A South Korean woman who finally received her driving license after spending thousands of dollars and failing her written driving test around 960 times has gone viral more than a decade later.
Although the story was first reported in 2010, and the woman, Cha Sa-soon, is already in her 80s, many Reddit users were fascinated by her perseverance when a news report of her success resurfaced on the subreddit r/TIL (Today I Learned) last week.
Cha’s story of perseverance began in April 2005 when she decided she wanted to learn how to drive and get her driving license, as transportation in her village in the mountainous Sinchon region was, as she described, “frustrating.”
The only means of transportation to and from the village was a bus that ran once every two hours, according to the New York Times. The road leading to Cha’s village was so narrow that it could only accommodate one vehicle at a time.
“Here, if you miss the bus, you have to wait another two hours. Talk about frustration!” Cha told the publication.
Born to a low-income farmer family of seven children, Cha started working in her family’s field at a young age and only attended an informal night school until she turned 15.
Although she was able to get into a formal school as a fourth grader, Cha had to end her dream of attending middle school a year later.
It was not until Cha turned 60 that she finally decided she wanted to get her driving license, as she reportedly envied people who knew how to drive and wanted to be able to take her grandchildren places.
“I was too busy raising my four children. Eventually they all grew up and went away and my husband died several years ago, and I had more time for myself. I wanted to get a driver’s license so I could take my grandchildren to the zoo,” she explained.
It took Cha five years to finally get her driver’s license, with estimates of how much she spent on tests from sources at the time ranging from $4,200 to $6,800.
Cha’s determination made headlines a year before she received her license. According to Reuters, the Korean woman remained optimistic about her chances even though at that point she had already failed 775 times.
“I’ve looked up some guidebooks to get a driver’s license, and they were saying it takes at most five years to get this,” she said. “It’s already been four years, so I might pass the test next time. That’s what I hope for.”
During the first three years, Cha took the test once a day, five days a week. She eventually cut down on her attempts to twice a week and continued until she finally achieved her goal. Cha spent $5, money she earned from selling her homegrown vegetables, every time she took a test.
“What she was essentially doing while studying alone was memorizing as many questions with their answers as possible without always knowing what they were all about,” said Choi Young-chul, an official at the regional driving license agency. “It’s not easy to pass the test that way.”
Eventually, Cha passed the written portion in November 2009 after 950 attempts and got her driver’s license the following year.
She received a passing grade of 60 out of 100 on the written test, which lasted 50 minutes and consisted of 40 multiple-choice questions about road regulations and car maintenance.
Park Su-yeon, an instructor at Jeonbuk Driving School, told the New York Times at that time that everyone at the school celebrated after the woman passed her exams and got her license in May 2010.
“When she finally got her license, we all went out in cheers and hugged her, giving her flowers. It felt like a huge burden falling off our back. We didn’t have the guts to tell her to quit because she kept showing up.”
“It drove you crazy to teach her, but we could not get mad at her,” Lee Chang-su, another teacher at the school, added. “She was always cheerful. She still had the little girl in her.”
Driving instructors at the school noted that they were not concerned about Cha being behind the wheel as she only failed her written exams. Instructors said Cha passed her driving skill and road tests after failing four times each on both exams.
Shortly after receiving her license, South Korea’s leading car manufacturer Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group gifted her a brand-new car worth $16,000 in August 2010 and had her appear in its ads in South Korea.
The carmaker even started a campaign where the company asked people to post congratulatory messages for Cha.
Guinness World Records celebrated Cha’s achievement in a tweet in November 2020, noting that the South Korean woman had set the record for “most driving theory tests taken.”