Freshman Year Abroad – Part II


I sat in the front row of the Penn information session, pondering the inspirational Ben Franklin quotes on the wall.  The charismatic admissions dean explained the university’s commitment to both the theoretical and the practical.  He pointed out the many accomplishments of Penn students, including the recent success of a boy at Wharton who had invented ecological detergent pellets called Dropps, a sensation in the world of laundry.

But I could barely concentrate because of the presence of a large group of a world-reknowned boarding school students – 44 kids from the Minjok Leadership Academy of Korea, all copiously taking notes in English.  Their school had been featured on the front page of the New York Times (and also in this blog).  Minjok students achieve average SAT scores of over 2200 – even higher than top American prep schools like Andover and Exeter. Their secret? 15 hours a of study a day, no dating, and tongue lashes from their parents if they score below 100% on quizzes. 

The group was well behaved (although I did see a few yawns and squirms), but could use some leadership training in the world of fashion.  The boys, in head-to-toe light grey or brown polyester uniforms, looked as if they were wearing vintage Jetsons Halloween costumes. The girls wore collarless shirts with brass buttoms tucked into floor-length dirndl skirts, worn over baggy pants with bows at the ankles – like a Sound of Music-themed Project Runway challenge gone awry.

When the information session ended, we were split into groups.  We followed our enthusiastic dual-major tour guide, and the Minjok students headed off in the opposite direction.  But then we caught up with the group at the athletic field, where I struck up a conversation with one of their chaparones.

I told the chaperone (who was dressed in Lacoste and khakis) that I had read about Minjok in the New York Times and had even blogged about it.  It soon became obvious that he didn’t understand a word I was saying, so I let him do the talking.  The group, he said, was on an American summer college tour for freshmen. This seemed a bit extreme to me, until I realized we had dragged our younger son, a rising freshman, along.  (Brown’16 seemed reasonably happy, even inspired, during the info session, but later told us he was smiling because he was silently quizzing himself about baseball statistics.) 

“So,” I asked the Minjok chaparone, “How many kids are you sending to Penn in the fall?”

“Seven,” he answered proudly.

“If our son attended your school would that help his chances for college?” I asked.

“Thank you very much,” he responded. 


After the tour, we headed to Pat’s for cheese steak (adults were underwhelmed, kids were in heaven).  Then we visited the Liberty Bell and the interactive National Constitution Center, which must have been designed by Penn students because it brilliantly integrates the theoretical and the practical, bringing history to life. (I had never seen my kids more enthusiastic about a museum until today, when we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame). 

We arrived back in New York in plenty of time to watch the Mets game – thankfully on television. 

And CJ, satisfied with the day although it had not included a live baseball game, seemed unfazed that the students of the Korean Minjok Leadership Academy have a better chance of getting into Penn than he does – unless he can come up with an improved laundry pellet by the end of the summer.



Freshman Year Abroad – Part II — 2 Comments

  1. A Minjok sighting?! Spectacular! I hope you have photos.
    Even better, you could have abducted one of them and Brown17 could have replaced him/her and gone undercover at Minjok for the next three years.