EXTRACURRICULARS + ACTIVITIES
One of the frustrations you will likely experience in Korea is finding extracurricular opportunities as a teenager. The Korean education system does not emphasize that middle and high school students should continue to play sports or music regularly. Most students rarely have time for these activities, and spend most of their after-school hours in academies (hagwon) or study centers.
Most students in middle and high school who participate regularly in sports or musical activities plan to major in their respective areas in college. These students are extremely competitive and committed to their activities, so there is rarely middle ground for students who want to pursue sports or music as a hobby semi-competitively. Here is some information I’ve picked up from my own experiences.
Depending on where you live, you should first look into the programs run by your 동/dong (the smallest geographical unit, similar to town) 주민센터 or 주민 자치센터, or 구/gu (next larger unit, similar to county). If you're lucky, your gu might also operate a sports and recreation center called 청소년 수련관 or 청소년 회관 (youth culture center). For example, if you live in 서울시 관악구 신림동, try looking up "관악구 청소년" or "신림동 청소년" or "관악구 체육." You will find a number of resources. You can often find classes for sports like ping pong, basketball, and swimming.
There is usually a gap in age groups for classes at these recreation centers. Classes are offered for elementary school students and adults, but classes for middle and high school students are usually unavailable. So, a 7th grader may have to join the adult class, but many centers do not allow this. If you go to an open swimming session, you might find it awkward to be the only teenager among senior citizens. If you're really serious about a sport, e.g. swimming, try to hire a personal coach and go somewhere like the Jamsil Olympic swimming center. They have an Olympic size pool with deep lanes, which is rare to find in Korea. Jamsil also offers serious tennis lessons.
When it comes to team sports such as basketball or soccer, it is quite expensive to be a part of a competitive team. However, programs offered in youth centers are very reasonably priced but often lack the competitiveness. There are private sports clubs such as 팀식스, 삼성썬더스 리틀썬더스 but they are expensive (actual cost is greater than what is posted on the web) and might not be available where you live. Search really hard and look around. Raise your voice and try to create new activities in your local area. This will change extracurricular activities for both homeschool and non-homeschool students seeking to pursue their interests outside of the classroom with more seriousness.
Koreans love music, and it’s easy to find places to learn an instrument in Korea. However, like sports, very few people continue taking lessons beyond elementary school. Most students instead focus on math and English from 5th/6th grade. If you want to continue learning an instrument, you can hire a private teacher. Finding a private teacher is not too difficult. The real challenge is finding a group of students with whom you can play chamber or orchestra music with a good level of commitment.
Look up or call your county office (구청) to find out if your area runs a youth orchestra. Some cities/counties/towns run youth orchestras (e.g. Gangbuk-gu in Seoul, or Yongin-si in Gyeonggi-do). Once benefit of joining an orchestra affiliated with your city/country/town is that the government covers most management expenses, so participation fees are relatively low.
You can also join a private music group. Participation fees may be higher and practice locations may not necessarily be in your neighborhood, but there are quite a few available in Korean cities.
Here is a list of some private music groups:
Heavenly Sound Orchestra: Yangjae. Originally founded for homeschooling students. Meets every Thursday.
JL Choir & Orchestra: Yongin. Run by the vice-conductor of Heavenly Sound Orchestra.
Camarata Music Company: Yongsan. Younger students (up till junior high) can participate in this multiethnic choir. Run entirely in English.
Art is relatively easier to pursue than music or sports. There is an abundance of art academies in Korea, and you likely won't have a hard time finding one near your home. Again, classes for teenagers tend to be quite intensive, but you can adjust the level of intensity by discussing your situation with your instructor.
If you do not like the college-prep oriented atmosphere of art hagwons, you can try to find a professional artist who would be willing to take teenage students into his or her studio. You could also try going to a hobby art hagwon, but most people who attend hobby art hagwons are adults.
Most Korean teenagers get their volunteer hours certified through this website:
This is where non-profit organizations that are eligible to issue service hours register availability for volunteer work. However, the work that teenagers are allowed to do is often limited.
If you attend a regular brick-and-mortar school, you may come across plenty of opportunities to do volunteer work through your school. If you are an online school or homeschool student though, you will have to search for service opportunities yourself.
I’ve been rejected several times by different organizations when I contacted them to ask if I could serve with them because I was still a minor. But persistence and creativity will help you find volunteer work where it is most needed. For example, famous hospitals may have a long waiting list of volunteers, but smaller no-name nursing homes may be where your work is truly needed and appreciated.
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