Koreans think they can. Some of the students at KCU didn’t go to class, didn’t do their homework, made bad grades on the exams, and still gave the teachers a hard time when the teachers didn’t give them an A+, and I have heard it is common at most universities in Korea. Some teachers cave in and give those grades whether the students deserve it or not. My Korean boss was always afraid of the parents of the students and was more likely just to give grades away to keep people happy. She felt like it was a disaster if a student complained to the point their parents called the school because she considered the students as paying customers and the school as a business. When Korean students go to America with the kinds of grades on their records that they have, Americans think “wow! They must be smart!” However, the grading scale is different in Korea and America, and the Americans don’t understand. If a Korean has an A, it may actually be a B in America, but Koreans don’t know the grading scale in America, and love to go to school in America with a glowing report card that really can’t be compared to an American one. It means something completely different, but American universities don’t know that.
The Romanian grades go on a scale of 10 being the best and 1 being the worst. If they get 10, it is like giving them an A+. If you give them a 4 or anything below that is failing. The secretary asked me to have mercy on the students, and if they failed, please don’t give them lower than a 4 because it would humiliate them.
When I lived in England, I learned that when students get to high school, they have a choice to make. There are two different high schools. One is for students who plan on attending the university. The other high school is a vocational high school where the student learn a trade. We have vocational classes in our high schools in America, but we don’t usually separate them like the schools in England. Only the elite go to the university in England too.
In America, we have gotten to the point that we think everyone should have a college education, but the price of an education is downright crazy. There used to be many more government grants and scholarships for university students in America than there are now. If Americans are going to insist that everyone go to college, they are going to have to get used to those students needing to pay for their school. My second son worked hard while he was in college trying to pay, and he got financial help from the family and from the government, but now that he is out and a teacher himself, he feels like he owes his whole life’s salary to paying for that education even now. The bill drives him crazy! Maybe Americans need to rethink the idea that has recently come that everyone needs to go to college. I like the British system where they learn a trade in high school. We also need to be more careful when all the foreign students come into America. It is nice to educate them, but there are lots of scholarships just because they are foreigners, but Americans have trouble paying too. We don’t always understand what those grades mean when they transfer over either. The price of an education in America just needs to come down. I like that the Korean government tries to give money to universities to keep the price down so more people can go to school.
It seems I have learned a lot through the years about getting into college in several countries when I began just feeling my way through it. I hope this helps anyone who is thinking about studying at a university or who teaches at a university to understand what is going on in the world in general in the field of entering universities. I wish good grades and low prices for all of you!!