Kim, 53, said she began paying for extra English classes 22 years ago when her child reached the Korean age of 1, just after being born. She admits that at the time there was little understanding of foreign English teachers in Korea, so even though the fees were expensive for the rare commodity, she was hopeful that within a year her son would be fully bilingual, and possibly even have lighter skin.
However, despite an arduous program of hagwon study which later included private lessons at home with a foreigner - even though it meant having to let him into her husband's apartment - she said that by the time her son was 2 year's old he was still taking several hours to complete homework assignments that should have taken minutes, despite the beatings.
Deciding that more intensive and expensive study was needed, she sought out the most exclusive of teachers at the hagwon, and within a few years the combined cost of the fees, special English language textbooks written in Korean, and exclusive hagwon branded-clothing designed to maximize a child's English language potential had risen to almost $50,000 per day, which fortunately her husband – the CEO of a construction company undertaking government contracts – was able to afford.
Kim – who speaks no English herself – was assured that her eldest son was making good progress after he won the Seoul Inter-Hagwon Muck-UN for five years in a row with a series of rousing 20 word or less speeches, but she now thinks that the gifts she gave the hagwon judges to ensure her son received favorable consideration not only helped him win, but also hid the fact that he still couldn't really speak the language.
Her son eventually went to the prestigious Seoul International University after a gift to the institution, but the downturn in the construction industry meant that her subsequent hopes for him becoming a doctor or a judge had to be set aside for the only remaining career that offered the hope of making the $11 billion back – becoming a politician.
While a health issue resulted in her son being exempted from mandatory military service, it has at least enabled him to take the first steps in his planned public career, by taking a position arranged for him by his father at The Korea Times as an intern. But Kim says that she is now bitter about being forced to spend so much on private education, and wants the government to crack down on poor-quality teaching by foreign English teachers.
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