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Minority Report: 10 men among 21,000 women

It isn’t easy being a man at Ewha. Finding a rest room is difficult. It’s hard to meet Korean men.

June 10,2003
There are 21,000 women enrolled at Ewha Womans University ― and 10 men. Most guys would love those odds. But some of the men of Ewha, who are too few to have their own dorm or even fill a pin-up calendar, say they find the 2,100:1 ratio disconcerting.
“Everywhere you go, you see only girls,” says Park Jung-dae, 25, a native Korean whose parents emigrated to the United States two decades ago.
Mr. Park recounts his first trip to Ewha’s library. So many women were staring at him that he turned around and left.
Satoshi Nakajima has had similar sentiments. The 20-year-old exchange student from Japan avoids the library and school cafeteria, opting to eat in his dorm or Arumddul, a small cafe on campus. “What am I doing here?” he sometimes asks himself while crossing the campus.
The answer is studying. Ewha’s men are all foreigners, exchange students from overseas schools or visiting scholars chosen on the basis of their grade-point average, recommendations and an essay, according to Jenny Park, the program manager for Ewha’s International Education Institute.
Ewha has been accepting men since 1971, although their numbers were much smaller then than now. The acceptance rate has grown since the founding of Ewha’s exchange program in 1985.
The men of Ewha live in International House, a five-story coed dorm on the campus. The current crop hails from Australia, Germany, Japan and the United States.
It isn’t easy being a man at Ewha Womans University. Finding a men’s rest room in some older buildings is practically impossible. (The only men’s room in the library is locked on weekends.) It’s hard to make friends with Korean men since none attend Ewha’s classes. And, prospective employers are always going to wonder why a man chose to attend a women’s university.
Mr. Nakajima chose Ewha because it was one of two Korean schools with ties to his International Christian University in Tokyo, and the only one that allowed him to enroll in the spring.
Mr. Park joined Ewha earlier this year after becoming disenchanted with teaching English at a Seoul hagwon, or private academy. He’ll leave for graduate school in the United States this fall, taking six credits with him from his graduate-level studies at Ewha.
As for the hordes of women: “After a while, you get used to it,” Mr. Park says. “And, later you enjoy it.”
Being a man at Ewha has some advantages. The men’s locker room is always empty. Mr. Park is the only male student who uses the gym, so he has his own shower and locker, and never has to wait his turn when lifting weights.
Edward Kim came to Ewha through an exchange program with the University of California at Santa Barbara. The 23-year-old says he chose Ewha over other schools with larger enrollments of foreign students because he wanted to be immersed in Korean culture.
Mr. Kim mulled the consequences of attending an all-women’s university. “It might be awkward,” he reasoned. “But I decided, what the hell, just go for it.”
And he has. Mr. Kim is currently dating an Ewha coed whom he met at a party to raise money and awareness for the Daegu subway tragedy. He’s one of the few men studying at the university with an Ewha girlfriend.
Why? It’s hard to say who’s more shy, Ewha’s men or women.
Representing the male point of view is Drew Dooseok Keith, 21, a U.S. native who’s studying the Korean language at Ewha. “The girls are timid. I think they’re curious about the guys at the school. But they’re too afraid to ask,” says Mr. Keith. “I get a lot of strange looks.”
Song Gi-yeon begs to differ. The 19-year-old coed, who’s studying business, says the classes with no men are “kind of cold.” But when men are present, the atmosphere warms up. “With guys, the girls kind of change how they act, and maybe try to be nicer. It makes the whole class atmosphere better.”
Mr. Keith admits that some men are intimidated by the number of women on campus. “I have a Korean friend who tells me that [there are too many girls],” he says. “He refuses to meet me around Ewha.”
While Mr. Keith is comfortable with his female classmates, he notes that he’s forever an outsider.
He has to flash his ID card to enter buildings at night. He has to use the security guards’ bathrooms. And, hawkers ignore him when they’re handing out free samples on campus.
He gets along well with the women he meets in class. “But just rarely do people [women] come up to me and ask about me,” he says, since for a woman to approach a strange man might be too forward in Korean culture.
While Mr. Nakajima admits to sometimes feeling uncomfortable on campus, he has an Ewha girlfriend ― his very first ― whom he met through a mutual friend. Lee Ju-young, a clothing and textiles major, speaks fluent Japanese and last year attended Mr. Nakajima’s alma mater, International Christian University. That helped break the ice.
But Ms. Lee and Mr. Nakajima still face cultural differences as well as the awkwardness of being one of the few couples on campus.
“It seems that Korean girls are more shy [than Japanese girls]. They don’t talk about the relationship,” Mr. Nakajima observes. “Japanese girls are more expressive.”
Ms. Lee, 22, says she was surprised that Mr. Nakajima didn’t want to pay for both of them when they went out. “There was a kind of war of nerves between us when we had to pay for something,” she says. “When he finally told me to go dutch, I was surprised and, of course, wasn’t happy. But I soon learned that it’s part of their culture.”
Mr. Kim and Jin So-young (not her real name) have also found that courting on campus isn’t easy. They can’t go to student rest areas, which are strictly for women. “If we go in there together, I feel that people might be annoyed or won’t like it,” Ms. Jin says. “So, I feel sorry for that.”
Not every Ewha male has felt the gender division. “It’s just like being in a cafeteria and, coincidentally, I’m the only man in it,” says Christopher Kerr, a 20-year-old exchange student from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. “Everybody is treated equally and I get no attention from anyone.”
Mr. Kerr opted out of Ewha’s dorms, where there’s a strictly enforced 11 p.m. curfew on weeknights. He lives off campus in a boarding house with two Ewha University women and two Yonsei University men because it’s cheaper and he has more freedom.
While some coeds undoubtedly are disturbed by having men on campus, Jung Mi-sun seems to voice the sentiment of the majority of the women.
“The world has changed,” notes the 26-year-old French-language education major. “Women’s universities can’t survive without opening their doors [to men] and accepting the strength of coed universities.”


by Josephine Hojean Lee, Park Sung-ha


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