Korean Sociological Image #93: Korea’s Dark Circles

Very busy with work and deadlines these days (sorry), I picked up these daily planner post-its to try to make more efficient use of my time:

Daily Planner(Source: ebay)

Korean Sleep Deprivation 1I don’t recommend them: at 8cm in diameter, they’re much too small to write in, whatever language you use. Much more interesting than my frustrations with my pudgy fingers though, is that example daily plan provided. It reads:

  • 11:30pm to 6am: Sleep
  • 7-9: Prepare for Conference
  • 9-12pm: Attend Conference
  • 12-1: Lunch
  • 1-3:30: Attend Exhibition
  • 3:30-6: Attend Hagwon (Institute)
  • 6-7:30: Skip 300 times
  • 7:30-9: Memorize English Vocabulary
  • 9-11:30: Watch Online Lectures

Did the copywriters consider that a typical worker’s daily plan? Or more as one the ambitious professional should aspire to, starting with the strategic investment of 1500 won for a pack of 30?

Either way, it’s an interesting example of how Korea’s study-hard, work-hard, sleep-when-you’re-dead norm gets manifested and perpetuated in daily life, and one that would probably be little changed for consumers in other (developed) East Asian countries. In contrast, US adults, for instance, may also get less than seven hours daily sleep in practice, but the eight-hours ideal is an enduring myth. And very, very few aren’t achieving that ideal due to attending hagwons.

Korean high school students sleepAnother manifestation of Koreans’ attitudes to sleep comes from a high school teacher friend of mine, who says a common saying students there goes something like “Four hours sleep, go to a SKY university; five hours sleep, you fail.” I was recently reminded of it by the second “dark circle” on the right, which you can read more about at the Hankyroreh.

In both cases, frankly I’m surprised that the sleeping time is so high

How about you?

Update: Some statistics, via The Korea Bizwire:

Toz, a business that rents meeting rooms, conducted a survey on 1,800 high school seniors who used their study center. Results showed that 31 percent of the respondents slept five to six hours a night, and 30 percent answered that they slept four to five hours.

In other words, six out of 10 high school seniors were only getting five hours of sleep every night. Those who slept more than seven hours represented only five percent of the respondents.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image Series, see here)

3 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #93: Korea’s Dark Circles

  1. I remember when I was a highschool student I was sometimes sleeping 4 at 6 hours because I was on my phone at night. But it wasn’t every night and other students my age were at least sleeping 7 hours. At an age where sleep is important, less than 6 hours of sleep is clearly not enough…


  2. It’s a shame. I’ve always felt studying is more about quality than quantity. The old saying about “4 hours you pass; 5 hours you fail” (사당오락) – I’ve heard too. I personally find this homogenized, quantity-centric way of viewing things problematic. Also, in an age when “creative thinking” is becoming more and more valuable, quantity will have less and less meaning. Teacher and parents should not be asking anymore “How many hours did you study?” Sometimes I feel, that is why many Koreans are good at gaming yet the games themselves are mostly made abroad.


  3. Thanks for both your comments, and I couldn’t agree more.

    Living in Korea for 15 years, there are many things about the place that I was originally very critical of, but have since come to accept (or at least understand) as I’ve learned more about them, especially through speaking to more and more ordinary Koreans about them. For instance, I still think cosmetic surgery is generally done to excess, and usually unnecessarily, but I’m much, much less judgmental of people who undergo procedures than I was, and admit that I would probably consider getting something done myself if I faced the same social and job pressures many Koreans have complained to me about (especially Korean women).

    Depriving your children of necessary levels of sleep (and exercise, and social time, and hobbies, and time for personal development etc.) for the sake of studying though…? Not just for nights before before big tests, but day after day, for years on end? Not only does studying when sleep-deprived not even work, and contribute to long-term health problems, but it would also be considered borderline child-abuse in many other developed countries, as my social-worker father has pointed out. So I will always consider it indefensible, and will always be simply bewildered by — and very judgmental of — parents that force that upon their kids.

    That said, I do understand the pressures for Korea parents to get their kids into good schools and SKY universities of course, and I also understand that many school teachers rely on or expect hagwon teachers to cover parts of their syllabus (and so on), so I’m not at all against hard study or hagwons per se — indeed, many Western parents, teachers, and children could learn a great deal from Koreans’ examples in that regard. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still genuine physiological limits beyond which children’s mental and physical health begins to suffer, and further study becomes pointless.

    Again, frankly I’m bewildered that many Korean parents can’t seem to see that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s