My friend DaeSung and I talked about his recollections based on the key word 'tests' from his past, in memory of Sunung, the final test all high school students take to enter college. Of course, since the topic was about tests, it was naturally closely related to school life, which he discussed with much passion.
His earliest recollection of a test was with his parents. He had moved to the States with his parents when he was 6 months old, and stayed there for around 7 years. When he came back to Korea, his parents decided to teach him Korean proverbs. He studied out of a mini-book and was rewarded with a stamp for every proverb he got right. Grinning slightly, he said "at the time, I didn't realize that it was a test. But now that I look back, I realize that it was a test of sorts, to ready me for society." At the time, he enjoyed the process of learning, and testing. For him, preschool tests were simply fun, enjoyable challenges that he was rewarded with when he got right. He described it as his 'Leeds days', slang for 'the golden days of unchallenged skill'.
Then came elementary school. Tests became a bit harder, and he himself told me that he wasn't all that talented in studying. It just wasn't 'his thing'. The only reason he did the tests was because he had to, and because it would be embarrassing if his grades fell further than that. I was surprised at this, because I thought that everyone would try their best to ace the tests. It was different from what I used to be, when I would really break down and cry sometimes on days that we received our report cards. He seemed a bit startled when I told him so, and he agreed with wide, and surprised eyes that perhaps it was a matter of how much outer pressure there was.
In middle school, he went back to his preschool days. "I went back to being an innocent child that tried to raise his grades to receive praise. But unlike before, now the pressure was becoming more intense." He said to me. As his grades went up higher and higher, he started to become afraid. "I didn't want to fall back down from being praised. I wanted to stay there at the top, and the fear started to overtake me."
DaeSung kept narrating his memories. "And then suddenly, the little kid wasn't so little anymore, and went to a foreign language high school. I took an entrance test, and barely passed. But then I had to take another test to decide class levels, and I ended up as 340th out of 430 people. I was shocked." Apparently, the 'little kid' had a brutal wake-up call. There were 3 more tests after that, and DaeSung said that he couldn't believe what had happened. "I studied hard, because I thought I was good at it. But the second test and on put me at 280th, and each test afterwards just proved I wasn't so smart after all." He told me that each test after that seemed like an alarm, telling him that he wasn't the best, putting him 'in his place', as he called it. It was something that completely changed him and his identity, because after a while, it made him stop thinking about grades and more about simply having fun. He scratched his slightly unkempt hair, frowning, but with an apologetic smile, as if he was telling me something that he didn't particularly like to remember. But he blinked a few times and went on to tell his story.
High school came and went, and finally there was the great Su-nung test awaiting him. For him, language was his choice of 'weapon' in this battle royale of the survival of the fittest. He never really cared for the test too much. According to him, Sunung was something which "nothing in particular comes into mind." DaeSung stared at me blankly, as if there was anything to really think about. His black eyes were a bit unfocused, as if he was trying to grasp a vague concept. He shook his head slightly while waving one hand, and told me that he didn't regret it though, and that his carefree attitude came from not worrying about tests anymore.
Through this interview I learned many things about my friend that I hadn't before, and garnered some insight as to his personalities and lifestyle choices. We were living in the same era, born at the same period, but led drastically different lives, and I was able to appreciate and learn from his experiences. I can't say that either one of us led the most 'ideal' life, but I think it was good to know more about him, and remember the days, looking back at them once again.
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