What I Learned From A Korean Exchange Clarinet Student

By John Gardner

The news headlines were about the College Entrance Exam in South Korea. The Economist’s article about “The One Shot Society” and the CBS Report provide some scary examples, which help me better understand understand some of the personality traits of a clarinet exchange student I taught.

  • It is the only test and today is the only test day.
  • Adult workers go to work late so not to interfere with traffic of students getting to test sites.
  • Students / Parents may call for police escort if running late.
  • They reduce and re-route air traffic to minimize noise and distractions for test takers.
  • Avg parent spends $2,500 on top of school for test prep and both parents and test prep facilities are ordered to STOP at 10pm the night before the test.
  • Parents will often go through special prayer rituals (i.e. bowing 3000 times).
  • Elementary and Middle School students cheer arriving high school seniors.
  • Last year there were 150 test taker suicides on test day.
  • High School is NOT mandatory, yet 97% of young adults graduate.
  • This test determines what college you attend, which determines your academic achievement, which determines your social status.
  • They sequester 400 teachers and college professors for about two months (no cell, no internet, no outside contact) to design the test.

Classic music Sax tenor saxophone and clarinet in blackA few years ago I had a Korean clarinet student during a semester that he was an exchange student here. I met him on a cold winter day. Waiting for him in the lobby of the Fine Arts Building at Huntington University, I saw him jump out of the car, no coat — and with clarinet already assembled and literally running to the building. He was not late.

As I took him to our studio room, I asked why no coat and why he already had his clarinet assembled. He didn’t want to lose lesson time by removing a coat or assembling his instrument. He had practiced prior to coming and considered assembly/disassembly it a waste of time.

I quickly discovered that I had to be especially careful in how I criticized him. The first time I corrected something he began to apologize profusely, asked for my forgiveness and promised that he would never repeat that mistake. …and he didn’t.

He was extremely polite and respectful, expressing his frustration and disappointment at the lower level of respect for teachers here, explaining that in Korea teachers are among the highest ranks of respected professionals.

He was okay if we exceeded our allotted time, but wanted assurance that we would make up any time lost to interruptions or small talk.

He referred to most of his American friends, at least in terms of their musical preparation and proficiency, as “slackers”.

At our final lesson, he presented me a gift – a Korean wind instrument built on an entirely different scale system. He demonstrated it beautifully and seemed rather disappointed when I could hardly get it to sound.

We could learn some things from the Koreans.

Don't try to figure out what all the words on this word wall mean. Let me go to work for you instead.

Don’t try to figure out what all the words on this word wall mean. Let me go to work for you instead.

15 yrs experience as a high school band director. 14 yrs as college adjunct faculty. 30+ yrs in the fundraising industry and 24 yrs as a small business owner. (Don't add all those up.). Experience in both the fundraising sales and education worlds give me a unique combination of perspectives in both. I love working with the youthful enthusiasm of today's teenage achievers and with those who work with them.Also 4yrs as proprietor of VirtualMusicOffice.com, which offers a wide variety of virtual services including web/blog design/hosting/managing, social media management (scheduling posts/tweets for maximum impact and brand enhancement) and small business consulting - specializing in school product fundraising.

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One comment on “What I Learned From A Korean Exchange Clarinet Student
  1. My Korean student was a high schooler and was refering to students at his high school, not at Huntington University. He went to high school in another town…..