Expats find support group helpsIt’s not easy being a foreigner in Korea, and that’s why American Lisa Witter founded the Korea International Student Association. Ms. Witter, a fluent speaker of Korean, established the organization last week and has already attracted 50 members, most of whom are students from Seoul National University.
It’s not that life is impossible, but there are many daily inconveniences that come with not being a citizen of the country where you live. That doesn’t mean the barriers can’t be overcome, but a little camaraderie helps.
“Since I don't have a Social Security number, I can’t get a membership for ‘Daum’ (a popular portal site) or ‘Cyworld’ (a well-known Korean Web site). It is the most inconvenient part but I want to meet Korean friends and learn the culture,” says Ms. Witter, 21, a humanities student at Seoul National University. “So, foreign students have to try different ways to join the Web sites, either registering as a child or using their Korean friends' names.”
Another thing, she says, was that she could not go to the hospital when she was sick.
“While Koreans only have to pay 3,500 won ($3.50) to go to the hospital for a cold because they have health insurance, foreign students have to pay 30,000 won. So I try not to go to the hospital unless I’m very sick.”
Considering the number of foreign students in Korea is around 17,000, Ms. Witter expects to see a lot more members.
“Many students seem to be going through similar problems as I do,” Ms. Witter says. “When I held a seminar about this association at Ewha Womans University recently, I got enthusiastic responses from foreign students.”
According to Ms. Witter, the first goal of the association is affirming the rights of foreign students in Korea. But pursuing that interest is not the only thing the group will do, she says. They are going to volunteer around the country.
Their first plan is to help at an International Red Cross meeting in the fall as guides and translators. The group is also going to help the so-called foreign “3D” workers and visit orphanages in the country.
“Since we are also members of Korean society, it is natural for us to do these things,” she says.
Ms. Witter was raised in Japan as her father is a journalist, and she visited Korea once when she was 12.
“Even though I stayed here for just a short time, the country’s charm lingered for a long time,” she says. “Koreans seemed to be very warm-hearted and honest with their feelings.”
Ms. Witter could not forget about the country even after she graduated from high school. In 2001, she came to Korea to learn the language for a year and a half.
She then entered Seoul National University and is planning on majoring in Asian history.
by Baek Il-hyun