Have you ever studied beyond your limits, overdosing on caffeine and choosing not to sleep? After a few days, you wake up and look into a mirror, only to see panda eyes stare back. Or after consuming too much caffeine and not enough food that you become overstimulated and jittery? How competitive are you with your grades and classmates? How far are you willing to go to get into the best school possible? Sabotage? Murder? Lies?
American school systems are no where near those in Asia, particularly Korea, China, and Japan. High school is of utmost priority, because preparations are made to enter the most prestigious universities in the world. School hours are long and summers do not exist. Even in America, preparatory schools, year-long and summer, exist for the motivated. Since 6th grade, I have been a victim of this Asian belief in quality education and the competitive edge. I have gone through the usual set of classes through middle and high school, but my summers were mostly booked for these SAT/Science preparation classes. It was only after starting college did my schedule lighten up with some money rolling in and fun times here and there. However, in Korea for example, school runs from early morning to 5 pm, with barely enough room for extracurricular activities and study time, 6 days a week. There are weekend school hours for additional learning time. Over the summer, there are preparation schools called Hogwan, the original inspiration for the sprouting schools in Asian American communities.
Where am I going with this conversation? Last night, I watched 2006 South Korean horror movie called 디데이 Roommates (also D-Day). Female students attend Younghwa Academy in preparation for their college entrance exams, a rather challenging step towards success. Upon entering, students must discard any personal belongings to prevent any distractions or contact with the outside world. Together, they are to become one happy family… In the beginning, you hear the perky principal advertising the importance of education and the school itself: “Boost your concentration with beautiful scenery… Do your best… Remove your desires… Be competitive… You only need determination, Dreams definitely come true! …” They are equipped with a large communal bathroom, nourishing meals, quiet study rooms, comfortable dorm rooms, etc… What is there to complain about?
Four girls, Yoo-Jin, Da-Young, Eun-Soo, and Bo-Ram, all with differing temperaments and intelligence levels, live together in one of the dorm rooms. Strange things soon begin to appear, the first of which is a black stain on the ceiling that tends to change shape. Yoo-Jin, the bitch, tries to scare the girls when she reveals how there was a mysterious fire there three years ago… Girls died and their spirits roamed. Yoo-Jin, rambunctious and fiesty, fights the institution, until she starts seeing dead, bloodied corpses. She is driven mad and escapes after injuring herself, only to be forced back into the school by her mother. One day, she is discovered in the isolation room, dead, hanging off the ceiling.
Stranger things begin to reveal itself. Eun-Soo, the smartest girl coming in, soon spirals downward. Throughout the movie, she is seen popping different medications, whether it’s to prevent sleep or it’s for vitamins. She begins to deteriorate, while visions of the growing black stain haunt her. She becomes more sick with time, her grades and her demeanor suffering as a result. She becomes a whole different person, a contrast to the smart, helpful, innocent, and confident girl in the beginning. She becomes seriously insane and creepy, and history repeats itself.
The lesson from this movie… Do not study too much? Do not work too hard, or else you become a madwoman? Next time a teacher or professor says “Try your best next time, you can do it! You can do the best you can…” I can’t take those words seriously, because I’ll think about the underlying theme in this movie. It’s not easy at all to “try your best and do better next time.” It’s easy to say, not at all easy to do and do well. The value of education and success can be taken too far, and the stresses that result from studying and working hard can take their tolls on any person’s well-being.
What do I do to avoid going crazy? Easy, have fun. Over the years, especially after college, I’ve died down on my competitive edge. I make sure to have fun with friends, party, play games and Mah-Jong, indulge in good food, exercise and play sports… I will not let medical school consume my life; I will make time for myself, and that includes watching more horror movie for subtle lessons and learning =) Cheers to nightmares!