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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The melting classroom: foreign students share home experiences

Senior Sangkyoun Shin and junior Carlos Del Castillo were a little confused on schedule pick-up day when they looked at the bell schedules printed on the back of their lists of classes. The classes were in blocks? Only certain classes on different days? What was tutorial? What seemed completely ordinary to most SHS students was completely alien to them. Like many other foreign transfer students, Shin and Castillo were surprised by the differences between SHS and their former schools in Korea and Mexico.

“School [in Korea starts] at the same time as school in the US, and we finished around 4:20,” said Shin, who moved to Saratoga in April.

But that is about the only thing that Korean schools have in common with our own.

“After school ends, we had mandatory self-study time until 9 p.m. with a dinner break. I think that’s why many Korean students want to come to the U.S.,” Shin said, chuckling to himself.
Still, South Korean education boasts enviable results. The country consistently ranks among the highest in international exams of reading, math and science.

Shin’s school in Korea followed a traditional schedule with 50 minutes for each class and students attending all of their classes each day. But Korean students remain in the same classroom throughout the day.

“In the U.S., classes are always changing, but in Korea you stay with one class, about 30 to 40 students and the teachers change,” Shin said.

Like Shin, Castillo said Mexico uses the traditional schedule with 45 minute classes every day. Classes begin at 7:15 and end at 2:30. As in Korea, students remained in one class, with the teachers rotating. In addition, high school in Mexico lasts only three years, since 9th grade is considered part of junior high.

A major difference that Shin noticed was the proximity of the school to students’ homes.
“Some students take the bus or car like in the U.S., but most students walk to school in Korea, which I haven’t seen as much here,” Shin said.

Students in Korea have the same basic education requirements as the U.S.: Korean, English, social studies, mathematics and science. Science is further divided into three subsections: chemistry, biology and physics, as it often is in America.

“We also get to choose one elective class, either art, music or athletics,” Shin said.

Since Castillo attended a Catholic school, his required subjects were English, Spanish, math, science, Mexican history and world history. The school also had required uniforms.

“In Mexico, there’s not as much choice for your classes,” said Castillo. “You are given the different subjects each year.”

But the biggest difference both noticed was the variety of activities offered at schools in the U.S.
“The U.S. is like a freedom nation,” said Shin. “In Korea, the clubs and other activities are much weaker than here.”

Shin said that athletics are not as emphasized in Korea as in America; they are instead incorporated into the school day as an elective class. Shin was surprised by the huge emphasis on after-school sports in the U.S.

Castillo also pointed to the lack of diverse extracurricular activities at his school in Mexico.
“Most kids participated in activities outside of school in the afternoons,” he said. “In school the only things are your classes and soccer.”

At SHS, Castillo is a member of the marching band, playing in the pit percussion section. He said that in Mexico, while there was some music education in elementary school, it was nothing like the organized programs offered here.

“In Mexico, I had to take my music lessons on my own in the afternoons,” he said. “It’s not like the afternoon rehearsals we have here.”

Still, despite the differences, both students are enjoying their time in the U.S.

“I have a lot more freedom here, and most other kids in Korea would be very happy to come to the United States,” Shin said.

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