South Korea recently came to a halt for a day, as high school seniors took an exam they’d prepared for since kindergarten. Stores closed, construction paused, even airplanes were grounded—all so that nothing would disturb students taking the Suneung, or College Scholastic Ability Test. And for good reason: The eight-hour exam determines where students will go to college and has a huge impact on future jobs and income. If students do well, they may be admitted to a top university—but if they fail, they’ll have to wait a year to retake it. Some blame the stressful process for the country’s high levels of depression and suicide among young people—but others take pride in their country’s emphasis on education. “From the outside, I know it looks difficult, but it’s not as scary as you might think,” Lee Jin-yeong, 20, told BBC News. “Instead of pitying us, I wish foreigners would think how awesome we are.”