Korean students are well-known for their educational fervor, and universities are no exception. Although college students have much more time to enjoy their campus life than high school students, they still tend to be highly motivated to score well on tests and assignments. International undergraduates from all over the world try to harness their work ethic to fit into the university. Undergraduates are faced with a plethora of challenges as they try to navigate their way out of the cocoon of learning years to fly and expand their horizons.
Before the hurdles of education can even begin to present themselves, the students are confronted with the intricacies of settling down in a new country. “Without a phone number, I was often unable to order anything online and restricted from using a lot of convenient services for around four months until I could get my alien registration card, said one international student. Students are unable to use any online delivery services or order food. This poses a major difficulty, especially for those students who have dietary restrictions and cannot eat in the cafeteria. This leads us to another very common problem: “My card was not working in the cafeteria or GS25, leaving me with no choice but the second-floor student restaurant or cook my own food, which is quite time-consuming.” According to survey data, this problem occurred for 65% of the students.
Apart from an exceptional academic atmosphere, international students at Korean institutions face two major obstacles: course registration and the language barrier.
While the basic science classes are provided in English, many major classes are in Korean, leaving students with no other option but to be left on their own with particularly limited learning resources. This brings about difficult times, but many students manipulate the odds into a source of challenge to raise their spirits. One international student from the Department of Life Science stated, “Your environment can make or break you, so my time at GIST has been a privilege in the sense that even with the odds stacked against me, having many bright and diligent Korean students in my class in turn makes me want to polish my academic performance.” She has put in great effort to ensure the classes are provided in English to prevent strategic disadvantages for international students. One of the international students previously in the Life Science department ended up changing her major to a department with more international students so she would have an easier time obtaining her classes in English. Many courses that are required to graduate are not provided in English. Another central problem towers over this one: many courses that are listed as being taught in English are taught in Korean. Data shows that a staggering 60% of the classes listed as being taught in English are taught in Korean. One student who took such a course was simply told to “learn better academic Korean” when she prompted the professor to incorporate some English in the lecture.
Korean universities are infamous for their fast-paced, fiercely competitive, first-come, first-served course registration systems. Even Korean freshmen generally struggle with this and seek guidance from their seniors with tips on how to enter course codes quickly and an idea of which courses are likely to fill up faster. Learning tips and going to a PC room with faster wifi in order to check exact server times during course registration ensures a more successful course sign-up.
Course registration, more often than not, proves to be extraordinarily challenging for international students, who are left to their own accord. Students are often limited to the dorm, where the Wi-Fi connection is significantly slower than in PC rooms, where most other students are. Some students might be forced to do course registration in their own country, which only adds to the waiting times in the queue for registering for each course.
The international students are handed out PDFs and lengthy handbooks, but this has largely proved to be inadequate. According to survey data, 80% of the students expressed dissatisfaction with the information provided solely in the handbook and PDFs. Many suggested the process be made easier and more seats be added for greater convenience for the new international students.
Continuing the topic of course registration and language barriers, GIST does provide classes to facilitate the student’s ability to learn Korean, but they are severely limited in capacity, and often, the freshmen who need them the most are unable to get them. The class capacity is never increased to accommodate them. Around 30% of freshmen are unable to register for the Basic Korean course each year.
While efforts have been made to improve the lives of international undergraduates, who are a rather recent addition to the gist community, there is a long way to go before we finally fill in the overlooked gaps that hinder the smooth settling in of international students.