Four ‘overachieving’ brothers tackle college after primary school

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Four ‘overachieving’ brothers tackle college after primary school

Four teenage brothers who only graduated from elementary school are attending college after passing qualifying examinations at a very young age.
What’s more, the boys never attended a hagwon to prepare for this feat, but instead had to work to earn money for their books while studying on their own.
The four teenagers ― Lee Yeong-su, 16; Yeong-sok, 15; Yeong-haeng, 14, and Yeong-jong, 13 ― live in Yeosu city in South Jeolla province.
Yeong-jong recently was admitted to Sunchon National University after graduating from elementary school in February 2003. In August of that year, he passed a qualifying test for the equivalent of a middle school diploma, and last April he passed his high school qualifying exam. Thus, it took him a total of two years to go from elementary school to university.
“I could go to a more popular school. But this school is run by the state, so the tuition is a lot cheaper and it is close to my home,” Yeong-jong said.
Although he has never had private tutors or taken after-school lessons, Yeong-jong has a strong English-language proficiency for his age. Having a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score above 550, he worked as a part-time translator while preparing for the qualifying examinations. His three older brothers had followed the same path, and are attending the same university.
The oldest brother, Yeong-su, became a law major in 2002, while Yeong-sok began majoring in horticulture in 2003. Yeong-haeng has been studying biology since last year.
Yeong-su, who was accepted by the law department of a more well-known private university, still chose the public university.
Behind the four brothers’ achievements is their father, Lee Gong-hoe, a strict disciplinarian.
Mr. Lee, 47, the minister of a very conservative Presbyterian church, receives a salary not more than 1 million won ($1,000) a month, and thus affording his sons’ education on that income is impossible.
“To make my sons economically independent, I didn’t offer anything more than food at home after they graduated from elementary school,” said Mr. Lee. “They had to do all the rest by themselves.”
Given that situation, the boys decided that it would be impossible to live normal lives like other children. So, they tried to qualify for university admission as quickly as possible, while having part-time jobs.
The way they studied was not easy, but didn’t cost much.
“Like my brothers, I tried to take advantage of public libraries in the town, while watching educational TV programs and using the Internet to learn things,” Yeong-jong said.
Yeong-su, who just entered his fourth year of legal studies, prepared for the college entrance exam while employed at a woodworking shop. Yeong-sok works part-time as a plumber.
“It was difficult to study for the tests when I was so young,” Yeong-su said. “But I learned to be independent in tough surroundings.”
Yeong-su, Yeong-haeng and Yeong-jong are planning to go to graduate school in law after graduating from college. Yeong-sok wants to study architectural history.
“I’m letting my sons make decisions according to their talents and abilities,” Mr. Lee said proudly.


by Yang Gwang-sam
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