How Korean Students REALLY Feel

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In a country where students shouldn’t speak unless they are supposed to repeat something, “self expression” wasn’t the easiest concept to grasp.

There are many students at my school that speak English very well. They might know the correct pronunciation of a difficult word, the proper grammar of a complex sentence, or even the difference between a predicate and a preposition (which would make one of us..). They’ll repeat a phrase or expression flawlessly, get every question on their written English exam correct, and win every game we play in class. But when it comes to forming their own sentences (or even their own thoughts, it seems like), it’s as if I asked them to make a time machine out of gum wrappers.

As frustrating as this can be, I know that it’s not in any way their fault. It’s the Korean education system. Not to say that it’s horrible, but it is flawed. Most emphasis is put on memorization – and we all know from our college days that our short-term-memory won’t get us too far – granted, it got a lot of us Bachelor’s degrees – but it’s the people that are innovative and imaginative that really prosper.

And so while my students might be able to do well test-wise, what good is it to know when to use “whom” or “who” (when face it, 90% of the English-speaking population probably doesn’t know), when they aren’t able to create their own sentences using either one of these words? What good is it to know how to spell and pronounce words that they aren’t able to string together on their own? The discrepancy between how much they can actually say and how much they’re able to write is tremendous.

This isn’t just because most of their Korean teachers insist on giving them the same mundane worksheets every class where they translate Korean words to English, it’s also due in part to the fact that they’re never asked to create anything on their own. Most of my students don’t even bring their own paper or notebooks to school because in every single class, they’re given a worksheet where they just need to fill in the blanks.

So that’s why I decided to do KSS – Korean Students Speak. It’s a project I’ve mentioned in few previous posts where Korean students make a poster saying how they feel about anything. I explained what “self expression” is, showed them the website, gave them paper and a few topics they could write about if they wanted, played some music, and hoped for the best.

Thankfully, most of my students didn’t disappoint. I encouraged them to write anything – how they feel right now, what they like, what they hate, etc – and so I got a few “I’m hungry” and “I want hamburger” type of posters, but for the most part, they were relatively insightful. A lot of them were too shy to take a picture, but a few were brave enough and their words describe them much better than I can.

Here are a few of my favorites:












*More will be featured on the official KSS website soon!


  1. This is such a brilliant idea. I’ve been reading so much about Korean students and if we’re finally able to let them have some kind of self expression, it can only be a good thing. We should spread the word of this project and get English teachers all over Korea to contribute to your site.


  2. This is so beautiful! I loved this post, I’m hopefully studying abroad in Korea next fall. All your post make me so excited to see what it’s really like! Best of luck.


    1. Thank you Taylor! Korea has been so eye-opening! I hope you enjoy your time here 🙂


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