[Viewpoint] Helping Chinese students fit in

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[Viewpoint] Helping Chinese students fit in

Zhang Leixing is a 26-year-old Chinese student studying in Korea. He is in a Ph.D. program in education. When I had dinner with him last weekend, I asked him if he was satisfied with his life as a student in Korea. He said, “There are 60,000 Chinese students in Korea. They may not all love Korea, but at least, they should have friendly feelings and knowledge about Korea. But the reality is just the opposite. Many Chinese students return home with antagonism against Korea.”

Zhang seemed determined to send a wake-up call. “Students who study in America and Japan have affection toward the university and the country they spend time in. However, those who return from Korea are different.” Zhang is currently researching on the foreign student management systems in Korea and China to write a thesis titled “Comparison of Educational Policies of Korea and China.”

When I asked him about the problems that Korea has, he had a clear theory. The Korean system looks at the foreign students as “money.” “Many colleges and universities accept Chinese students to secure an additional source of income. Students who are not prepared to study in Korea are admitted to programs. But there are no appropriate supplementary curriculums to help the foreign students. And dormitory facilities are ridiculously lacking. So the foreign students cannot fit in, and antagonism against Korea is spreading,” Zhang said.

His argument has a point. Colleges and universities in Korea began to attract Chinese applicants in the early 2000s. Some regional schools turned to China when they were financially struggling from a decreasing number of applicants. They could afford to manage financially thanks to the Chinese students. Educational authorities allowed schools to accept foreign students in addition to regular admissions without any guidelines. The more foreign students came to Korea, the worse Korea’s image became.

However, the universities are not entirely to blame. Of course, some students certainly have problems, investing more time in making money than studying. They chose to come to Korea as an escape from challenges in China.

When I pointed this out, Zhang Leixing agreed. “It is true that some students are not up to the task. That’s why Korean schools need to be stricter in student management. They need to weed out underperforming students. However, in reality, schools still give credits and decent grades even to the subpar students. So the level of the foreign students drops, and the negative perception among Chinese students is spreading. Consequently, the Chinese students develop a distorted perspective toward Korea. The universities need to act first and sever the link in the vicious cycle.”

The Ph.D. candidate stressed that Chinese universities have similar problems in managing students from Korea, while the magnitude may be different. He insisted that educational authorities in both countries should work together and come up with a plan.

We all agree with his argument. Korean students in China and Chinese students in Korea add up to about 130,000, and they will play a central role as a bridge of cooperation between the two countries when they move on to careers in academia, government and industry upon graduation. If they look down on the other country and feel unfriendly, we cannot expect a progressive development in the Korea-China relationship in the future.

“What should be the priority of universities and colleges to improve foreign student management?” I asked. He said that small changes can be the beginning for greater improvement. “Most universities do not have a designated space for the foreign students. A small room with computers and sofas will allow the foreign students to gather together. That will surely move the hearts. It wouldn’t be too difficult, would it?”

*The writer is the deputy director of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Han Woo-duk
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