Many things have happened and many conversations have taken place recently that have made me reflect on how lucky I am to have had the childhood I had in Ireland. I’ve always known that I had the ideal childhood but coming to live in Korea and seeing children here makes me all the more grateful for mine.
I come from a family of three girls. Growing up on a farm, my parents expected the same from us as they would three boys and there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do. From early on we spent plenty of time outside, and were taught the importance of hard work and perseverance. It wasn’t as if it wasn’t fun. It was great craic, standing in gaps but letting the cattle pass and spending the rest of the day trying to get them back! Needing a toilet break miles from any house and having to find a nice ditch. Being told not to play on the silage pit but doing it anyway and wondering how Mum knew we were there. My favourite memory was spending time with Dad milking the cows in the evening. This kind of childhood taught us a lot that we brought with us as we grew older.
But it’s not just the farming childhood that I’m grateful for. The fact that we, and others our age, spent our time hurling, dancing, playing music and generally playing outside gave us the more practical skills in life. Growing up, education was still important, we almost never missed a day of school and when we sat down to do our homework, it was done right. Mum would sit with us for however long it took to get everything done. After homework was done and the music was practised, we spent the rest of the day outside. The focus of our childhood wasn’t 100% education, it was fun and inclusive and what childhoods are supposed to be.
Everyday, I see children in Korea who really lack any of the skills that we would have had from that age. The fact that parenting methods and attitudes are different here is a factor but so too is the fact that most children here grow up living in huge apartment buildings and don’t spend enough time in the real outdoors. The only places they have to play are the playgrounds in the housing estates. And that’s even if they have time to play. I teach 6 year olds, who, after our school, go to another private English or math or taekwondo academy. It only gets worse as a child gets older. Education is the number one priority here and parents fill their childs day with education centred activities. Children here don’t get the opportunity to spend time away from books. Even children who play the piano (which is every child I’ve ever spoken to) are driven to be the best players and play at recitals and concerts and this only happens with hours of practice, in an apartment.
As smart as Korean children can be, they lack all practical skills in life. At school, I watch children, every day have to be taught, by teachers, how to fill a jug with water, or get toothpaste out of the container or how to eat by themselves. I look at them, and perhaps they’re 7 years old and I think “If Kay Browne was here, this would not fly”.
I’ve come to the conclusion that if I was ever to have a child in Korea, I would move back to Ireland, just to make sure that the child had a childhood similar to my own and wasn’t sentenced to a life of competition. For all the negative things that are said about Ireland, at least we produce rounded individuals. So, we may not have the smartest people and we may not have the best economy but our children spend time out in the fresh air, they know what cows look like. They play team sports other than soccer. They know the touch of real grass under their feet. Most of them are made do household chores and small jobs for pocket-money. But more than this, they know a life outside school.