I raised my hand to ask a question. The teacher wouldn’t call on me.

After five minutes or so, she finally asked me if I had to go to the bathroom. I said no, and asked her my question as politely as possible, just as my mom advised me. Then, my teacher said, “Those kinds of questions should be asked after class individually, because you are disrupting your peers.” Disrupting my peers! I never felt so embarrassed. I wanted to argue back, “This is called enthusiasm, which this class lacks,” but I didn’t. It was my first day in a Korean middle school.

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After spending seven years in primary and elementary school in Arizona and Mexico, I couldn’t believe how different the Western and Eastern educational styles were. In Mexico, the teacher would encourage contribution and discussion in class so that students could learn from diverse ideas, which made classes more interesting. Maybe that was not so in Korea. But after my anger was gone and I wiped the scowl out of my face, I could see her point. The class was very productive without any interruptions that could slow down the pace of the lecture and I knew that in Korea, respect for the teacher and my peers was crucial. After all, she did answer my question after class when I asked her individually.

Then, I came to the conclusion that both styles have their own benefits. To start with, in Western society, the diversity and originality of each student is valued, so they can choose their own classes and focus on subjects that match their career path and express their own ideas during class. For example, I am nowhere near talented when it comes to art and music. In a choir, when you hear somebody singing off pitch, that would definitely be me. Unfortunately in Korea, I had to take those subjects because it was mandatory. You could imagine how much I suffered in those classes.

However, in my US-style-school, I only need 2 credits of fine arts and can focus on subjects like French, which I do feel passionate and curious about. Also, I can contribute to the class and share my own opinion of a particular subject and discuss with my peers, which helps me feel more enthusiastic and interested in the class. On the other hand, in Korea, education is based on group harmony and respect. Classes for more advanced students don’t exist and every student has to go in the same pace as the others.Based on the idea that no one should fall behind, everyone helps one another. Students that are mathematically gifted help those who are not, and students that are talented in the arts help and encourage those who aren’t.

Also, interruption during class is not acceptable and full attention and respect must be given to the teacher, which makes classes more productive. Therefore, it is necessary to combine those styles by taking the best aspect of each one. There is no educational system that is better or right, but what one has, the other lacks. An ideal educational system would teach students how to combine both of these ideals. I envision the type of respect, cooperation and harmony among classmates I experienced in Korea with the freedom of choosing my own educational path and voicing my own opinion. That would be my type of edutopia.