Student exchange in Korea

Yesterday was my last day at Korea University so I thought I should write something about the education system in Korea. Or at least, my exchange experience. :) Prepare yourself for a long boring entry!

The campus

First of all I was very impressed with the infrastructure, the campus is huge, nothing to see with Paris small, sometimes dirty, universities. I mean, look at the pictures! It is almost like an independent city. And this is not because Korea University is one of the best uni in Korea, all campuses I've seen are huge and beautiful like this. Everything is within reach: convenience store, café, museum, stadium, bank, post office, gym, even ice rink (famous figure skater Kim Yuna is from Kodae).

Note: in Korean, university is 대학교 (dae-hag-gyo), litterally "big school", to shorten the names of universities, most of the time, you take the first part of the university name and add 대 (dae). Korea University is 학교 (koryo dae haggyo) so that gives us 고대 (kodae). Hongdae = Hongik university, Edae = Ewha's women university, Gyodae = Seoul National University, etc. This is like Japanese and Tokyo University = Tokyo daigaku = Todai :)

I don't know much about other colleges, only the Business School (KUBS). I thought all other colleges were this neat and clean but apparently not! They still are way more luxurious than any school in France I think, haha. I love how everything is super modern and clean and everything is available for students: need to borrow a laptop? Watch a DVD? etc. etc. The studying conditions are more than WOW. It is really motivating.

On the left is the Business School main building and in front of you, the LG-Posco sponsorized building. It was built after the main building and most of my classes were here. :)

Also, the Business School and other campus buildings are connected by an underground passageway!

Groupwork with Korean students

Working with Korean students. I can't hide it was really hard. I mean, I was never fond of group assignments at school, it's —forgive me— a pain in the ass. In my mother tongue where all the team members could understand each other perfectly, it was already difficult so think about it in a foreign language. There are lots, lots, lots of misunderstandings.

Over the past few years, Korean universities opened themselves to foreign students and learning english is a national effort (I mean, look at all the english teachers here!). In Korea University, about 40% of classes are taught in english, it wasn't the case a decade ago! I met a lot of people who could speak english very well (especially those who went to study abroad), some who use broken english and some other students who can't speak at all.

I was playing "undercover" at school, I didn't want to mix too much with other exchange students, I came to Korea to meet Korean people! XD And I know how it often ends up: foreigners stay with foreigners, it's easier. Besides, there were many other French exchange students and I didn't come here to meet French people, I was so so eager to meet Koreans :) Being asian helped, I was certainly not taken for an European girl, and some French people even talked to me in english. (That was funny) So for my class group projects, I tried to be with Koreans. It's also because I wanted to improve my Korean and it helped me a bit. By the end of the semester I could understand some things they said :D

It was harsh. I can't generalize what I say to all Korean students, certainly not, and what I'm saying is based on only four groups I had. I was struggling between accepting the way they worked or doing it "western style". For example, for one assignment, we had a paper to write. After agreeing on the contents and the parts, we decided to split the parts. Unfortunately, two students only copy/pasted information from the internet, it didn't seem to bother them! I know students do this in France too, but not this blatantly, they try to "tweak" it, and it is severely punished by teachers. Here, even though some teachers issued warnings about plagiarism, they didn't seem to check (even though you can guess just by reading it).

Ah, an incredible thing (but not for book publishers): you can make full copies of books! It's of course super forbidden, but in Korea, you can just borrow the book at the library, bring it to the copy service, and the day after, you have your book, they even reproduce the cover. No need to buy the original one, you can save thousands of wons! XD

Anyway, in some other assignment, we had a group presentation to make, and powerpoint slides to prepare. A student copied entire news articles from newspapers websites and pasted it in his slides. What the...? I feel like they don't have any preparation to do presentations? They tend to write a lot of things on the slides, and often write down what they have to say on cards and just read it to the audience (I can understand this though, because some can't speak english very well). While I saw some really good presentations, some students in my groups were reluctant to add some "dynamism". I was told that alternating speakers added more dynamism to a presentation, and some students just refused it. I was called last minute at night just before our presentation to be told we have to change everything. Sometimes we wrote papers and in the last moment, had to erase entire pages. I heard other foreign students having this problem too, last minute changes, changes without notices, etc.

Ah, this sounds like a lot of complaining! XD Even though some aspects of groupwork were a pain, what I liked though is that Korean students always did things on time. If we agreed to finish our parts for X date, they will have it ready. However, the same can't be said about appointments! I know it's in the Korean culture to be late, but sometimes, it just drove me crazy. Without any notice, they will cancel the appointment, they just don't show up! They often arrived late, and sometimes even changed the date of the meeting without asking you first! A lot of people think Koreans and Japanese people are similar. They sure share some traits but I think they're really different. And this is one of the difference.

Yeah, so it sounds like I didn't have a good time but I did. I really did. I know most of these "roadblocks" were caused by cultural differences and miscommunication. Education system in France is really different and the Korean education system is inspired by the American one. And I don't believe in students exchanges anyway. I mean, I don't think you can learn anything in class during a student exchange, a student exchange is to learn about culture. This is just my opinion and what I had in mind when coming to Korea :)

Tests

I know it's not always effective but students here do work a lot (just look at their notebooks, the index cards, the prints, etc.) and a lot of high school students go to "hagwon" where they have classes until past midnight. Anyway, I noticed something interesting. I had four classes, two by Korean teachers and two by foreign teachers (German and New Zealander). The tests by Korean teachers were multiple choice and fill in the blanks, you had to know the textbooks by heart. The tests for the foreign teachers classes were essays. Once again, I can't generalize, but I think it demonstrates pretty well the culture of "learn everything by heart, even if you don't understand". XD

Also, the class before the finals, one Korean teacher showed us questions from last semester's test and we corrected it in class. Guess what, it was the very same test yesterday x_x

Conclusion

I wouldn't want to stay an other semester because I'm not made for school, I just want to graduate quickly and find a job. However, if I had to do it all over again, I WOULD! :D Okay, this was a very long post.

12 comments

  1. sarah 5 October 2011 at 10:55:06

    i've always wanted to do student exchange in Korea even if it's just for a few months and im very inspired after reading your post. you have such great informations abt korea, specially the students. thanks

  2. Milene 2 November 2011 at 01:10:09

    That's really cool! *-* i've been interested in Korea,but i don't speak Korean.It's comforting to know there are classes are in English :D

  3. Jieming Wei 21 April 2012 at 14:47:39

    I am now doing a thesis about the English education and exchange policies in China, Japan and South Korea. Your article inspires me a lot!
    Thank you and good luck with your future work!!

  4. Natasha 24 April 2012 at 15:41:10

    So great finding your blog! I also did a 1 semester exchange at KU back in Spring 2009 (documented it in my website) and I feel the same way as you in so many ways. I'm Asian so I felt that I had it a bit easier, but people sort of expected me to know Korean as well. I had a great experience with all the group work, though. I was in charge of the public speaking and the essay writing for all the term papers... and deciphering huge amounts of bad grammar from their research. Anyway, so nice to see how things have changed since I was there. I'm finally going back in June so I'm doing some research. Love how you mention so many hot spots like Coco Bruni and Chocolatyum (still have to go through your whole blog).. and I'm thrilled that there's Bibap! I saw Jump and Nanta and thoroughly enjoyed them both and wanted to see another one. Thanks so much for the info!!

  5. Karine 23 July 2013 at 23:55:02

    Hi! Don't freak out, you'll have a great time and everything will go smoothly :) Your university should have a "buddy" program. It means you will have a Korean student assigned to you (students who are interested in meeting exchange/foreign people) and they're very nice and will help you around. Have fun in Korea!

  6. Marie L. Nielsen 2 September 2013 at 10:45:09

    Hi, I want to ask you:
    Where did you search for being an exchange student, and how old did you need to be?
    Thanks :)

    • Karine 2 September 2013 at 11:10:49

      Hi Marie! I don't think there is an age limitation! The problem is : does your school have an exchange program with an university in Korea? If it does, then apply for it! :) My school had a partnership with Korea University and I was able to go thanks to this program.

  7. Maru 10 November 2013 at 03:01:14

    Hi! I've always wanted to be an exchange student but I'm afraid my grades aren't high enough. I was wondering what your grade requirement was. How was the application process?

    • Karine 15 November 2013 at 15:16:02

      Hello!

      There was no real grade requirement in my case. My school had several partner universities and it was a "first come first serve" system, depending on your scores/rank. If you had good scores, you had a broader choice of universities.

      You should check with your school about that!

  8. Kyoung Ju Lee 23 September 2016 at 09:01:39

    Hi Karine! My name is Kyoung Ju Lee from Korea University. Right now I'm doing my exchange in Universidad de Navarra in Spain and in one of my classes I'm doing a blog with my group about how to survive as an exchange student in foreign country. This week we are writing about a former case related to the content of our blog, and I think your blog is perfect for it! Can I make some reference to your posts? Thank you!

    • Karine 29 September 2016 at 16:43:21

      Hello Kyoung Ju, I'm glad you found my article helpful :D

      Feel free to use it

      Thanks!

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