Looking around Sookmyung, there are many foreign students and teachers on the campus. Sometimes they ask Sookmyungians how to find a classroom or campus facility. These foreign people are generally exchange students from overseas. Similar to Sookmyungians studying overseas in other countries on an exchange program, foreign students also come to Sookmyung from overseas. However, there is not much communication or interaction between these exchange students and Sookmyungians. Why is this happening, and why is there no international harmony on campus?
We Are From Overseas
As we enter classrooms for lectures, we can see foreign students taking seats in the same classroom. Even though they are from other countries, they are able to participate in courses that regularly enrolled Sookmyung students take. These days, there are many foreign exchange students at diverse universities in Korea. Students from overseas account for more than 10 percent of the student body at one university.1 In the past, most Korean students went overseas to study abroad, but this phenomenon has changed. There are actually more foreign students who come to Korea to study. Thomas Chang, Division of Business Administration, said, “I came from America and I study Business Administration in Korea. I have chances to enroll in classes that are taken by Sookmyungians.” Like him, there are many foreign students who have come to Korea to study. At Sookmyung, we can see more and more students from other countries in the same classroom listening to the same lecture.
Can I Join in?
Although many foreign students listen to lectures at Sookmyung, several problems are still common. Most foreign students encounter limitations with campus life. To begin with, some lectures are not open to foreign exchange students. Since some lectures such as Korean Writing and Debate require students to discuss a variety of typical topics, foreign students have a hard time participating in these courses. However, writing or debate classes could be more interesting if people of other nationalities and ethnicities were to enroll and share their cultural thoughts. For example, debating classes can increase their value and quality when students with diverse ways of thoughts and experiences share their opinions. Since exchange students surely have different experiences from Korean students, they would have distinct points of view, influenced by ‘their’ cultures. However, there are not many classes available for foreign exchange students. Since many majors give lectures on specialty topics concepts in Korean, most universities prohibit foreign exchange students from participating in those hard classes. Setting limitations on courses available to foreign exchange students blocks their exposure to diverse styles of lectures and classes. Also, the most important point is that many Korean students are afraid of participating in classes that have foreign students enrolled in them. They are worried about interacting with foreigners and the pressure to converse with them. This point of view has caused Korean students to hesitate from getting closer to foreign exchange students.
Moreover, exchange students from foreign countries do not have the same opportunities to participate in off-campus activities while at university. Most universities in Korea have diverse club activities which are based on their personal interests and hobbies. These clubs provide chances for students to interact with other university students. Regrettably, there are few foreign students who actually take part in these clubs since there are not many clubs or events for them to join. Most clubs deal with Korean culture and have only Korean student members, so it makes foreign students to feel like they are burdening others if they join. This type of atmosphere sets limits on them and prevents them from having diverse experiences in Korea. Philomine Dugas, Department of Public Relations & Advertising, replied, “I am not activated in joining extracurricular activities at Sookmyung except for the ‘Buddy System.’ We do not really get a chance to go off campus to actively participate in outside activities.” Foreign exchange students merely interact with Sookmyunigans through the Buddy System at Sookmyung.
In order to solve the above situations, universities should open more classes and lectures in which foreign exchange students can enroll without hesitation. Even though debate or Korean writing classes may be hard for these students, it would be better than prohibiting them from ever trying to take the classes. Some universities make foreign students take basic courses before enrolling in regular lectures that Korean students take. According to Inha University, there are summer school courses that foreign students must first complete. In these courses, students adapt to the new culture of Korea campus life. Also, some schools offer mentoring programs that provide information or advice that exchange students need.2 This structure can benefit the foreign students and encourage them to actively participate in the new environment. After taking basic courses, exchange students can try to participate in regular major courses with Korean students. As they learn together in one classroom, all students can learn from each other by sharing unique cultural aspects. Lee Jiseon, Division of Child Welfare and Studies ’13, said, “I took a class that contained many debates. Even though there were some foreign students who were not fluent in speaking Korean, we could learn many things from each other.” Also, professors should make use of more group presentations as it gives international students and Korean students the opportunity to interact. By preparing class materials together, they can become closer, which would also encourage Korean students to actively approach to foreign students.
Moreover, foreign exchange students should be able to participate in many kinds of club activities at universities. Since most universities only provide off-campus club activities for Korean students, they should try to create new clubs that offer foreign students the chance to enroll. Since the biggest gap between exchange students and regular students is cultural differences, they can actually pinpoint these aspects as the theme of the club. For example, in case of Chonbuk University, they provide club activities such as wearing Hanbok, experiencing traditional cloth dyeing, and eating Korean traditional food.3 Such club activities allow foreign students to become active during their campus life even though they are not really sure how to adapt to new Korean culture.
Our Utmost Goal
Student exchanging programs between different countries are operating with the goal of experiencing new cultures and atmospheres in addition to studying. To study one’s major is surely the biggest reason for going abroad. However, exchange programs can allow students to have much more diverse experiences besides ‘studying.’ Learning how to adapt to a new culture and making harmony are the utmost goals. Feeling differences triggers everyone to learn new things and adapt to unique ones. The most important aspect is to learn from interaction. In the end, there could be beautiful harmony among all Sookmyungians on campus, regardless of faith, ethnicity, and nationality.
1 Sunjo Whang, “Having More Foreign Students to Wide the International Atmosphere,” Hankook-ilbo, December 16, 2013
2 Lee Inyup, “Inha Summer School, Becoming Popular among Foreign Students,” Kiho-ilbo, July 29, 2014
3 Kim Daewoong, “Foregin Students Experiencing Tradition Dyeing Activity,” News1, July 3, 2014