International students return for summer programs
No time was to be wasted. No hamstring to be left unstretched. For they knew that what awaited them was two full hours of grueling training, sweat and pain.
“Kick higher!” yelled taekwondo master Kim Young-sun, an adjunct professor at Yonsei University’s Global Leaders College. “More confidence! Try again!”
Each new move was preceded by moments of confusion as the international students tried to grasp Kim’s instructions, mostly laid out in body language or simple demonstrations. Yet slowly, everyone fell in sync, albeit with varying levels of precision.
At the end of the day, nine people were given yellow belts, a highlight of their weeks-long journeys in Korea — their first summer in a country thousands of miles away from home.
“I wanted to learn self-defense, especially because I was coming to a foreign country by myself without speaking the language well,” said Mia Blake, 19, one of the nine yellow belt recipients. Blake is a psychology major at the University of Sheffield in Southampton, Britain.
“I loved my time in Korea and I’d love to come back, potentially through a study abroad program for one year.”
Blake was among nearly 1,300 foreigners from 52 different countries who participated in this year’s Yonsei International Summer School, spending weeks of their summer breaks taking courses in Korea and joining cultural programs on the sidelines, which introduced them to Korean food, traditional tourist attractions and martial arts.
Several universities in Korea offer similar programs, inviting foreign students to briefly attend their schools during the summer or winter breaks and allowing them to receive college credits while experiencing the touristic side of the country at the same time.
For the host universities, the programs are a critical source of much-needed cash. Participation fees depend on the number of classes each student takes, with each course costing about 1.5 million won ($1,145). There are additional fees for on-campus housing and cultural activities.
All courses in summer school programs are held in English, except for Korean language classes. Professors are from the Korean host universities or invited from overseas.
Summer school programs in Korea began in 1985 when Yonsei University accepted its first group of foreign students that summer break. But over the past two years, with borders closed and overseas travel restricted due to the pandemic, Korean universities were forced to either cancel their summer school programs or hold them online.
Now with most Covid regulations lifted both at home and abroad, Korean universities have returned their summer programs back to normalcy — or at least tried to.
Running programs amid a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the country meant that organizers had to go to great lengths to ensure the safety of the foreign students participating, as well as the professors teaching them in physical classrooms. Schools’ online learning systems were also put to the test, as it became the only way for students who tested positive for the virus to attend classes remotely, either in real-time or through recordings.
There is no known official figure of how many international students attended summer school programs at a Korean university this year, but along with Yonsei’s 1,300, Korea University said it received about 1,400 students from 61 different countries.
A few other schools said they received a couple of hundred students.
Park Hyun-soon, vice president of international affairs at Sungkyunkwan University, echoed Kim’s sentiment about the coronavirus, saying the pandemic definitely required “extra care” for the students.
“In our case, students had to take three or more hours of classes every day for 15 days, so getting infected with the virus meant getting isolated for a week and potentially missing out on a significant portion of the classes,” said Park.
“It wasn’t easy trying to guarantee that the infected students would remotely participate in the classes without any trouble,” Park continued.
Despite the difficulties brought on by Covid, Lee Hi-kyoung, vice president for international affairs at Korea University, said it was these challenging circumstances that pushed her school to test its limits and adapt to any changes that sprung up along the way.
“We’re going to keep evolving,” said Lee. “We recently launched a summer school program for graduate school students, and even high school graduates can now join our undergraduate summer school program before they enter college. We’ve also begun a microdegree program on Korean culture and society.”
For many international students joining the summer school programs, it’s all about the adventure of traveling far away from home, to a country they’ve come to admire through Korean dramas, films and BTS.
Tessa Aguilar, 19, who majors in political science at UCLA, said she was mesmerized by a scene from the Korean drama “True Beauty” (2020) that featured Yonsei University’s campus, so much so that she decided to get on a plane to see the school herself.
Aguilar was so impressed that she’s already planning to come to Korea again next spring.
“I want to take my boyfriend here just to show him all the new stuff that I learned and hopefully have more time to be in Korea and do stuff that I couldn’t do in the summer program.”
Aguilar quickly added, “And also to see the cherry blossoms!”
When asked what advice she'd give future participants, Tania Varesano, 22, who studies machine learning and computer science at the Grenoble Institute of Technology in France, said don’t be afraid of speaking to others.
“Everyone is trying to make friends but everyone is kind of scared and pretty shy,” said Varesano, who joined this year's summer program at Korea University. “People are like ‘I shouldn’t talk to them because I may be bothering them.’ But don’t be afraid because they may be thinking the same thing on the other side.”
Sanaa Hares, 21, an international justice student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who joined Yonsei's summer program, advises prospective participants to learn Korean and “be polite.”
“I feel like politeness gets you a really long way here,” said Hares.
Ayaka Ohara, 20, who studies cultural anthropology at Okayama University in Japan, agrees with Hares that learning Korean opens so many more doors. Ohara joined Sungkyunkwan's summer program this year.
“Coming here, many students go to clubs or bar-hop,” said Ohara, a BTS fan who said she’s been to three of the boy band’s concerts in her homeland. “But if they cannot understand Korean, it’s just tourism,” she warned.
“They’re just consuming Korean culture only as a tourist.”
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [email@example.com]