School Life in South Korea and Finland

South Korea and Finland – what a stark contrast in school life.

Student life in South Korea: cram school till midnight, four hours of sleep are the norm, school attendance in high school till 10pm, high cost of cram school education, study for exams only, pressure to get into a top-notch university, etc.

Finnish students have a 20-work school week. This allows them to spend this extra time outside of school to do practical things:  meeting friends, spending time with family, having time to earn some money on the side, reading for pleasure, etc.

The German School System – Elementary School

Over the years, a frequent question in conversation with ex-patriots is about the complex structure of the German school system.

This short outline covers the main parts of elementary schooling.

* Grundschule

All children from ages six to ten years old must attend a primary school (Grundschule). You cannot choose the school, instead your child will be assigned to the one closest in your district. This is usually in walking distance.

Before school admittance, all children are tested (Einschulungstest). In the old days, if a child could reach with his/her right arm around the head and touch the left ear, the child was often found suited mature enough to start first grade. The criteria has changed a lot since then.

Today, children have to go through various tests to show their physical, mental, emotional, and social capabilities. There are also “Kann Kinder” (capable children) who may start school earlier at the age of five, provided they turn six before 31 Dec in the same school year. There are also “Darf Kinder” (“may start school early” children) who may start school earlier under different guide lines (more bureaucracy).

First day of school tradition: the Schultüte


A common practice throughout all 16 states in Germany is giving the Schultüte or also known as Zuckertüte (definition: large cornet of cardboard filled with sweets and little presents given to children in Germany on their first day at school).

This tradition began in Saxony and Thuringia in the 19th century. Today, the average parents spend euro 69,52 on its contents ( with parents in the eastern part of Germany spending more). More parents (54%) in the West make the Schultüte themselves, in comparison to only 16% homemade Schultüten in the East.

The contents are most often school supplies, candy, plush animals, and other small gifts.

In primary school, children are taught to read, write, do maths, and they study local history, geography, and biology. Unlike most other countries, students also have religious instruction classes. In addition to their homeroom teacher (Klassenleiter/in), they have separate teachers for music and sport.

Very little homework is assigned – usually 30 to 40 minutes a day.

In the student’s fourth and final year at primary school, teachers evaluate the child’s next level of schooling in discussion with the parents. If the students seems apt for university education, then he/she will move directly into secondary school (Gymnasium). Those students who need two more years to develop their academic skills can continue middle school (Gesamtschule), where they can choose from three tracks: intermediate schools (Hauptschule or Realschule) or Gymnasium.

My previous post about kindergarten can be read here:


German Ordnung

German Ordnung (order, arrangement, system) is something I have neglected for the past several years. We had assembled enough material things during our world wandering years, some of it then left behind at my parent’s old house. Unpacking some of these boxes always seemed like Christmas. What surprise! Who had given us this beautiful yukata? Oh, do you remember these chop stick rests? Did we get this hand-crocheted afghan from your aunt?… But these moments of joy have faded over time.

Then within a few years of each other, both of my parents passed away, leaving me to clear out their belongings as well.

Since 2001 I have been lugging stuff from my hometown to our current residence in the hopes of sorting, donating, giving away, or junking it.

Sometimes these boxes sit in the kitchen for months until they become part of the furniture.

Then I came to realize I could not leave all this to my children to sort out some day. Not if I could help it a bit. I like to live simple, so how did we end up with all these things? Well, they were presents, antiques we picked up along the way, old linens given to us, you name it, we had it.

A month ago, I decided I had to do something about it. I came up with a remedy for this malady – One Hodgepodge Item Out (OHIO).

Every day I get rid off one item, whether it is my mom’s chipped sugar bowl (trash) or good beer glasses which go to the teachers’ lounge at school where young teachers from overseas grab them up quickly. Some of it ends up on a flea market table I set up, and the proceeds go the our son’s Kalahari fund raiser. What bliss. Some things go to the Altkleider (used clothing) container, some go to charity. But one item a day must be handled and designated.

This system really works, even if it is just one item at a time. The upshot is, I do not want to leave such a Unordnung to my children.

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

– Confucius  (China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist) –

You should see my husband’s face in the morning when I push a vase for the teachers’ lounge into his hands and he gives me this inquisitive look. OHIO is all I have to say.

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