Got a brutal exam coming up that has got you stressed out? At least youdon’t live in Exam Ville, Seoul, South Korea, where 20,000 people study around the clock for law school entrance tests, civil service exams and other hellish tests cooked up by man.
When he was 35, Park Jin-hun quit his job, left his family and moved to Exam Village.
Pursuing his dream of practicing law, the salaryman told his wife he would see her and their young son only once a month until he passed the bar. He gave himself two years maximum.
Five years in a row, he failed the exam, each time resolving to stick it out for one more attempt. He spent his days in neurotic study rooms that demanded total silence (no paper rustling, please!), too consumed to think of anything but the intricacies of South Korean law. Sometimes he thought he was going mad.
With each failure, he ratcheted up his study hours and became increasingly antisocial, driven by fear of failure. At night in bed, he dreamed of studying.
He had become a prisoner of Exam Village, an area of Seoul where20,000 people of all ages and backgrounds lead monkish lives — cramming nearly round the clock for law school entrance tests, civil service exams and other trials of knowledge and memorization, living on family loans, cafeteria meals and too little sleep.
In hyper-competitive South Korea, Exam Village is both an intellectual isolation chamber and an emotional pressure cooker, the center of a dizzying array of preparation courses and private study rooms, where the only thing that counts is a passing grade.
Lawyers here brag of surviving not law school but their sentences in Exam Village, or gosichon. Years later, the name still makes many shiver.
Photo: Matt Douma