After we abandoned our plan to move to North Dakota, CJ’s chances of getting into college next year were looking grim. But on Sunday everything changed. There, on the front page of the New York Times was the answer to CJ’s prayers. The headline read: "Elite Korean Schools, Forging Ivy League Skills".
The piece was about how going to brand-name American colleges has become a "fad" in South Korea. It was bad enough when CJ only had to compete with smart Americans. Now he has to contend with competition from students who attend the Minjok Leadership Academy near Seoul, where the average SAT score is 2203.
But there is hope on the horizon. Minjok accepts international students. If CJ attended a place like Minjok as a high school senior, he could undo all the poor study habits he has picked up in America during the last 12 years.
At Minjok, the school day lasts 15 hours. There is a ban on teen romance, and tooth-brushing is mandatory before every class. CJ’s classmates would be students like Kim Sooyeon. Ms. Kim, whose mother lashed her tongue if she scored lower than 100 on exams (even 98 or 99), is bound for Princeton in the fall.
CJ has wasted no time in beginning the admissions process. Here is an email exchange that he had with Lee Won-hee, the founder of Minjok:
Dear Dr. Lee,
I have attached my application for the 2008-9 school year. I am an eleventh grader at an American high school. Next year will be the most difficult year to get into college in the history of the world, and my parents would like to send me to your boarding school so I will stand a chance of getting in somewhere. I am a nice kid and speak fluent English, except while watching sporting events, when I mostly grunt.
Here is the reply CJ received:
Thank you for your application to Minjok. I must say that the admissions committee was quite impressed with your essay about how you ingeniously repaired the Porta-Potty in Nicaragua. How clever of you to figure out how to jiggle the handle! We see you as a future global leader and you can expect a decision as soon as we receive your SAT III scores.
We are keeping our fingers crossed, but meanwhile, for inspiration, staight from the Minjok website, here is the school "motto":
“Through education based on the deep awareness of the heritage of our people;
Towards tomorrow’s bright Fatherland;
Let us study, not for the sake of personal gain, but for the sake of learning.
Let us not choose a career in thoughts of personal gain,
But choose a career based on our talents and aptitude.
Such is my true fortune and tomorrow’s bright Fatherland."
Isn’t a motto supposed to be just a short phrase? And isn’t it passé to aspire to have a bright Fatherland? I could get critical, but what do I know about forging Ivy skills.