Cram schools offer way out for stressed employees

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Cram schools offer way out for stressed employees

It was a Saturday afternoon, but the law school preparatory class at a cram school in Seoul was packed. Most of the people there were office workers and employees at conglomerates.

“More than half the students here are working somewhere,” said a lecturer at the school in Sinchon-dong, western Seoul.

More employees of conglomerates are studying during weekends at cram schools for law and medical schools, which they believe will free them from the long hours and hierarchical structures of their workplaces.

“I want to escape my workplace,” said a 33-year-old surnamed Kim who has been working at a conglomerate for the past three years. “I am fed up with the constant KakaoTalk messages that my boss sends me day and night, even during weekends.”

He added, “Right now, I don’t have a life of my own. My work ends after midnight every day.”

Another attendee, a 36-year-old surnamed Jeong who has been working at an IT conglomerate, agreed.

“The cram school has classes in the evenings on weekdays, but I cannot make time for them as I am always called into after-work corporate dinners and overnight working hours,” Jeong said. “Nobody at my work knows I am taking these classes, but my parents are supportive. They told me this will give me a chance to ‘live like a normal human being.’”

These academies for law and medical school exams are opening up more weekend classes for workers. Students range from employees who just started to work at a conglomerate to those with 7 to 10 years of experience.

“We opened up a seminar on law school preparation last year,” said a manager of the cram school in Sinchon. “And half the attendees were working somewhere.”

Many of the law school and graduate school applicants who are currently working say they are not dissatisfied with their pay.

“I was working at an oil company, and it was a popular choice among job seekers and paid well, too,” said a 34-year-old surnamed Lee who was admitted into a law school in Seoul last year. “But once I started working there, a lot of my supervisors shuffled their responsibilities onto me, and I often couldn’t leave before they left work.”

For many, trying to balance study and work takes its toll.

“During lunchtime at work, I eat alone at a restaurant or cafe quite far from my office,” said a 38-year-old surnamed Lee who works at a publishing company in Seoul and is preparing to apply to a pharmacy graduate school. “I use this time to study.”

“I try to avoid after-work corporate dinners as much as possible,” said a 34-year-old surnamed Lee who works at a trading company. She has been preparing her law school application for three years.

“Even when I have to attend one, I try to study for at least a few minutes before I go to sleep.”

Kwak Keum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, said the phenomenon of working people trying to become lawyers and pharmacists “could be understood as a desire to find a more permanent job with better working conditions.”

BY PARK HYUNG-SOO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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