Korean vs. American public schools!!!

by Sharon -- November 11, 2011

I work at a public elementary school here in Seoul, so for the past 8 months I’ve been closely observing how the public school system works here. Granted, it’s been almost 17 years since I graduated from elementary school, but here is my attempt at comparing my American public school experience to the Korean school I work at…


  1. Each grade is separated into 24-30 student classes. My school, from what I’ve heard, is pretty small in size, so I have four 3rd grade classes, five 4th grade classes, six 5th grade classes and five 6th grade classes (with a total of 20 classes). As the “extracurricular” Native English Teacher class, I only see each class once a week, which is an amazing gift from the universe for some devil spawn classes.
  2. Each class has one main homeroom teacher that teaches the main subjects such as Math, Science, Korean, Art, etc. The students spend most of their day in their main classroom, just like in the U.S.
  3. Each class has a class president, and each grade has its own president. During elections, they make signs and seem to have their own campaign entourage. The difference is that the campaigning here consists of students SCREAMING their name down the hallways and playground. If I recall correctly, all we used to do was make signs.
  4. Students have their own desks in their classrooms. This is a ridiculous comparison, but I didn’t want the differences to completely demolish the similarities. Although it still does…


  1. The school day is separated into six 40-minute periods with 10 minute breaks in between. When I was in elementary school, each class did their own thing in between lunch and recesses. Here, the entire school operates on the exact same period schedule, just like how middle and high schools work back in the States. Because of this, the students don’t really have any set “recess” times; during their 10 minute breaks in between classes they’re usually found running around the hallways and screaming. A ten minute break isn’t exactly conducive to a good recess sesh.
  2. The students leave their homeroom classrooms every day for specific subject classes: Music, English, PE, Science and possibly a “Morals/Ethics” class. When I was in elementary school the only times we left our homeroom class was to go to Music and Computer class, and even then I believe Music class was optional for orchestra or band kids. Here, they leave their classrooms much more frequently.
  3. There is no cafeteria at my school. Instead, there is a serious mob of lunch-lady women who wheel in huge carts of lunch food and trays to each class. The students then wheel the carts into their classrooms and students are assigned “lunch duty” and serve their classmates lunch in their classroom. (The subject teachers in my office all eat lunch together in our office as well. We eat the same lunch as the students, but the difference is that our Korean public school lunch is AWESOME and I look forward to it every day, whereas nobody back at home ever says “this American public school lunch is SOO good, I can’t wait to eat it!”)
  4. Because South Korea is such a small country, and because Seoul has so many freaking people (almost half of the country’s population), no public schools have a real playground or field. What we have is a sad tiny dirt soccer field and some playground equipment on the side. Back at home we had huge green grass fields with different sections having separate playgrounds, basketball courts, hop scotch, four square, etc. I guess that’s the price you pay for being a city kid.
  5. To many of the teacher’s dismay, every week the homeroom teacher has to teach one period of “gym class”. I, personally, would be stoked to have a period outside of the stuffy classroom.
  6. I grew up in a suburb, so the elementary schools that I experienced were always one-story campuses that sprawled out across a giant piece of land. In Korea, because there isn’t any open space anymore, most of the schools here, that I’ve seen, consist of one 5-story building.

To conclude my extremely interesting topic, all I have to say is that my public school has a very different feel than my own experiences with my old elementary schools. Because Seoul is packed to the brim with peeps and because this whole country is approximately the size of the state of Indiana, the schools here feel more cramped… and loud.

Random Thought of the Day: The Korean teachers I work with that have been to schools in Canada and America are convinced that Korean students are much louder than Western students. Korean kids are constantly yelling around the hallways and in the classrooms, whereas students in Western schools are much more contained. Being a Korean American, my siblings and cousins used to always joke about how Koreans are loud, which now seems to be more than just a joke since I see it every day at work. If any of you have worked at a Korean school or even an international school in general- do you think this is true?

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4 Responses to “Korean vs. American public schools!!!”

  1. Hahahahha your random thought made me laugh so hard! I was thinking about how our parents used to yell our names or talk really loudly on the phone :) oh growing up Korean american :)

  2. This was funny to read, its all so true! I did have a big cafeteria at my school in Korea but the food, like you said, was WAY better than any American school lunches.

    Those 10 minute breaks sure were loud, can’t imagine a school back home with kids running and jumping and screaming at each other. It was hard for me to not be all teacher-y and yell at them to stop! haha :)

  3. Holly: I have so much proof that our parents’ behaviors were due to their Korean-ness! It’s good to know that we weren’t just judging.

    Ellie: Thanks for the comment! I keep hearing from people who say that Korean kids are, in fact, louder and crazier than kids back home. I really can’t remember from my elementary school days, but I can’t wait to become a teacher in the U.S. and find out!

  4. OMG! I know! It’s all true. I get that the cafeteria thing, but the big difference from American schools and Korean schools are that Most American schools have school buses but most Korean school don’t!!! Sort of sad.. But still, why not go to Korea and eat some pork and rice!

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