Changes in Students Induced by Educational Activities at the Odyssey

When Odyssey School was launched, there was high anticipation, but there were also concerns. Those who took part in the founding of Odyssey were convinced of the potential positive impacts, but they also experienced tension before the positive changes were observed in the participating students as a result of the Odyssey education. By the end of the school year, students themselves feel the changes and growth they have experienced, and such changes and growth are so clearly evident, so even their parents and teachers notice them. They say you cannot judge the fruits of education immediately as they are borne in the long term, but at Odyssey, the changes and growth are apparent for each student at the end of every school year, although there are, of course, individual differences.

One of the most common changes observed in students by their teachers is the improved ability to express themselves. When students first arrive at Odyssey School, most of them are hesitant to speak up. This is true whether they are in a meeting or a classroom setting. They initially participate as observers in an attempt to gauge how much they should reveal their thoughts and opinions. They also fear being mocked and laughed at after expressing themselves. However, once they become convinced that at Odyssey, they will always be respected and not be criticized, regardless of what they say, they begin to speak their minds. They begin to open their mouths and honestly speak when they realize that they do not need to represent themselves falsely and they can just be who they are; they also listen attentively to what other students say. Once students are trained to speak frankly in their safe community, they gain the ability to express themselves with confidence in all kinds of situations, even in uncomfortable situations.

Another change recognized among students is that students have a stronger sense of self and independence. Perhaps, passivity may be the worst attribute conveyed to children as a result of an education system that is centered on university admission. Odyssey School is dedicated to break and do away of passivity ingrained deeply in the students. Teachers constantly ask their students, “Why,” to a point where students may even feel that they are being attacked, and ask them, “What are your thoughts on the matter?” Moreover, numerous decisions pertaining to the affairs of the school are made through the student-led meetings, so students see how their thought and opinions get reflected in the school activities, and in turn, impact themselves. In class and group activities, students make plans, supplement them based on their own feedback, and evaluate the resulting outcomes, where improvements are made again. Through these activities, students are urged to think things twice, examine why certain things happen, make decisions on their own, and take responsibility for their own actions.

It can also be seen that the students at Odyssey gain trust in adults. In childhood and adolescence, most learning occurs with the help and assistance of grown-ups, but youth these days do not trust grown-ups, especially their parents and teachers, because they view them as oppressors who try to control and exert their authority over them. At Odyssey School, however, the Pathfinder, who spends enormous time with the students, respects students as their equals and waits for them patiently without exerting their authority. As a result, students begin trusting their teachers. As they begin to trust their teachers, they also become more likely to trust and open up to the adults they meet in class or during school activities. This trust becomes a vital asset for students, as it shatters the barrier between adults they do not know and themselves, allowing them to approach adults more easily to gain even more learning experiences.

Furthermore, at the end of the school year, students have more significant expectations about life. In today’s era marked by heated competition, the young generation does not have any high expectations in life. They just want to study hard and land a stable job when they reach adulthood so that they can live life comfortably. Grown-ups talk about dreams and aspirations, yet today’s youth cannot fathom a dream beyond a stable and comfortable life. This is because all their experiences about the world are limited to what they have seen in textbooks and the media. For this reason, Odyssey School tries to have students experience the world as much and diversely as possible. They meet people who have pioneered their own lives and who have found their own meaning in life, realizing that actually quite a lot of people are leading a fun and meaningful life even if they are not amassing great wealth and that living that kind of life is also meaningful and admirable. They take a step beyond the framework of what is considered a meaningful life that has been created by textbooks and the media, and they really think about what they truly want, what they love and enjoy, and what they are good at.

The changes and growth experienced by those who study at Odyssey have been shared by students. The Table 6 presents the changes and growth that students themselves noted at the end of the first semester:

Table 6.
Changes Described by Students Who Completed the Odyssey Program
Changes described by students themselves
Improved thinking skills
  • I’ve gained a broader view. 
  • I now think about various things.
  • The way I think has changed. 
  • I’ve become more open. 
  • I’ve gained the ability to think. I’m accustomed to thinking for myself. 
  • I now think about my own thoughts.
Improved communication skills
  • I’m able to speak more logically and coherently.
  • I’m able to express my opinions better.
  • I’m able to listen to diverse opinions and discuss profound topics.
  • I’ve gained the ability to speak in front of others and understand other people.
Improved planning skills
  • I’ve developed a habit of making plans, wherever I am. 
  • I’m able to prioritize what I need to do and get everything done. 
Improved sense of self and independence
  • I now have something I want to do. 
  • Instead of blindly following directions, I now think to myself, ‘Why?’ 
  • I think for myself and take action based on my own thoughts. 
  • There are a lot more things that I can do on my own.
  • I’m better able to focus on myself.
  • I’m able to discover what I want to do and do it. 
Enhanced confidence
  • I’ve gained self-confidence, and I believe in myself. 
  • I’m capable of doing more things. 
Career path
  • I’ve reconsidered my career path. 
  • I’ve resolved my concern about my chosen career path (I’ve discovered the career path I want to pursue).  
  • I’ve discovered what I enjoy. 
  • I got to think about myself again.
  • I’ve learned about non-traditional lifestyles and found a new direction in life. 
New experiences
  • I’ve gained many new experiences.
  • I’ve met many new people.
  • I’ve participated in many arts and physical education classes.
  • I’ve learned that there are diverse types of people in the world. 
  • I’ve realized that there are many people among my peers who are working hard at something they find important.
Personal development
  • I’ve experienced a life without stress and pressure. 
  • I’ve gained a stronger sense of responsibility.
  • I’ve become more cheerful, and my personality has generally improved. 
  • I’ve become more diligent.
  • I’ve gained courage and grown more mature.
  • I’ve gained motivation and willpower.
  • Going to school has become more enjoyable. 
Interpersonal relationships
  • I’ve created precious interpersonal ties. 
  • I find it easier to interact with adults. 
  • I get along better with my peers.
  • I was able to engage in pleasurable interactions with others based on equality. 
  • I got to experience a community life. 
Insight into issues with the education system
  • I’ve realized the biggest problem with the education system in Korea. 
  • I was able to escape the competition to enter a prestigious university.
  • I no longer believe that I will be able to make a living only if I go to college. 
Life after Returning to General School

After spending their first high school year at Odyssey, students return to a general School in the second year of the study. Because the curriculum at the general high school is oriented toward preparing for college admission, it is considerably different from that of Odyssey School, where students take ownership of their lives and learning experiences. However, it appears that students who have finished the Odyssey program tend to prepare for their future independently, based on the inner power they have gained during the first year of high school education at Odyssey. While studying at Odyssey School, students do not notice the changes and growth they are undergoing at the time. Only after they return to general school, they begin to realize how much they have changed and understand the areas where they have grown and matured. The way their peers behave at general school seems strange to them due to their changes experienced at Odyssey. The way that their peers form cliques, bullying certain students, talk behind people’s backs, and talk only about TV shows, games, appearance, and love frustrates them, even though this is exactly what they also have done for nine years prior to joining Odyssey School. Some feel alone because they simply cannot fit in, but many others take on a leadership role by taking on the position of a class president or the president of the student council in order to entirely change the student culture at their schools.

Students returning to general Schools also feel uncomfortable about the school culture. They immediately notice the disconnection between the teacher and the students and the fact that many unnecessary school regulations restrict the freedom of students and individuality. Also, because the main focus is to get college admission, students are not encouraged to express themselves, nor are they provided with a platform for personal growth. With respect to these issues, some students make suggestions to their teachers or schools or resist in a passive way; there are others who take on a more active stance, filing a complaint to the Office of Education, and so on.

Sometimes, students fall into despair because they cannot change the school culture on their own. This experience varies across schools, depending on their culture. For instance, in the case of Hyukshin school where college admission is not as stressed, students ease their frustration by actively participating in the student council or clubs. On the other hand, students attending schools where college admission is the primary focus find it difficult to ease their frustration through school activities, which compels them to turn to youth activities outside the school.

Another challenge faced by students returning to general schools is to adjust themselves to the regular study load. How fast one adjusts to the general curriculum depends on how much they could build during their middle school years. Also, because the study load for the common compulsory subjects at Odyssey is less than those at the general high schools, returning students are required to catch up. With respect to this issue, students who have completed the Odyssey program say that they are more motivated to learn compared to their counterparts at the general schools because they self-study with their own motivation if they feel about pursuing the career of their choice in the future.

Above all, students say that the way they read books, shared their thoughts, expressed themselves in writing, and sought real-life practices at Odyssey was significantly helpful when studying for university entrance. They say that the Korean and Social Studies classes were closely linked to what they studied at the Odyssey. Also, when doing projects and writing reports, or engaging in discussions or doing a presentation in class, or participating in a student club or creative activities in a class, they find that they have substantially developed and improved the related competencies and skills.

On the other hand, they note that they feel lagging behind when it comes to subjects requiring a basic study and repetitive learning such as English and Math, and they must make extra efforts for the subjects in the first semester after returning to general schools just to catch up. This is why those who have completed the Odyssey program and returned to general schools advise that the current students at Odyssey diligently engage in the activities at schools, but at the same time, study Math and English on their own during weekends and school breaks.

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