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"I Like Meeting Challenges"

Posted February. 01, 2005 22:18,   


Lee Chang-hwan, on that day, heard the good news that he was accepted by the department of business administration of Seoul National University, while nervously awaiting the result. He failed when he applied for the school months ago, yet applied again last month and finally made it with 497 out of 500 points in the CSAT.

“I owe it all to my mother who fully supported me by working as an assistant in a school cafeteria, even though my family’s economic condition started to worsen when my father passed away when I was a fifth grader in elementary school.”

He first credited his mother for his glorious admittance to the university and said, “I cannot forget my class teacher who, knowing my economic hardship, gave me reference books for teachers, and another teacher responsible for our English newspaper club who would pat me on the back whenever I felt depressed.”

Lee said, “To be accurate, my mother did a greater thing than I, as she passed exams last year twice,” and raised his thumb, adding, “I am proud of her.”

His mother, Chae Pan-soon (45), has been working as an assistant chef in a middle school cafeteria in Daegu. She passed the qualification examination for high school graduation last year and the chef appointment test administered by the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education. Only one out of every 46.2 entries succeeded in the test. Chae tearfully said, “Chang-hwan would cut back on his sleeping time to tutor me in subjects I was poor at, give me a massage on the shoulders and make me coffee, although he was busy studying for the CSAT,” adding, “I am really proud of my son.”

Chang-hwan’s neighbors welcomed the news of the mother and the son’s serial success in tough exams, particularly after Chang-hwan won a prize in a quiz contest, and said, “Good things have happened altogether in Yonggye-dong.”

Bae Gyu-ri, 45, was one of them. She pleasantly said, “Chang-hwan’s mother once gathered about 10 of our neighbors to celebrate when she passed the national qualification exam, and I guess now it is our turn to invite the mother and the son to celebrate.”

Lee’s family since January of last year has been living in a 15-pyong (one pyong is 3.954 yards) collective house where one does not have to pay rent. It was built by a benefactor in Daegu for the family.

Lee won a quiz competition last month and donated half of the prize money to an engineering scholarship foundation. He then gave the remaining 20 million won to her mother, saying, “Take and use it as living expenses.”

However, Chae deposited the total sum of money in a bank so that her son could later purchase books and a computer he needed during college years.”

Lee announced his aspirations, saying, “I would like to take the graduate course for CEOs at Harvard after I graduate from Seoul National University to become a businessman who can represent Korea.”

He finished reading The Principles of Economics in a month that normal university students read for their major. Now he is busy learning English Conversation.

Lee offered his secret to great academic performance by saying, “I did not stay home and study only. I was able to get high grades because I sometimes enjoyed computer games and trips, and studied various fields.”

He has never gotten private tutoring or studied at a Hakwon (private cram schools) except for that he learned math from a university student, one of his acquaintances, for two months when he was in the first year of high school. His hobby as well as unique know-how of studying is to visit a nearby city library whenever he has time to read books in varying fields.

More than anything else, he makes it a rule to thoroughly read a newspaper for one to two hours every day.

He said, “My past voracious reading of books from diverse fields greatly helped me get a good grade on the essay test of Seoul National University,” adding, “I guess behind my good grades at the CSAT and winning of the quiz contest was my habitual perusal of newspapers, the best study material ever.”

Yong-Kyun Jeong cavatina@donga.com