For foreign students, it looked different on paper

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For foreign students, it looked different on paper


Foreign students are now a common sight on Korean campuses. They come from all over the world to study and then return to their home countries, serving as single ambassadors relating their experiences here.

These impressions are causing concern as students are complaining they aren’t receiving the kind of education or services they expected.

The experience of one 24-year-old woman from the United Arab Emirates is a testament to the problem.

She came to Korea in August 2008 to study at Ewha Womans University, known as the top woman’s college in the country.

She also looked at other colleges in Japan and China, but she was drawn to the Korean university due to the generous scholarship program and her affection for K-Pop and Korean TV programs.

After almost two years, however, she has become disappointed.

“The school said I don’t need to be fluent in Korean because the courses are taught in English,” she said.

But when she actually went to class, the majority of it was taught in Korean.

“I complained about the matter and the school said they meant the course focusing on developing practical skills would not require a high level of Korean,” the 24-year-old said.

The squabble was just the beginning of constant troubles she has had with the school. One year after she came to Ewha, the university required her to earn a level 4 in the Test of Proficiency in Korean (Topik) in order to receive her scholarship.

“The university always goes back on their words. I feel like I was tricked into enrolling in the school. I even developed hostile feelings toward Korea,” she said.

Jang Chao, a Chinese student who is now studying at Ajou University for his master’s degree, also complains he was misled.

“The college first told me I didn’t need to be fluent in Korean. When I came to the school, the textbook was in English but the professors taught in Korean,” the 27-year-old engineering major said.

A 23-year-old Chinese student who is now registered at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies complained about the school’s assistance with visa issues and poor accessibility to school faculty members.

“When I want to make a decision over extending my visa, I want to receive consultation from professors and school administrators because it is also linked with how the semester or class is going to be,” said the Chinese student, who didn’t want to be named.

“There’s no specific center for foreign students to receive advice on such issues, but the service is readily available for Korean students, and is provided by professional consultants,” he said, adding that other foreign students might fare worse than him given the university is known for being relatively expat-friendly.

The number of overseas students studying in Korea surpassed the 80,000 mark last year, a big jump from 22,526 in 2005. Foreign students are often excluded from various career services provided by the university, exacerbating the troubles already facing them in the unfavorable job market.

Out of 10,000 foreigners that graduate from Korean universities, on average about 100 go on to start careers in Korea.

Foreign students say the lack of a mentoring system is also a problem.

“I’ve attended both public and private colleges, but I’ve never heard of a mentoring system to help overseas students adapt to the classes,” said a Mongolian male student who stayed in Korea for 11 years. The 39-year-old man now studies at Seoul National University, widely regarded as Korea’s best, for a doctoral degree.

“The mentoring system helped a lot when I studied in Japan,” said Yeo Gab-dong, a professor at Keimyung University who went to the University of Tsukuba in Irabaki Prefecture.

“My mentor helped me with course registration and taught me how to use the library and write a report in a formal way. The mentor also let me know about Japanese culture and traditions,” Yeo recalled.

Experts say Korean universities’ heavy focus on only increasing the volume of foreign students has brought about ill-prepared service.

“It’s important to have a large volume of foreign students. But now Korean education providers need to focus on quality,” said Kang Sung-jin, director of the international cooperation division at Korea University.

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