중앙데일리

Hagwon in U.S. cash in on Korean undergrads

Dec 01,2008


NEW YORK - Increasing numbers of Korean students who successfully enter prestigious universities in the United States are dropping out or turning to private institutes for help in meeting the rigorous academic standards. The difficulties Korean students face can be mainly attributed to poor English skills and educational differences between Korea and the U.S., experts say.

In Flushing, New York - one of the major Korea towns in the Eastern United States - more than 300 hagwon have sprung up, largely due to the Korean zeal for education. Bell Boulevard stretches 3.5 kilometers (2.1 miles) through the district, crowded with 60 private schools targeting Korean students. The area looks just like a street in Daechi-dong, a popular hagwon district in southern Seoul.

Recently, a new type of business has begun to thrive among Flushing hagwon - private tutoring for university students having a tough time at school. At least three or four institutes, including Kent Academy, the largest, are currently operating such programs solely for Korean undergraduates.

“We offer lessons on diverse subjects, but the majority of students call on us to improve their English skills. We have received about a hundred undergraduates over the past three years,” said Kim, director of a Flushing hagwon that was one of the first to offer special programs for Koreans.

A Korean student at an Ivy League school who identified himself only as “A” is currently attending one such institute in Flushing. A got into the American school a few years ago after graduating from a prominent high school in Korea. However, he found himself falling behind soon after school started, with English essay writing causing him particular trouble. He recently called on the hagwon in Flushing for help.

“There are a number of Korean students who withdraw from prestigious universities after they find it extremely difficult to catch up with their peers in English writing and in logical reasoning - which is fundamental to studying in Western classrooms,” said the head of another hagwon, also identified only by the surname Kim.

Another student, “B,” graduated from a foreign-language high school in Seoul and entered a reputable university in the eastern United States. However, he recently decided to withdraw from school temporarily after having a hard time keeping up with his classes.

“The academic pressure that one may experience at a prestigious U.S. university can exceed expectations. The pressure and poor English ability are the two main reasons why many Korean students are dropping out,” said Kim Mi-kyung, a doctor of education, who has advised Korean students on academic matters for the last 10 years in the U.S. hagwon district.

The biggest headache for many Korean students attending U.S. universities is essay writing.

“Most Korean students accustomed to a cramming style of education are generally weak in logical reasoning on their own. Therefore, apart from poor English skills, they find it particularly difficult to write an essay in the ‘Western’ way, which calls for creative thinking,” said the chief of an institute for Korean students in Flushing, who gave the last name Sohn.

“It happens to 1.5-generation [who moved to the U.S. very young] and second-generation Korean Americans who grew up in a Confucian family environment as well,” he added.

In fact, many Korean Americans raised in the United States are confronted with the same difficulties as the students who go on to a U.S. university directly from a high school in Korea.

According to a study submitted by Korean scholar Dr. Samuel Kim to Columbia University last summer, 44 percent of the 1.5 and second-generation Korean Americans who entered high-level U.S. universities dropped out of school halfway through.

Meanwhile, there is another predicament into which Korean students are likely to fall - plagiarism.

“Many Korean students still write cut-and-paste essays, which is considered to be plagiarism here in the U.S.,” said Dr. Kim.

Used to more lenient Korean standards when it comes to copying the work of others, many Korean students find it hard to get used to strict Western academic standards, under which copying just a few sentences without identifying the source is considered plagiarism. It was reported a few years ago that four Korean students at a U.S. university were kicked out of their school after copying each other’s papers.


By Nam Jeong-ho JoongAng Ilbo [spark0320@joongang.co.kr]




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