[Letters] Low payoff for international students

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[Letters] Low payoff for international students

During the 1988 Seoul Olympics, some young tourists are said to have been begged by local Korean universities to join their programs. Some foreigners were even offered scholarships to join a Korean university, regardless of their background. Few accepted the offer because they saw Korea as still a developing nation.

Today, students from all over the world, especially Southeast Asia, China and the Middle East - and to a lesser, but nonetheless significant extent sub-Saharian Africa and Latin America - are fighting to get admission in Korean universities as Korea’s international stature grows.

But most Korean universities want their international students to come from Europe or North America, although such students only make up a tiny minority of international students living in Korea. One university proudly claims that 0.5 percent of their international students were from “English speaking countries” - including overseas Koreans who hold citizenship from an English speaking country.

Back in 2005, I was one of very few international students in Korea. In fact, most international students back then were Japanese or ethnic Koreans. Such students faced terrible difficulty at that time. No staff at the university spoke English, Korean students avoided contact with international students because they lacked English communication skills.

Now all that has changed. Korean students and international students mix, invite each other to parties and do all sorts of academic and club activities together. But many students from developing countries still witness blunt discrimination from school and government authorities compared to students from Europe or North America.

While such international students become fluent speakers of Korean and English, in addition to their native language, the Korean job market has no interest in hiring them. Many international students either overstay their visa after graduation or postpone their graduation until they are sure they can get a stable job in Korea.

Another problem for international students is finding a way to pay tuition fees. While some are on scholarships, most rely on part-time jobs to pay their tuitions. An increasing number of international students are being hired as cashiers by supermarkets or restaurants because such jobs are slowly becoming unattractive to Koreans.

While the typical international student in 2002 was the Japanese or American who came to Korea on a scholarship and spent most of his or her nights in clubs in Hongdae and Itaewon, a typical international student in 2010 is someone from a developing country working in restaurants or supermarkets all night and studying English and Korean all day.

One question remains to be asked: will international students accept their fate of leaving Korea without getting a job despite having worked so hard to get their degree, studying all night and learning both English and Korean?

Akli Hadid, a former student in Korea now residing in Algeria

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.
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