Students reflect on the differences between overseas schools and Saratoga

May 12, 2017 — by Ashley Su and Katherine Zhou

The bell rang, signaling the end of class, but instead of packing up to go to her next subject, senior Ally Kim, then a second grader at Jun Nong Elementary School in Seoul, South Korea, waited patiently in her seat for the next teacher to enter the room.

Unlike American schools, where changing classrooms in between subjects is the norm, most schools in South Korea and other parts of Asia traditionally have teachers change classrooms instead. Students remain in the same classroom throughout the school day, even for lunch, only leaving to go to the track for P.E. class.

The transition between classes is just one of the many differences between schools in America and South Korea, where Kim lived until third grade.

Another big difference is the academic load foisted upon young children by the society. Kim doesn’t ever remember being assigned homework, but instead would do work for supplemental studies and tutoring, a common practice in South Korea.

In South Korea, students are expected to pursue more academically centered subjects — the arts are typically frowned upon by parents, leading to a focus on subjects like math and science.

Socially, Kim noticed that because of the small sizes of South Korean communities, parents allowed their kids to be more independent, letting them travel around by themselves. Although most people don’t have much free time for social events because of tutoring programs, they are very close to those that are in their classes.

Junior Daniel Ryu, who came to the U.S. from South Korea during his sophomore year, said his school there rarely held big school-wide events, like prom or Homecoming, except small festivals. Furthermore, although his school also had spring break, winter break and summer break, summer break was only two to three weeks long.

Ryu also pointed to the way history is taught in South Korea as another striking difference. Ryu said that the teachers there did not go into as much detail compared to American schools. For example, when learning about specific events, students were expected to study only the event’s background and the people involved, rarely writing essays about them. Furthermore, Ryu said the curriculum in his Korean history class did not teach Korean wars, focusing only on other aspects of Korean history.

Junior Mathilde Rouffineau, a one-year exchange student from Lycée Benjamin Franklin High School in Auray, France, has also noticed vast differences in the academic culture between her French high school and Saratoga.

Despite her home school having a longer school day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Rouffineau has observed that academics are much more relaxed in France than at SHS.

“[Students in France] are less into having good grades than here; they work less and are not graded on homework,” Rouffineau said. “When you study for six hours for a test, people in France look at you like you’re crazy, but [in Saratoga] it’s normal.”

Along with the academic culture, Rouffineau also noticed that students here are much more focused on a linear path toward college, while people in France are more open to different opportunities, such as trade schools or apprenticeships.

“In France, college is not really important,” Rouffineau said. “You don’t really take college as [seriously] as [people do] here; here, everyone has to go to college because it is very important. [People believe] if you don’t go to college, you have no future.”

Originally, Rouffineau became interested in traveling to America as an exchange student after watching TV shows about American teenagers, developing an interest in the American culture and language.

When she arrived in America her junior year, Rouffineau noticed a huge contrast in social interactions between teachers and students.

“In France, the teachers are very formal,” she said. “For example, a teacher [in France] is not going to tell you that [he or she] likes your outfit or your hair,” Rouffineau said. “In French we have two different ‘you’s, the formal and the friendly, so we have a different ‘you’ for the teacher.”

From her experience at Saratoga High, Rouffineau said that she prefers the friendly environment of Saratoga and the shorter school days.

Kim also believes that moving to Saratoga has provided her with more freedom in choices.

“We have the leisure to pursue media arts, filming, journalism and music [in America], and more people have the dream of becoming an artist,” Kim said. “For my interests, I think I got a lot more opportunities in America.”