2021 Fall Academics Korea Rebekah Harding Temple Exchange

Adapting to Korean “cramming” culture at Ewha Womans University

I’ve always considered myself a decent student. Keeping a detailed agenda of each of my assignments, I carefully plan my week to give myself a comfortable balance of school, work, and fun. Entering Ewha Womans University as an exchange student, my study habits were the last thing I expected to change— I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I had always heard about Korean study culture being particularly grueling, but even during my summer semester at Yonsei University in 2019, those words of caution really didn’t align with my experience. That program had been quite relaxed and our classes didn’t even have homework— I think this can be partially attributed to it being a shorter, summer semester. 

But not even a week into classes at Ewha, I realized I was going to have to step up my study game. 

One of the main differences between schools in the states and schools in Korea is the teaching style of many of the professors here. Whereas in the USA, in my experience you’re only expected to retain what you learn in class, Korean professors expect you to do readings ahead of time and come in class with a basic understanding of the material for that week. I honestly don’t think I’ve done this much reading for classes in my entire university career. And don’t try to get away without doing the readings; you will 100% be called on to recount what you learned (and being on Zoom doesn’t make it any less awkward). 

In fact, cramming culture is so prominent during exam season at Ewha that they have designated nap rooms all over campus for students who pull all-nighters to prepare for their classes. Sometimes, students will even skip meals to avoid missing out on precious study hours. As an American student, this came as a huge shock to me since professors in the United States typically encourage students to rest up and get a good night’s sleep before an exam. Here, it’s the complete opposite. 

Of all the cultural adjustments, this academic style difference was the hardest pill to swallow. From a health perspective, I know that eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep is important for basic functioning. However, there’s also an element of “academic FOMO” that’s hard to manage. “Am I studying enough?” “Are other students ahead of me?” “If I take a break will I pass my classes?” These are the questions that plague most students studying here. 

As a solution, I’ve made it a point to balance both academic styles into a system that works for me. I keep reminding myself that comparison is not going to improve my own grades and that just because someone else is studying more than me doesn’t make me a bad student. As long as I’m meeting class expectations, that’s enough. By prioritizing my mental and physical health, I’ll be more energized for class and therefore can retain information better— which also means I have to spend less time outside of class reviewing that information. 

And luckily, for every thirty-page before-class reading assignment, there are twice as many cute study cafes dotted around the Sinchon area— and I basically live off of iced vanilla lattes now. For any prospective Ewha students, Pera Cafe right next to the main gates is where it’s at (they even have a rooftop terrace). Just remember to figure out what works for you. Sometimes it’s the little things, like studying in an aesthetically pleasing space, that make the long hours of studying that much more bearable. 

Despite the more intensive study experience, I still enjoy my classes and feel like fully immersing myself in the content makes it more worthwhile. I’m looking forward to incorporating my new study habits back on Main Campus in the spring to finish my last semester of senior year strong.

Learn more about adjusting to cultural differences while studying abroad. 

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