This past Wednesday was Memorial Day here in Korea which, if you’re a regular reader you’ll know, meant one thing to me, all together now: DAY OFF SCHOOL! Our second four day week in a row was a welcome addition to the first week of June and allowed us ample time to hypothesize on the positive sides to having a two days of work – day off – two days of work – two days off week.
Meanwhile, back in The Land of the Shamrock, Wednesday June 6th marked the first day of the 2012 Leaving Certificate exams. Now, for anyone who doesn’t know, the Leaving Cert. is the 2 week series of exams you take in order to complete Secondary School (High School) in Ireland. For two years, we study our chosen (and not-so-chosen) subjects and it all culminates in this one 3-hour exam in each subject at the end of year two (English, Irish and Maths I recall are two exams each). In all, over a two week period, you would probably sit 10 or more exams depending on your subject choices, the results of which determine, not only which university you qualify for, but which courses you qualify for. Unlike USA or Canada, in Ireland you apply for your degree you want to end up with and that’s the only thing you study for your entire time at university. And it all comes down to the Leaving Certificate. The whole country sits them at the same time and fail them, you must wait a whole 12 months until the official exam days come ’round again.
Failed every exam up until the Leaving Cert. (like I did with Business Studies) but passed the final exam (like I did with Business Studies), you’re fine. Passed every exam up until the Leaving Cert. (like I did with Physics) but failed the final exam (like I did with Physics!), you’re not so lucky. Although in my case, I’d predicted I’d fail at least one exam and knowing only your top 6 exam subjects are counted, I took seven. I took Maths, English and Irish (compulsory), German (my compulsory European language), Physics (my compulsory science subject) and then Business Studies and Geography, which teaches you about caves and the sea and not so much about different countries and world geography.
The reason I mention the Leaving Cert. is this: This week, 10 years ago, I was taking my Leaving Cert. exams. I thought getting through these exams were my life. That there was nothing beyond it. Just this, just these exams. But oh…oh how wrong I was. 10 years ago, I was 17, plotting to move to England, wanted to do nothing but write all day and was studying for exams no one has ever asked me about since. 10 years later, I’m 27, plotting to move to Canada, want for nothing but to write all day and drink wine and haven’t sat an exam in a decade…and I graduated university!
So, 10 years later, how did I spend my day off school?
The Canadian One and I hit up Ttukseom Hangang Park area for some fun in the sun. 10 minutes from our apartment (not too far from the Cherry Blossom date), it’s easily accessible via Line 7 of the Seoul subway. After some pre-boating riverside relaxing (read: drinking) among the Koreans in tents (no comment), we meandered towards the river to commandeer our boat.
Finally, after an entire year of talking about duck boating (I pass it everyday on the way to work), I was venturing towards the Duck Boat Dock to board
my our duck boat.
We paid our 15,000won ($13), were told we had 45 minutes, donned our life jackets and hit the water, peddling off into the distance…though not too far or the man in the speedboat will come after us and force us to turn back. Please note: When on a duck boat, do not go past the buoy area, the man will come after you.
During our time
at sea on the river, The Canadian One took the steering duties while we both peddled.
We busied ourselves
racing trying to crash into our friends in another boat.
We watched the motorised not-a-duck-boats chug slowly past and we realised our boat didn’t like to turn left so we went in circles for a bit.
We had a brief NCIS: Han River moment when we discovered an empty duck boat and went to investigate.
We listened to SNL’s ‘I’m on a Boat’ and generally tried our best not to tip our boat over.
Then it was time to return our boat to shore (easier said than done) and hit the bar for some cocktails and cheeseburgers…What?! It was a vacation day!!
I think if I could go back a decade and tell that nervous, 17 year old girl that life after the Leaving Cert. was wonderful, I would. I’d tell her noone would ever ask her about the exams, that in fact getting an A in her Math exam would lead to her getting the worst teaching job ever. I would tell her how she’ll go great places, make some fantastic friends, meet some downright weird people, become a teacher and find a Maple Leaf to love and who loves her. I’d tell her two of her friends from her school group would get married and have a baby and it’s not the two she would have thought. I’d tell her not to study writing as a degree but to study something more useful and take an online class in writing instead. I’d warn her against tequila.
If I could go back a decade, I’d show her the picture of The Canadian One and I in our matching life jackets trying not to capsize our duck boat on the Han river. I think it would make her very happy.
For more fun and interesting adventures in Seoul, check out: