Hi, I’m Korean and no, I’m not a Math Genius

I’m pretty sure many Korean-American students can relate to the title of this post. One of the most common stereotypes of Korean is that “all Koreans must be good at math.” Well, actually, it’s a common stereotype of all East-Asians. Well, I must admit that I do know more about math than my friends, but it was all because I went to a Korean elementary school. A typical Korean student would learn calculus during the summer before they enter middle school. I know this freaks my friends out every time I say it, but yes. Korean schools are at least 5 to 6 years ahead of American math education (assuming that most American students learn calculus in high school).

However, to think that all Koreans must be good at math is a false accusation. Because students also fail in math in Korea, just like in the U.S. Sure, they learn advanced math earlier than the students in America, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they all understand what they’re learning.

Not to brag, but I am pretty good at calculating numbers. I took three AP math classes in high school, and thought they were quite easy. But when it came to solving comprehensive math questions, I struggled more than any other subjects. Koreans have a cramming method of teaching, they teach math as if students are calculators. So Korean students are very fast at adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing big numbers in their heads (there was an experiment in South Korea a few years ago, that tested if a person is faster than a calculator).

However, many Korean students have trouble solving word questions; when numbers are not given to them. This is all because they learn math as if they are calculators, and you know calculators don’t work without any input of numbers.

So when my friends ask me to teach them how to solve a math problem, I usually have no clue where to start from. I solved all my word problems by memorizing theories and examples, not by actually solving the problem. Of course, there are many Korean students who are actually good at math (there are a lot of them, actually). But it is wrong to think that all Koreans are good at math, because you see, I’m not!

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