I waited for Yena at Starbucks near Sunae Station. I was anxious to see her and her straight, long black hair with short bangs. Yena graduated from my school just last June and I was eager to catch up with her life.
I didn't have to wait long. We were both quite pleased to see each other again, hugging and laughing through our hellos. After a quick trip to the Starbucks counter we headed upstairs to the comfy chairs to begin catching up.
Of all my students from last year, Yena is the only one I CAN see in person. She didn't head off right away to the US to a university, but instead has been pursuing admission to a Korean College. For the last several months she has been going through the rigorous admission process for International Studies at 4 different universities in Korea. She recently was admitted to one of her top choices and finally has a chance to catch up. Her school year will begin in March, which is common in Korea.
We jabbered back and forth for a good 45 minutes at Starbucks, barely even able to know I'd gotten the wrong order! I was intrigued with Yena's stories of the admission process. First there are incredibly rigorous tests to take, the College Scholastic Ability Test. Since she didn't attend Korean school so she had to prepare for the tests on her own. (How one does on the tests determines what level of university you are eligible for. They even divert air traffic so examinees don't have to hear the noise! Students typically study 12-14 hours a day in preparation.) After successful completion of tests, there's an interview process at the college with usually 2 professors. This is no what-is-your-favorite-book-interview. This is a read-a-passage-prior-to-entering-and-then-we'll-ask-different-philosophical-questions interview. Apparently one question had something to do with "how is the unknown known and how is the unknown unknown?" There were other questions relating to the field of international relations. And as Yena said, these were questions on things she hoped to be LEARNING, so how could she be expected to already know? At any rate, these interviews are 6 - 10 minutes and INTENSE. So Yena was thrilled to get into one of her top choice schools and the finest Korean College for International Studies. Yeah!
I asked Yena what happens when people DON'T get into a college. What are their other options? She said they usually do something else for awhile while they study for another year in preparation for the tests. Then they try the next year. I am so happy for her achieving this goal!
Our conversation continued at a sushi restaurant I had been curious to try. It's the kind of restaurant where small dishes of different colors (denoting different costs) with different delicacies slowly ride a conveyer belt through the establishment.
Patrons take what they want and as much as they want and the cost of the dishes is totaled at the end. I'd never done this before and don't speak the language well, so Yena was the perfect one to mentor me through the process. We sat in a booth instead of at the counter. And it turned out there was a picture menu to order from, as well. This ended up working best as the food was prepared a bit more fresh for us that way. We tried a bit of everything. As small dried whole fish, larger and fleshy cooked fish with their heads still on, along with various kinds of sushi traveled along the belt, Yena order. And ordered. And ordered. It was perfect, however, because I got to try a number of dishes. We had some California Roll (delicious), baked fish (very fatty and flaky), shrimp tempura (yummy), raw shrimp sushi (on rice with a seaweed wrap (not my favorite), and tuna roll. The tuna roll was a riot because it was so huge it was nearly impossible to pop it in your mouth AND chew. So we each took turns telling a story to the other while she chewed (trying not to laugh, of course).
What a lovely afternoon! Thanks to Yena I now understand the Korean college system a bit better AND will not hesitate to try the sushi place with the family in the future.
The adventure never ends.