Like many kids, Hwang Wol-geum has dreamt of the time she’d be able to read and write. She dreamt of being able to carry a school bag. Like many other kids on the first day of school, she wept.
But there’s a small difference between Wol-geum and her classmates.
Wol-geum and other South Korean women enrolled in school after a drought of children’s registrations. As reported on The New York Times, when she was a child, her desire to learn to read and write was met with ridicule by her stepmother (a combination of “girls can’t do that” and funds going to boys’ education).
Hwang grew to have her own family, but some days more than others, her illiteracy was reminded to her in the most awful of ways. Once, when visiting her son in Seoul, she got separated from her husband on the subway and couldn’t read any of the street signs to find her way back.
Hwang and her granddaughter go to the same school. Credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
She could’ve blamed her age, tiredness, other responsibilities, but she didn’t.
Her commitment to learning is admirable. And I love that smile! I may be overanalyzing, but to me, it says so much.
Those same hands Hwang is holding her granddaughter’s hand with, can now be used to send her a birthday wish, write her a letter, and when her granddaughter’s older and maybe in Seoul too, Hwang will be able to send her a text every time she thinks of her.
The University of Karueein, founded in 859 AD in Morocco is the oldest university in the world. Fun facts: it was founded by a woman, Fatima Al Fihri, and it’s still operating in 2020!
Remember that until 1910, women had to get permission to attend lectures. This happened at Oxford and Cambridge, no less. Make no mistake, they weren’t allowed to take degrees.
People have fought, and continue to fight, hard for their literacy and education.
Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten the war fought by many women and people from poorer countries for us to have this choice.
In many countries and households, literacy is no longer a topic of discussion. We teach kids how to read and write. Equal funds go towards girls’ and boys’ education. Going to university is just something you do when you’re 18, then you use that degree to get a job.
So I guess it makes sense that I’ve heard from a lot of people about my… wasted education?
- Since I’m not a practicing psychologist, I wasted my degree.
- Others who aren’t actively using their degrees wasted them.
From conversations with well-meaning friends to those with downright ignorant Devil’s Advocates, Special Snowflaskes and Lazy Thinkers, I’ve had some interesting exchanges on the topic.
With 4 years to ponder on it, I’ve reflected and come to a conclusion.
Education never goes to waste!
Studying for my last year’s finals. Climactic.
Michelle Obama put it this way in Becoming:
Education had been the primary instrument of change in my own life, my lever upward in the world.
Same, First Lady. Even though I don’t work as a therapist, I still incorporate what I learned in my everyday life, conversations, writing and my full-time work.
Also, my education contributed to:
- Finding the way I learn best (I always say, it’s about learning how to learn, not what you learn.)
- My degree (psychology)
- Improved character
- My commitment to lifelong learning (see below)
School is one thing. Education is another. The two don’t always overlap. Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education.Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist
Wouldn’t Fatima Al Fihri want me to view education as a means to an end, as an extremely powerful tool, rather than a setback and a decision set in stone with what to do with my future? I feel like she would.
Keeping it real
You didn’t waste a damn thing.
Just because we no longer have to fight to be part of these institutions, that doesn’t mean we should forget these struggles and what a privilege education really is.
For many, it’s a door towards the career of their dreams, opportunities, financial freedom, a better quality of life, a real chance at life.
Hwang Wol-geum dreamt of a school backpack but was only “allowed” one at 70.
School and education don’t always overlap, but in this one aspect they do, I’ll never consider them wasted or downplay my access to either.
As long as you gave it all you had, whichever field of education you chose and whatever you decided to do with it, I hope you won’t either.
I’m posting this series about education, careers and how to choose them to my blog over the next few weeks. Part 2 will be on how I picked my major, whether I regret it and tips on how to answer “So you read minds?”