Byun Mi-kyong sat quietly with her hands in her lap as she listened closely to every word the fortune-teller said about her daughter’s chances of getting into the right university.
Dealing with intensely competitive college entrance exams has driven South Korean students to despair, and sometimes to suicide, as they fight for the few places in the best programmes that are seen as the key to a successful career.
Anxious parents have long sought hints from fortune-tellers about how well their children will do in school. But now Byun and others are turning to divination for specific guidance on picking the most promising activities, courses and colleges.
In the heat of summer, Byun went to the shaman’s house in Seongnam, a city on the outskirts of Seoul, giving her daughter’s name and date of birth to the softly spoken man.
To Byun’s great relief, he said her daughter would get into her dream university, especially one with a name starting with J, D or K. The shamans, men and women who perform traditional religious rites, say parents asking about their children’s academic and career prospects — at 50,000 to 100,000 won ($45 to $90) an hour — usually take the advice they get very seriously.