South Korea, a country striving for excellence


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Psy and his hit single « Gangnam Style », K-Pop or brands such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai or Kia have contributed a lot to South Korea’s image on the international stage. Despite having a weakened economy in the early 60s as a result of a civil war and its long colonial history, the Land of the Morning Calm managed to become one of the most prosperous and industrialized nations in the world. In the early sixties, the per capita income was around $100 and today it has reached $20 000 (By contrast, it is around $4 000 in Tunisia). How did South Korea manage to get back on its feet and reach prosperity within a few decades?

Competitiveness through human resources

Having very few natural resources, South Korea had to rely strongly on its human resources. Therefore the government focused on education, professional training and personal development. The government not only trained managers, but also highly talented individuals in specific technical and scientific fields. As a result, the government’s budget allocated to R&D increased sharply. While it only amounted to 0.6% of the GDP in the early 70s, it has reached 3.5% in 2013 (As a comparison, R&D expenses only amount to 2.23% of the GDP in France)

A will that shaped an entire social model

The fact that South Koreans were constantly striving for excellence has made education almost sacred and studies the pledge of social recognition. Therefore, in most families, the father would allocate most of his income to education, while the mother would act as a full-time coach (sometimes sacrificing her career in the process) for their children. In 2013, the Koreans spent more than $18 billion on private education. However, as huge as this amount may seem, it definitely proved to be worth the investment.

For the third consecutive year, South Korea was ranked first according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) when it comes to the learning capabilities of its high-school students.

The South Korean employee doesn’t say no to overtime

Hard work and exceeding their own limits are values that South Koreans learn from young. Therefore, once they enter the professional world, they hardly back down when facing heavy workloads and tight deadlines. In 2013, the average working hours according to the OECD was no less than 2163 hours (As compared to 1489 hours in France). The current legal framework limits the standard workweek to 40 hours. To these 5 days, we can add 12 hours of overtime and 16 hours of work during the weekend, totalling a maximum of 68 hours. As a result, on average, the South Korean employee works little more than 50 hours weekly. However, there is a bill which aims to bring those 68 hours to 52, and the hours worked during the weekend would therefore be counted as overtime. We are certainly far from the standard 48-hour French workweek.

The barrier between professional and domestic realms

As South Koreans spend most of their time at work, their professional and personal lives tend to overlap. As a result, they often participate in work-related social events or hang out with their colleagues outside working hours.

In a sense, this same iron will that has led a whole nation to recover economically after a civil war has also build a new social model and propelled the country beyond the competition on the international stage. This success has been so undeniable that Korean companies are hard on U.S giants’ heels, such as Apple. This model is obviously something we could draw inspiration from.

Sources :,, and


2 commentaires sur “South Korea, a country striving for excellence

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  1. Un super article qui décrit très bien les raisons derrière le succès du plus dynamique des quatre tigres asiatiques 🙂


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