In this podcast I’ve had the immense pleasure to speak with Yeonjun, a South Korean Chemistry PhD candidate at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois USA (Chicago area).

Yeonjun is a brilliant advanced French student I’ve been very honoured to work with for the past two years. He is any language teacher’s dream. He is one of those students whose genuine excitement is palpable when you teach him a new word or expression. That’s how much he enjoys learning. He is very hard-working and conscientious, and he is always up for a new challenge. Indeed, he immerses himself in the French language on a daily basis, for example with the radio channel Franceinfo and the TV show Dix pour cent. He also profusely reads Le Monde, and watches Le Dessous des cartes on Arte channel, neither of which are a walk in the park. Finally, he always strives for perfection, and not just in French. Besides foreign languages, Yeonjun is also a talented violinist and tennis player. In his spare time, he enjoys reading Stephen King (among others), and listening to American multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird.

In this recording, Yeonjun shares with us some of the very interesting factors that have led him to become such a diligent French learner and a successful chemist who has published several peer-reviewed articles – namely the very harsh education system in South Korea. He tells us in great detail what it’s like to grow up in a country in which academic achievement and work are of the utmost importance, often before mental wellbeing and physical health. Yeonjun knows first-hand the pros and cons of waking up at 6 o’clock in the morning, and going to bed after midnight, almost 7 days a week, in the name of studying. As you will learn from his account, this system can open many doors in the field of academia and lead to golden work opportunities. However, it comes with a cost, such as the development of mental health problems with sometimes devastating and long-lasting effects, as well as tragic consequences. Yeonjun is however hopeful that this infamous Hell Joseon will eventually come to an end with the new generation, who value happiness over relentless work. 

This podcast will be of interest to anyone who enjoys learning things about Asia, education, and more specifically about the education system and work culture in South Korea. I also highly recommend watching this French YouTube documentary’s snippet on the topic. 

You can find out more about Yeonjun’s work and academic achievements on Google Scholar, and on his Northwestern University personal page.

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