Should I study 19 hours a day

The evening before, Hwan Cheol Oh goes to bed relatively early, at midnight. The next morning the alarm goes off at six o'clock and the 18-year-old goes to shower. Then there is a light breakfast, rice, boiled ham, a seaweed soup. It stimulates the brain cells, they say in South Korea. But Hwan Cheol hardly gets anything down. His father drives him to school, shortly before eight he gets out of the car. The national high school diploma is about to begin on this sunny November day. Like Hwan Cheol, nearly 700,000 Koreans write the works of their lives. In order not to block the street for the students, many working people are allowed to come to the office an hour later that day. If a student is in a hurry, he waves up a police patrol. With flashing lights and a siren, it's off to the test in the fast lane.

Younger classmates are waiting in front of the school gate, they clap and hold up posters wishing good luck. There is coffee and tea for the examinees, and a piece of chocolate. Today I am who, Hwan Cheol thinks when he sees the crowd. He feels good now.

South Korea has an exceptionally demanding education system. In the final year of school, young Koreans usually study 16 hours a day, including Hwan Cheol. Lessons began for him shortly after eight o'clock and ended at four in the afternoon - with the official part. Hwan Cheol then went to a reading room where his parents had rented a place for him. He stayed there with his books until about seven o'clock and then went home for dinner. Dinner also meant: an hour's rest, no books, watching a little TV. Then he went back to the reading room until two o'clock at night. For twelve months, including on weekends. In the summer he was at the seaside with friends for two days, that was it.

Hwan Cheol's classmates have attended "Hagwons", private institutes where tutors teach the students the material over and over again. The school system is completely geared towards the final exam day. With the result, the students apply to the universities. Those who want to be taken to one of the best have to pass an almost perfect high school diploma, the competition is tough. A few years ago, the OECD asked 15-year-olds who expected them to go to university. A whopping 95 percent of young Koreans said yes. In the OECD average, it was just every second.

The enthusiasm for education is linked to the economic boom. The grandparents still suffered from the Korean War; the parents of the current students lived through the days when North Korea was richer than the south. A family's ascent usually began with a degree - which the children should now please continue.