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[Hey, that’s me] A college admissions monster

By suk

The reality of modern teenage life in high school Korean dramas is almost always either blatantly ignored or exaggerated in excess. Students suffer through unbelievably traumatic pasts or bully each other with sickening violence. Studying is left on the sidelines as students are swept up in love triangle heaven. As a high school student, I related more to career-oriented women in their 30s than the actual high schoolers. Maybe I just wasn’t watching the right dramas, but over time, I became unsatisfied, restlessly counting the years until my life truly started, until I could live like the unnies on screen.

Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers.

SKY Castle was dramatic to the fullest extent, but somehow, within the drama’s chaos, I finally found myself. At its core, SKY Castle was always focused on high school students competing to get into the best universities. The past four years of my life have been consumed by a competition with myself to earn the best grades in the hardest classes, to win the highest honors in the best extracurriculars. I go to a high school that many consider the best in California, and I was constantly working to stay afloat at the top. Almost all the pressure came from myself. I took the initiative to discipline myself, never losing sight of the ultimate fulfillment that would come from acceptance into one of the world’s best universities.

In that way, I am Kang Ye-seo. I’m brutally honest, isolating myself partially because I love being too busy, but also because it makes me feel superior in some ways. Ye-seo had dedicated her entire life to a single goal, a purpose that had been engrained into her existence until any action or thought that didn’t bring her closer to achieving it was foreign and almost disgusting. She was selfish and bratty, but worked impossibly hard. Most viewers probably despised her, but I was almost jealous of how successful she seemed. When my parents suggested a college counselor, I embraced the idea with open arms. Although my college counselor never dictated my life (or murdered people) like Kim Joo-young did, I was eager to follow the directions of a professional in an industry that was all too real.

“Kang Ye-seo is human after all. I thought she was a machine.” Cha Ki-joon made this observation in episode 16, and it embodies why I love Ye-seo so much. Her greatest fear was breaking down the machine because being human meant failure. When Ye-seo was forced to confront who she had become after Hye-na’s death, she discovered how terrible and miserable she actually was, and then her world really came crashing down. But she confronted this reality with admirable dignity, proving to herself and the machines around her that being human also meant overcoming the failure.

In other ways, I am also Cha Ki-joon and Cha Seo-joon. The twins’ family mirrored my own. I have always been much closer to my mother. Our friendship is defined by many dynamics – mother-daughter, mentor-student, best friends. But she’s also a mediator between my dad and I, often putting her foot down against my dad’s sometimes infuriating irrationality and taking my side. I respected Seung-hye immensely throughout the drama. She brought up Ki-joon and Seo-joon to be kind, just, and independent, a comforting neutral force within the walls of SKY Castle, despite the mental torture their dad put them through. I saw my mother within Seung-hye, and I realized she had tried to raise me to be more like the twins, but I had decided instead to live like Ye-seo.

Ever since I finished SKY Castle, I’ve been working on changing the foundations of my identity. I pay more attention to the possibilities in life outside the only one that exists in my own mind. I am slowly learning to gain fulfillment from non-materialistic sources. A university education is a privilege and an opportunity, not a name or number to stick on my forehead for everyone to see. My own opinion about myself is always the highest priority. SKY Castle was able to reach me in a way that no other drama has been because it finally reflected my reality. Just like Ye-seo, I stared at how painfully I lived until I couldn’t bear it anymore, so I’m leaving that way of living behind.

 
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It was warming to read your write up @sukstan. I no longer feel I'm the only who changed watching dramas :)

When life, or people around us or we ourselves can't show us a better way, dramas unexpectedly step in and guide us. Either by holding a mirror, or bringing to life an ideal we always imagined, or showing us a completely different way of living. Or they remind us that we are not alone being confused ourselves.

Cheers to a more enlightened living through dramas. Fighting!

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I totally agree with you! Especially being young and impressionable, I'm glad I'm being influenced by dramas compared to other sources of media. Fighting!

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Such a nice write-up @sukstan! I was Woo-Joo as a high school student (usually good grades but didn't care if the grades drops a few notches, not killing myself studying etc.). The most accurate thing in the drama though, was how his mother was considered lacking for not completely dictating his life. Now I realize the importance of what she did, she was giving me practice on how to take decisions on my own....

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Woo-joo's mother was the best mother I've seen in a K-drama. Not only did she allow Woo-joo independence, but she would sacrifice her entire life for a child that wasn't even her own.

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Yes, I don't think I would have done half as good had my mom pushed me. But now I realize she was never a part of those school mom gangs. And I have seen other moms looking down on mine because they thought she didn't care. Like how ye-seo's mom did in episode 1.

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Seriously, you should add a spoiler warning to this essay. Just tell where the spoilers start and end if you can't remove it.
Your writing is very good and your love for the drama and the characters enthralling but both lose a lot of their appeal because of the spoiler you added on the counselor.

To me the spoiler wasn't even necessary to explain your feelings and thoughts, the parallel between your life and the character was clear enough and didn't call for a detailed explanation, yet you revealed what seems to be a major plot point.
For a reader like me, stumbling on it out of nowhere really was a hindrance and stopped me from finishing to read.

It's a pity because I started the first two paragraphs thinking that your testimony showed an excellent reason to relate to the younger characters (i avoided the drama because young cast acting is often cringeworthy) by pushing me to remember my high school and University years.
I even start to consider watching Sky castle, for the first time because it paint the drama in a different light.

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honestly, i come into this knowing fully well that there's gonna be spoilers. it's impossible not to include them if you truly want to paint a complete, vivid tale. if i don't want to get spoiled, i would know better than to click on this without expecting it.

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I don't think it's unreasonable to request a spoiler warning, and I don't think jumping in anticipating spoilers means that you "know better." It's not naive to expect fellow beanies to take such courtesies as related to spoilers and such into account, nor would including warnings hinder the essay (which was great, awesome job, suk!) in any real way.

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What does the fact that you knew that there was spoilers before reading have to do with me?

Except when it's clearly named as a recap of a specific episode, there's no way to know if a review/essay contains spoilers, unless the author issues a warning about the spoilers.
That's why it's a common courtesy on all reviews sites to inform the reader.
(Except for the comments sections which are known to be full of spoilers everywhere despite moderation).

Also, it's perfectly possible to write an excellent review without spoilers: the net is full of them, especially for films. If all the films were spoiled by the critics, nobody would bother to go to cinema.
In this case, the spoiler was useless, the sentence works perfectly fine without it.

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of course, spoiler alerts are definitely the best way to go when writing a review with spoilers. but i kind of see this as the recaps and "what we're watching"? where there isn't really a need to include a spoiler alert because everyone knows already that it will contain spoilers. i'm sorry if i offended you, i just wanted to say what i thought about this issue and nothing more. your opinion and my opinion can be different but we should be able to express them freely as long as we word it nicely.

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I'm really sorry I didn't think about adding a spoiler disclaimer! It's definitely not fair to expect that there'll be spoilers. Thankfully DB probably saw your comment and added a disclaimer.

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Thank you for your apology and support on the spoilers.
People who pretend that it doesn't mind are clearly self centered and don't have any concept of respecting other's needs.

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Well done @sukstan. While it's admirable to be committed to excelling in school, I'm glad you're looking for more balance in your life.

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It sounds like you have a lot of personal traits to be proud of.
I do hope you get into one of your preferred schools and that it is full of opportunities and fun. Good luck.

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Wow, I didn't know you're a high school student! You have very mature writing. I was also Ye-seo in high school and most of college, until an all-nighter of crying while writing final lab reports broke me. After that, I gave up my perfectionism and my life balance was much better. It would have been much better for me to learn while watching Sky Castle like you! Best of luck to you.

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Wish you the best on your journey!

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I used to work in an office environment that was majority women, and a large fraction of them were fresh out of college. More than a few seemed to be lost now that they were no longer being constantly tested and graded on their performance. Real life doesn't have a posted grade point average. How can you tell if you're doing well or not?

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Finding balance between chasing society's definition of "success" and personal happiness is hard. Some people live long lives not even realizing it. :(

I'm glad Ye-seo's (and the twins') story inspired you to make changes so early in life. Though to be fair to yourself and Ye-seo, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be an achiever! I like to imagine she still (mostly) kicked ass in college. LOL But she found a balance where she doesn't break down and hate herself when she makes mistakes. It's hard to pick yourself up when you're kicking yourself at the same time...

Anyway, good luck on your journey! ♥

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I’m still working my way through this one. I, too, was ultra-focused in getting good grades on high school and college, but maybe not much as you were, @suk. SKY Castle does ring somewhat true to me as a parent, though, as I know families who do everything for their children’s education and extra-curricular activities. Imagine moving half your family to a coast so that your tennis phenom can train all year. Crazy, but true. Thanks for your write-up. I hope all your work and preparation is rewarding for you!

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These emotions you brought up are mirroring my own. (why are so many beanies going through burnouts?) I hated that everyone hated Yeon Yeo in the beginning because I saw soooo many qualities of her in me. No matter how terrible she was, I understood what she did and I hated myself for it. I loved her retribution in the end. It might not be as dramatic, but I feel everyone who has or is experiencing a burnout has to eventually come to the same realization she did (and you did). You're important. You come first. You must be happy. Balance is important.I LOVE This post. Fighting chingu. Also, keep working on yourself, because even though you realized how toxic hard work/no play/competition can be, working on yourself is an ongoing process that won't be easy.

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the millenials and gen z'ers on here are truly feeling it lmao. life is frickin TOUGH

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this is a really nice, insightful write-up. i wish when i was your age i was that eloquent. i'm sorry you identify with seung-hye's family. i love everything about this show from the satire, to the acting, to the writing. (my only issue was the music in these scenes with the dad) but that family hurt so bad because it mirrored my life, and i'm sure many others, so well. he was terrifying.

i think these kids were failed so deeply, that i couldn't hate them. i'm glad it gave you solace but helped you relax. if i could go back, i would tell young me to cherish my time and learn all i want to learn, do what i want to do, try happiness as the goal not "success." of course, we're all where we are for a reason (i suppose) but if you can be kinder to yourself, like ye-seo eventually was, life is a bit sweeter.

the balance of like autonomy, motherhood, and being a kid which strips one of control was really well explored.

i probably have a billion philosophical ideologies and they're all long and radical, but the young beanies here are so well-spoken. there's so much experience that comes with age that i could have avoided if i was more in-touch!

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Thank you for writing this thoughtful post. I'm glad Sky Castle made you question those values a little bit, because college admissions mania can be really harmful. I live in a community where "extra" is average. Kids wake up at five a.m. to do sports practice, load up on math and science APs, etc. But due to the extreme pressure, many of the kids here are anxious and depressed. A couple of weeks ago, a student in my daughter's class posted a suicide threat on social media, and one of the factors he mentioned was his mom hounding him about his grades. There are many paths to success! There are some very successful people who went to average colleges, and vice versa. Elizabeth Warren went to a state school for undergrad, and so did Warren Buffet. Anyway, for anyone who is in this headspace, I recommend a book called Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons.

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on a structural level, we need to def demystify the whole elite schools thing. i was never a kid who cared about work, but things came easier to me but i wouldn't say i'm hyper intelligent at all. comparatively my brother is a really interesting thinker, imo incredibly intelligent and good with complex things, but he just was not a good student. my parents pushed the "good colleges" thing bc they went to ivies, and when my bro couldn't deliver it triggered a lot of trauma for him. AOC went to a state school too! which is great from a societal standpoint too. but these places can all build immense intelligence! this is only one factor of their lives so the pressure should not be this intense and personality altering.

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sukkie, what a wonderful essay! I think you've discovered some life secrets way ahead of schedule ❤️ Best of luck this year, we can see that you will ace all the essay parts of your tests and apps!

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Thanks bbstl ❤️ I've always loved writing from a young age, but because I'm heading down a STEM path, I don't get the chance to write outside of school. I'm actually somewhat enjoying writing the college app essays because I have so much freedom to choose what I want to say and how to say it.

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You can be like @ally-le and @michykdrama, a doctor who writes really well!

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You can find always places to write. I’ve written essays for college newspapers and magazines, local and national medical journals, poster presentations, other medical presentations, my own blog, and here on DB, of course! @sukstan, you have a talent for it, so use it, anyway you can! The trick is somehow getting paid to do it—I haven’t figured that out yet. My favorite things to write right now are recommendation letters for medical students I’ve worked with going into residencies or letters to hospitals and insurance companies convincing them that my patients need some life-saving procedure or medication they are not covering. While most docs hate doing this, I kind of enjoy it.

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@sukstan This was ❤ to read. I felt stifling competition during middle school and high school but eventually learnt to take life by its reigns and not let opportunities, fun and chillax time (dramas) disappear into oblivion.

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This is such a wonderful read! Thank you, @suk for sharing your experiences with us. I have not yet watched SKY Castle, but it is pretty high on my to-watch list. My preservations over watching it is that I'm afraid it might remind me of my own stressful high school/college years. , but after reading this, I feel like I need to watch it asap. I'm glad that it brought something positive to your life! Good luck with everything! :3

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