For most American students, summer break is a natural part of the school year. But is it the same for kids around the world?
What about in countries with vastly different cultures and expectations, such as South Korea?
Well, it turns out the Korean school year is structured somewhat similarly to how it is in the States, but the way the school system is set up over there is nowhere near “identical.”
Summer break in Korea lasts about a month between July and August. During this period, many adults also get time off from their jobs, typically during the end of July and the beginning of August. Because everyone gets the same time off, many vacation destinations are flooded with people around this time
So, compared to schools in the United States, Korean students have less time off during the summer, but they have a little more time off during the winter to make up for it.
Also, we can’t imagine having to go on vacation at the same time as everyone else in the country, but collectivism is a strong part of Korean culture, so they’re used to the experience.
Do Korean Schools Have Multiple Breaks Like US Schools?
Yes, Korean schools structure their school year similarly to how it is in the United States. One difference is that there is a winter vacation, which lasts from about mid-December until the end of January.
Schools will also have a spring vacation, although it is often at the end of February, not March.
Otherwise, there are quite a few other national holidays that are recognized by school districts across the country.
Other Holidays and Breaks in the Korean School Year
Overall, the Korean school year is organized around the Lunar New Year, and not summer break as it is in the United States. So, students get a little more time off between December and January compared to the two weeks that most American students receive.
This is because Lunar New Year happens around the end of January or the beginning of February, so schools don’t start until after it’s finished.
Here’s a rundown of other holidays and celebrations that Korean students observe during the year:
- New Year’s Day – Although the country celebrates Lunar New Year, it also recognizes the beginning of a new calendar year as a national holiday.
- Spring Vacation – This break usually occurs around the end of February or beginning of March.
- Independence Movement Day (March 1st) – This holiday celebrates when Koreans started resisting Japanese occupation of the peninsula in 1919.
- Children’s Day (May 5th) – South Korea, like many other Asian countries, puts a high priority on the welfare and education of children. This holiday celebrates children and is celebrated around the country.
- Memorial Day (June 6th) – In South Korea, Memorial Day commemorates the lives lost as a result of the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. The holiday was created in 1956 to honor the memories of those who served.
- Constitution Day (July 17th) – This holiday is similar to Independence Day in the United States. Constitution Day celebrates the signing of the South Korean constitution in 1948. The date was also chosen to commemorate the founding of the Joseon Dynasty.
- Liberation Day (August 15th) – This holiday celebrates the day that US and Soviet forces liberated Korea from over 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. Liberation Day is also notable because it’s one of the few holidays shared with North Korea.
- Ch’usok (Sep 29th to Oct 1st) – Ch’usok is also called Korean Thanksgiving, as it is a similar celebration to what people do in the United States. However, instead of celebrating how colonials learned to work with the Native Americans, Ch’usok is more of a spiritual harvest festival. During this time, Koreans put a heavy emphasis on family, and many people head home to celebrate with relatives and other loved ones.
- National Foundation Day (Oct 3rd) – National Foundation Day is celebrated in honor of the founding of the first Korean state of Gojoseon in 2333 BC. This date is widely considered the beginning of Korea as a people and a nation, so it is a big holiday for the country.
- Christmas (Dec 25th) – Since about a third of Koreans identify as Christian, many of them celebrate Christmas. However, unlike the US, where the holiday has become more secular, it is still considered a religious holiday in South Korea.
What It’s Like to Attend School in South Korea
Beyond celebrating different holidays, school is much different in South Korea than it is in the United States. South Korea has one of the toughest and strictest school programs in the world, with a heavy emphasis on STEM subjects like math, engineering, and computer science.
Here are some of the ways that school is unique.
In South Korea, students attend six years of primary school, three years of middle school, and three years of high school.
For a long time, boys and girls went to separate high schools for the duration of their education. While that’s changed a lot in recent years, many classes are still divided along gender lines.
After high school, students can go to a four-year university. What’s interesting about South Korea’s school system is that everyone has access to a college education, regardless of their background or social status.
It’s also much cheaper to go to college in South Korea, as the government helps subsidize many of the costs, including tuition fees and other expenses.
Another unique aspect of the Korean education system is that, from high school and beyond, students are allowed to pick the educational path that best fits their career choice. This way, they can start taking classes aligned with their professional goals instead of focusing on general education until college.
Primary School Subjects
Many of the subjects taught in primary school (aka elementary school) are similar to what you’d find in the United States.
However, because Koreans place a greater emphasis on education, they don’t have to worry as much about budget cuts, so students still learn about fine arts and music.
The nine subjects taught in primary school are:
- Korean Language
- Social Studies
- Physical Education
- Practical Arts
- Fine Arts
- English Language
English is started in the third grade, allowing students to begin learning the language more conversationally before they take structured classes in middle and high school.
School Day Schedule
Children spend much more of their time in school than their US counterparts, especially once they reach the high school level.
For example, high schoolers start their day at 8:00 am, have lunch around 12:10 to 1:00 pm, and then class until 4:00 or 4:30 pm. After classes end, students are expected to clean the classroom.
Another interesting feature of Korean schools is that teachers, not students, move from room to room. Children stay in one place so there is more time for learning and less time to get everyone where they need to be.
After day school ends, students will often go home for a dinner break, although some may have dinner at school. The reason for this is that they’ll return to the library to study or attend tutoring lessons until about 10:00 pm. Sometimes, however, these sessions may go on until midnight.
Primary and middle school students don’t have as rigorous a schedule, but they still spend most of their day studying in school or at the library.
Curriculum and Attendance
All students are required to attend school 220 days during the year, regardless of which school they attend. As for the curriculum, it’s set by the government and updated periodically to include new subjects or topics.
For a long time, female students were taught a different curriculum, but that changed around the turn of the century. Now, all subjects are standardized, so all students learn the same topics regardless of gender.
While US schools can be rowdy and active, it’s the opposite for Korean schools. As with many other Asian cultures, Korean students have a deep respect for their teachers and the practice of learning.
In fact, it’s relatively rare for students to speak up in class. Instead, teachers will lecture for most of the time, allowing only a short period for questions.
If a student has questions, they can bring them up at the end of class or during a tutoring session.
Part of the rigidity of the school system is reflected in the order and precision of the buildings themselves. The interiors are clean and pristine, with little in the way of decorations or colors.
Students are also required to dress in uniform, meaning there is a very ordered appearance to everything and everyone.
Homework and Written Material
Homework is far less common in Korean schools. Instead, students will complete all of their work in class. This means it’s relatively easier to be a teacher as there are fewer papers to grade and review outside of class hours.
That said, teachers typically work from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm during the week, with a half day on Saturday.
Part of the reason for a lack of homework is the size of each class, which is about 50 students. However, because of the atmosphere of respect for authority, these classes are often quieter and less disruptive than a smaller class would be in the United States.
Also, because students are used to listening to lectures (as opposed to asking questions and speaking up), they’re often quieter throughout the day.
What Do Korean Students Do During Summer Break?
Given how rigid and focused the school curriculum is throughout the year, it’s not surprising that Korean students choose to spend most of their free time studying.
Even with a month off of school, most children take that time to study for their current classes or to prepare themselves for upcoming classes for the new school year.
At the start and end of each main break (summer and winter), there are ten optional half-days where students can keep going to school if they wish.
Almost all students wind up attending these days, meaning that their actual “break” is often much shorter than one would assume. For example, if the break is technically 30 days, a student would only have ten days when school is not in session at all.
Given that summer break normally coincides with vacation time for parents, students will often go on holiday to one of several resort areas within the country. Popular areas include:
- Jeju Island
- Gangwondo Province
Typically, Korean families will go to coastal cities during the summer to cool off from the heat. Since everyone goes to these places at once, they’re often crowded. However, with so many smaller beaches available, families can escape the crowds if they know where to look.
That said, because crowds are common in Korea (even in school), most people don’t try to avoid them as they do in the United States. Crowded beaches are just a normal part of summer vacation, so it’s to be expected.
The other way that Korean students beat the heat is to go study in an air-conditioned library or study center. Since these places are cool and quiet, they can be quite relaxing for everyone there.
FAQs About Summer Break in Korea
How Long Do Students Study on an Average Day?
According to research, most students who spend their summer break working on academic activities will study for more than eight hours per day. Considering that most school days are longer than eight hours (including evening study sessions and tutoring), it makes sense for students to keep that discipline when they’re on break.
Do Korean Students Have Time for Dating?
Unlike in the United States, most Korean children don’t start dating until late in high school or college. Because studying and schoolwork take up so much of their time, students don’t focus on other activities like dating. Even if they do, the dates will often be little more than hanging out or holding hands. Koreans don’t tend to show physical affection (like kissing) until after high school.
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