Heavy on shoulder
Photographer Jinsun Park explores the pressure of the South Korean education system and the resultant stresses and internal pains in this intimate new photo series
It was back in middle school when I first started to have a migraine a month before every exam (four exams a year). I was preparing for a language specialised high school which required high marks. When the migraine struck, I felt nauseous. I saw lights like an afterimage from staring at the blinding sun directly. A surge of doubt rushed through my head of whether I was seeing these lights or whether it was but an illusion. I felt the pressure to relax, to be released of the stress when the migraine crept upon me. It was another stress within the state of stress. I took a pill that sung me to sleep so that I would be relieved of such nausea and that it would shoo the migraine off. When I could not control the agonising headache, I always ended up vomiting. And with that, the day was over. I needed to take a complete break from everything. In the end, I was not accepted to the high school of my dreams. The struggle of getting the best grade was over, but this agitating habit of migraine had repeated throughout my middle school and high school career whenever I was overwhelmed with pressure. It was only last year when the migraine started to frequent me a lot less. I guess the migraine is leaving my side or perhaps I have finally discovered how to cope with my stress.
Students in the South Korean education system are highly pressured to study hard: to get good marks on every exam four times each year in order to get into the top universities in Seoul which are supposedly promising of a better future. The six years of middle and high school (three years each) or maybe even twelve (for some including grade school) are dedicated to getting into a ‘good’ university. Parental and peer pressure may begin this journey of competition, but later on it the students who force themselves into this anxious environment of being obsessed with grades and marks. There is a saying in Korea; “I feel heavy on my shoulder” which means that one is pressured from overwhelming responsibility. Simply put, it can be interpreted to say that one is stressed out because of the responsibilities they load onto themselves. As we start to worry about something, the worry grows bigger and bigger. Eventually, It reaches a point where one feels heavy on the shoulder, and that one can hardly move forward from the weight. Managing stress is still a huge burden for me to tackle in life. In this piece, the photographer and the model suggest that sometimes we can be playful with our concerns. Look closer at them inch by inch, and you may just find that these weights are not as heavy as you had expected. Sooner or later you will get over it after all.