Quiz: Would You Be a Loser in South Korea?

Loser in South Korea

What does success mean to you? And failure? If you're reading this as native English speakers, you probably come from a country where the line between the two is pretty flexible. But from where I'm speaking, in South America, a land of contrasts, the border between success and failure is so thin that life can be ruined by the smallest things.

Your level of education, your family, socio-economic status, physical appearance, and sometimes purely random factors determine the kind of life you lead in South Korea. In Spain, I understand that we all more or less have the same life until we finish high school, and then the spectrum opens up to different ways of living that are considered valid in your close circle of friends, family, and society. However, in Korea, success is measured by the same yardstick for everyone.

Studying at a good university, having a career with prospects, getting married before 30 for girls and 35 for boys, and being able to afford to buy an apartment by then are the basic essential requirements. But behind that, there's a whole checklist of things necessary to consider that your life is worth living in South Korea. As you can imagine from this country's suicide rate, it's not an easy task. Achieving, with more or less success, these milestones on your journey towards who knows where will determine your health, the person you can marry, and almost your entire adult life.

Let's play a game. Don't worry, this isn't a horror movie. Let's suppose you were born Korean and that you're living in a way that brings you to where you are now, with the same educational and socio-economic situation as your non-Korean life. We're going to deduct and add points depending on what Koreans consider desirable, and we'll see just how much of a loser you could end up being. Ready?


Congratulations, you were born Korean! Add 30 points just for that. Obviously, children from multicultural families and foreigners don't get that initial boost. If you're born a girl, subtract 10 points. In South Korea, women earn only 63% of what men do in the same position. Also, it has been discovered that in this country, the number of female patients with depression is double that of male patients. Women first face immense aesthetic pressure followed by family burdens and balancing work.

Silver Spoon, Wooden Spoon

This is the same in every country, but if you come from a low-income family in Korea, you won't be able to afford a decent education because there are hardly any full scholarships, and successful access to university relies on private education. If you come from an affluent family, add 50 points. If you're from a poor family, you don't need to subtract anything. In Korea, effort is valued, and they love stories of rising from poverty to success, like small businesses growing into large conglomerates, following Hyundai's example. So, you still have a chance to succeed.

Family as Confucius Commands

Koreans don't look kindly on "broken" families. It will be difficult for you to find a future spouse in that case. If your mother was single when she had you, subtract 30 points; if your parents are divorced, subtract 15 points.


If you're Protestant, you're in luck. You share the same faith as South Korea's dominant elite, so you can add 50 points without a problem. If, in addition, you and your parents are members of a religious congregation that meets often, you'll have access to a large network of contacts that will undoubtedly help you in the future. Koreans look out for their own, and cronyism is a currency at levels that would seem excessive even in USA.

If you're Catholic or Buddhist, add 20 points, as you can still benefit from religious gatherings, which are well regarded in Korea. However, if you're agnostic or atheist, don't worry, you don't subtract anything, as religious freedom is more than accepted. Oh no, wait. If you're Muslim, subtract 15 points. But that's not exclusive to Korea, right?


Obviously, expensive neighborhoods are nicer and better maintained, right? But in Korea, there's one more element to consider: the neighborhood you live in determines the school you can attend, so your parents may go into debt to ensure your postal code allows you to go to a prestigious school. If you live in a good neighborhood, add 30 points. Well, even before you could choose, you're already at an advantage or disadvantage! Let's see what you can do to change that.


Your adolescence depends on studying and passing, although your current grades aren't important. If you stay out of trouble, avoid scandals, or don't get caught doing anything illegal, you're doing well. What's important is when you prepare for university entrance exams. That will determine everything. From here on out, it's life or death decisions.

University Entrance

If you don't get into a university in Seoul, regardless of your city of origin, subtract 50 points. If you get into Seoul but it's not one of the top 20 universities (there are over 40 in Seoul alone), add 20 points. If you get into the top 10, great, add 50 points; if you get into one of the SKY (Seoul National University, Korea University, or Yonsei University), congratulations, you just added 200 points.

Notice anything strange? Why isn't there a university that gives me 0 points? In Korea, there's no middle ground when it comes to universities. You win or you lose. You can lose and win a little or lose and win a lot. But nothing leaves you indifferent.

Your university represents who you are. "But, Ainhoa, wait a moment, I don't want to go to university." Ah, I understand. Then, game over, you're a loser. If there are more than 40 universities in Seoul alone, plus those in Gyeongi Province (the area surrounding the capital), plus those in the rest of the country, it's because there's a demand for them. It's inconceivable that someone wouldn't go to university, even if it's a college for a mid-range career.

There's so much business in education and universities popping up like mushrooms that some people even drop out halfway through their degree because the university closes due to lack of profits. This has led to an overload of university graduates and the beginning of unemployment problems in South Korea. This is what many call Hell Joseon (don't miss that link from Corea Ígnota where they explain it brilliantly).


If you come from a small town or city in Korea outside the Busan, Seoul, and Gyeongi area (the metropolitan area of the capital), subtract 15 points. There are many jokes about country bumpkins, just like there were in Spain many years ago. If, in addition, you speak saturi, a very pronounced dialect or accent that you can't disguise when speaking in Seoulmal or standard Korean, subtract another 15 points.


Homosexual, game over; trans, game over; gender fluid, game over. I could go on, but you get the idea.

For men

You have to serve nearly two years in the military. A very serious illness, including mental illnesses, could prevent you from doing so. But I don't recommend it, if you don't go, it will be recorded in your record, and in every job you apply for, you'll have to explain why you didn't go to military service and what you did instead. Obviously, it has to be for medical reasons; there's no conscientious objection, the alternative is jail. If you don't go, you'll never be a complete man (whatever that means). If you don't serve your country, subtract 100 points.

For women

Your ideal weight is less than 50kg. "Well, it depends on your height, doesn't it?" No, if you weigh more than 50kg or 110 pounds, you're too big, period. You must wear makeup every time you go out, at the very least, foundation. While in other countries, due to lack of time, we prioritize putting on eye or lip makeup, in Korea, you must prioritize wearing something that covers your face and hides imperfections and dark circles. And you can't go to work without it.

Let's do the math:

  • If you score 400 points, you're a legend. I don't know why you're reading this; you should be throwing bills from your limousine in Gangnam.
  • Between 390 and 200 points, you're a Korean who has succeeded in life, and you're above average in many aspects. Outstanding.
  • Between 200 and 0, you have your flaws, but you're acceptable, and you have something good in your background or a good network of contacts.
  • If you're in the negative numbers, you're a loser, and it will be hard for you to find a partner and a respectable job.
  • Below -100, you're a total loser and a social outcast. Your hope is to go abroad where no one cares about all this or find a foreign partner who doesn't measure your biography by the Korean standard.

I hope you enjoyed this little social experiment! Don't worry if you're a big loser; here in Korea, we're just foreigners, and that's a category of its own, which we'll talk about another time!

Leave your score in the comments below! I'm really curious.

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