Noonsong has been wanting to be an exchange student since she first entered university. This is because she thought the exchange student program was the most suitable for meeting various people and experiencing new cultures by studying at a foreign university. However, she temporarily put off applying for this program due to COVID-19. As she became a senior this year, she could no longer postpone her application, so she decided to prepare to go to the U.S. as an exchange student in earnest after taking a leave of absence. She accessed the website of SMWU's Office of International Affairs and began to find out what has changed from before.
Changes caused by unexpected situations
In an era when global competence has become important, universities' international exchange programs are playing a role in enlarging students' experience. SMWU is also operating various international exchange programs to foster global female leaders. Programs include short-term programs such as summer sessions at prestigious universities abroad and Disney internships, as well as long-term programs such as a dual degree and being an exchange student. More detailed information about the international exchange program is provided in the SMTRACING article of the 357th issue of The Sookmyung Times and the website of the Office of International Affairs. However, after COVID-19 appeared in December 2019 and spread around the world, overseas travel became restricted. This situation had a great influence on international exchange programs. In particular, it has become difficult to proceed with the program due to a series of postponements and the closure of universities around the world. In addition, the number of selected students and the number of exchange university lists have decreased overall compared to before COVID-19. Students also gave up applying due to the risk of COVID-19. In the end, as the volatility of running these programs increased, students wishing to go abroad seem to be confused.
COVID-19 also affected the selection interview and evaluation method of exchange student programs. The existing procedure for selecting exchange students at SMWU is as follows. First of all, applicants must qualify with basic application criteria such as a cumulative GPA of 2.7/4.3 or higher, a language grade of CBT 200 / IBT 72 / ITP 533 / IELTS Academic 6.0 or higher (English-American region). In addition, they must not have received any disciplinary action or be disqualified from overseas travel and have never quit the former international exchange programs. Applicants who meet all of the above conditions will have their documents reviewed, and then be invited for an interview. Additionally, applicants for the Chinese and Japanese regions will be given a one-on-one language test (interview). The procedure is to examine applicants with the formula of 30% cumulative for GPA, 30% for language grade, and 40% for interview evaluation. However, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Office of International Affairs temporarily adjusted the evaluation method from the first semester of 2020. The interview was changed to a letter of self-introduction and document evaluation, and the language test was changed to a non-face-to-face video interview. In addition, the interview evaluation items were replaced by document evaluation in the selection criteria. This selection system remained the same until the first semester of 2021. On April 23 last year, the Office of International Affairs announced that the selection method and criteria for exchange would be completely changed from the second round in 2021. They said that interviews will not be conducted in the future, considering the persistence of COVID-19. In the current situation, they believe that the format of document evaluation is the most appropriate. Also, the formula for the selection criteria has been changed to 40% for the cumulative GPA, 40% for the language grade, and 20% for the document evaluation.
Students' voices about the exchange student program
To hear the opinion of students about the exchange student program in the COVID-19 situation, SMT surveyed whether they would participate in international exchange programs after 2020. According to the survey, 16 out of 65 (24.6%) participated in them from 2020 to the present (February 26, 2022).1) Of the 16 respondents, 4 (25%) experienced an exchange student program. A small number of respondents experienced being exchange students. SMT also asked students about their satisfaction with the evaluation method of the exchange student programs being changed from the second semester of 2021. 48 out of 65 (73.8%) were satisfied with the changed evaluation method. When asked why they were satisfied with it (allowing multiple responses), 40 out of 48 (83.3%) said they would feel less burdened with the evaluation as the interviews had been replaced by document evaluation, and 23 out of 48 (47.9%) thought document evaluation was a better way to do it during COVID-19 than face-to-face interviews. 13 out of 48 (27.1%) said that they can focus more on language studies because the proportion of language grades had increased. Meanwhile, 17 out of 65 respondents who were not satisfied with the changed evaluation method were asked why the evaluation method was unsatisfactory (allowing multiple responses). 16 out of 17 (94.1%) said that they felt it was more difficult to prepare for the exchange student program due to the increase in the proportion of the cumulative GPA and language grade. One out of 17 (5.9%) felt burdened with having video interviews in Chinese/Japanese, and another respondent (5.9%) felt that interviews should also be one of the important evaluation criteria in the English-American region. Most students responded positively to the changed evaluation method, but some were not satisfied.
In addition, SMT conducted a satisfaction survey on the list of exchange universities where Sookmyungians can go as exchange students. According to the survey, only 14 out of 65 respondents (21.5%) were satisfied with the list, and 51 out of 65 (78.5%) were dissatisfied. More than two-thirds of the respondents were found to be dissatisfied with the list of exchange universities currently available for going to as an exchange student. When the 51 respondents who felt dissatisfied were asked why (allowing multiple responses), 40 out of 56 (78.4) said that they felt that many universities lacked a high-quality educational environment. 37 out of 56 (72.5%) said that the number of exchange universities was small compared to the number of applicants, and 29 out of 56 (56.9%) said that the countries available to go to were not diverse. An anonymous respondent said, "I was an exchange student before COVID-19. At that time, when I applied, I thought that the list of exchange countries was not very diverse and that the level of universities in the list was insufficient compared to the status of SMWU. When I heard from my juniors, the situation at that time is not much different from now." The problem with the list worsened due to COVID-19, but it can be seen that it was a continuing problem that students who experienced the program before felt too. Another anonymous respondent said, "We need high-quality exchange universities with engineering colleges. Students at SMWU often only take liberal arts classes at exchange universities." She pointed out that the range of major choices in the exchange universities was narrow and complementing major diversity was needed. After all, students want to receive education at an exchange university in a good environment.
Answer from the Office of International Affairs
SMT received additional opinions from students to deliver to the Office of International Affairs. As the results of the previous survey suggested, most opinions were about the exchange universities list. In addition to this, students presented various opinions. First of all, for the announcement of the evaluation criteria, an anonymous student suggested that the announcement on the method of document evaluation seems ambiguous. Currently, two matters about document evaluation are announced on the Office of International Affairs' website. The notice states that "two or more judges review document evaluation" and "reason for application/academic plan, representativeness, and development potential/effectiveness are evaluated with an equal distribution ratio for each item." In the case of the English self-introduction, there were no clear requirements. Next, some pointed out that the information on the exchange student program was not well organized. An anonymous student said, "I would like the Office of International Affairs to organize announcements related to the exchange student program in one place." She pointed out that attachments or document forms related to the exchange student program are difficult to recognize since they are mixed with notices from other programs. Similarly, a student said that it was difficult to grasp the contents of the Excel file containing exchange universities' information at a glance. Meanwhile, a student presented an opinion on the size of the Office of International Affairs' workforce. She said, "It would be nice if more people could be deployed to improve the quality of the international program and proceed with the work." She thought that more people could lead to higher work efficiency and the establishment of quality programs.
SMT delivered the aforementioned opinions to the Office of International Affairs. Due to the busy schedule of the current program and preparation for the new event, SMT did not hear a specific answer. However, the staff in charge of the international exchange program briefly responded after confirming the opinions of the students. First of all, regarding the list of exchange universities most frequently mentioned by students, Koo Hwanmo, in charge of international exchange programs, said, "It is difficult to expand exchange agreements with overseas universities in the COVID-19 situation. The expansion of selected students is also not easy at this time. However, we are continuing to improve the problem" He explained that it is difficult to improve the circumstances under COVID-19. Nevertheless, he mentioned that the Office of International Affairs will continue to find other alternatives to expand the list of exchange universities. In addition, he responded positively to the opinions about the document evaluation criteria and announcement arrangement. He said, "These parts seem to be something that can be improved immediately. I will consider the opinions of the students from now on." Although it is a difficult time, he seems to be making efforts within the department. It seems that the school needs to pay constant attention so that the exchange student program can be further improved in the future.
Into a wider world
COVID-19 is continuing around the world, but students still want to be exchange students. Students want an overseas study experience where they can learn the language, different cultures, and develop their communication skills. However, when listening to the opinions of the students, it seems that the current exchange student program is still lacking. For a better program, it is important for SMWU to expand the student exchange agreements with foreign universities where students can receive a quality education. It will also be necessary to increase the workforce of the Office of International Affairs to provide help to students through a stable work system.
1) The total number of students enrolled is 12,065, with a survey participation rate of about 0.5%