How do I use my heating?

When you come to Korea, you can say goodbye to the word radiator and say hello to Ondol. Ondol is an underfloor heating system that has been used in Korea for centuries.  Since many Koreans still sleep and sit on the floor, it’s extremely useful in the cold weather. In fact, most winters there’s nothing I love more than throwing my duvet on the floor, turning on the ondol and having a little nap.

But for foreigners who can’t read Korea, it can take a little while to get used to the dials. It’s sometimes a case of trial and error but fear not, here is a little explanation of what the words mean. (Every dial is different but generally the words are the same)



The first picture us much more common than the second. The second is a lot older than the first but if you look carefully, you’ll see the same words on both. Let’s take a look at some now.

1. 빠른온수- Fast hot water

2.  온수온도 and then  고, 중, 저. This means water temperature, high, medium, low. 

3. The wheel says 외출/온수전용. This means the temperature you want to set it to if you go out. Turn it up or down etc.

4.  난방선택 and then 온돌, 실내, 예약.난방선택 is heating choice. 온돌 is the floor heating, i.e. it heats the floor but not so much the water. 실내 means indoors or interior and in my apartment it heats the water and the floor. 예약 means reservation. You can set the heat to come on at a certain time but this has never worked for me so I wouldn’t know.

My tip is to leave your heating on continuously low during the real winter, especially if you go on Christmas holidays. If the pipes freeze and burst, the whole floor has to be taken up and it’s an expensive job. Leave the heating to 10 or 15 degrees. The heating only comes on if the temperature goes below that point so it’s not like it’ll be on the entire time.

I hope this helps someone somewhere! Apologies if my Korean spelling or explanation is useless, as it turns out, I’m foreign. Feel free to correct any mistakes below!

The Korean education system

I just had a conversation with a middle school girl.  During the course of the conversation, I asked her why she looked so tired.  She told me it was exam month and that every night she would study until 2am.  She would then get up at 6.30am and leave the house at 7.20am to walk the 40 minutes to school with her friends because it was the only free time she would have in the day.  I asked her if, after the exams, she would have time to relax and rest and she replied no because she was then going to prepare for high school. I also asked her about her hobbies and she told me that she effectively doesn’t have time for hobbies because she’s expected to study so much. 

This got me thinking to my life, in Ireland, at her age.  I would go to school from 9am to 4pm.  Go home, study for a few hours and go to bed.  I would also play music and sports and enjoy regular social activities even in the dreaded “exam month”. My parents forced upon us the belief that you don’t always have to get 100%, as long as you can stand by your work and say that you gave it your best, then that was the most important thing.

What that student described to me was the life of a regular middle school student in Korea.  Expected to study so hard for so long that she has been denied the opportunity for hobbies.  It’s not surprising that suicide is the leading cause of death among the young people in Korea.  They are simply following what society expects them to be, not what they truly are.  Korea is a country that prides itself on the academic achievements of its young people.  There is nothing wrong with this, it’s the sacrifices it makes to achieve those results that’s wrong. 

Education in Korea is a factory like machine.  Everyone does the same thing, are expected to produce the same high results and anything outside of those high results are disregarded as substandard materials. It’s not just a middle school problem.  This mindset starts as early as kindergarten.  The 7 year olds at my school are expected to complete an English exam at the end of term.  Our school is not an English academy, it’s a Korean playschool with English as a subject.  We do mock exams to prepare and it’s gotten to the point where I can only give the results to the teacher because the competition was so high among the students. It wasn’t just the competition, it was the fact that the students who got lower scores, even though they passed, would be looked down on by the higher achievers.   

What should also be considered is what the Koreans actually call “education”. Students are only encouraged to memorize and repeat.  No form of understanding or independent thought is necessary, just remember this and it’s all fine.  There is no room for creativity or critical thinking.  Twenty hours of studying wouldn’t be necessary if it was quality study that was occurring.  Native teachers will tell you that students in Korea, although they study, score very poorly on comprehension and even worse on open questions.  We should also look to the relationship between teacher and pupil in Korea.  Although students show a great ability, Korean teachers quite often don’t trust the students enough to independently answer a question.  Instead they spoon feed the answers to them.  The lack of trust in this critical relationship is what makes the learning environment uncomfortable and stressful.

A few weeks ago I watched a TED talk by Sir.Ken Richardson ( What I took from this speech is that education systems dislocate us from our natural talents.  This happens worldwide and is not just a problem isolated to Korea. But I feel Korea could learn a lot from transforming their education system.  To say “reform” here would not help because it would be a case of same same but different.  In fact, I really wonder if transforming the education system would do anything to transform the mindset of the Korean people.  People here expect the great results and fantastic achievements because it’s what they’ve grown with, it’s the only thing they know. 

But it’s not working.  In 2012, students and young people should be encouraged to be more than what society simply expects them to be.  I saw a clip from a documentary recently on the pressures faced by high school students in Korea

I’m sure the problem of industrial like education is not Korea’s alone.  No education system is perfect.  What Korea needs to understand and appreciate though is that all students are not Einsteins.  Each has their own talent and ability and we, as a nation must start encouraging our young people to foster and develop those talents, alongside a healthy education.