According to the Ministry of Education, 84,801 international university students were counted in 2014. Compared to the number 16,832 in 2004, the current figure is about five times bigger than before. After-care for these students is essential regarding their situation as foreigners in a new environment. However, Korean universities are struggling to handle this upsurge.
“For now, there is not enough infrastructure to embrace this much of a quantitative increase,” said Hong Jun-hyun, former president of Korean Association for Foreign Student Administrators. “Unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts between international students and Koreans have been seen both on and off campus. These happen due to the lack of systematic education of understanding Korean culture and customs.”
At the beginning of each semester, most universities hold an orientation to provide basic information to help students adjust to the campus and new environment. However, some argue the session is a mere formality.
“The orientation did not help me at all,” said a full-time international student from Indonesia at Yonsei University who wished to remain anonymous. “I had to figure out everything on my own, such as registering for courses.”
According to her, Korean students she met in the school were a bigger help than the orientation provided by the school. However, this cannot be the best solution since Korean local students cannot always function as an advisory body.
Moreover, some of the programs such as membership training did not take into account international students. As well as not providing English versions of notices, they did not explain specific events which may be unfamiliar to foreigners.
For instance, Saeteo, which is a freshman orientation held before school starts, is not common in other countries. Therefore, when international students see “recruiting participants for Saeteo,” they at least need a brief introduction.
“Since I did not know what Saeteo was, I was not able to participate in it,” said Shin Won-joo Peter, a full-time international student from Canada studying in Korea University. “Also, most of the notices are in Korean which are not easy for international students to understand thoroughly.”
On the other hand, universities are trying to develop aids that successfully help international students, such as buddy programs. Through the buddy program, international students are able to get student-based peer support from buddies who are friends and helpers at the same time.
“It was easy to get familiar with the school thanks to Korea University Buddy Assistants (KUBA),” Shin said. “They gave us many useful tips such as how to register for popular courses and introduced us to the amazing Korean beer culture.”
In addition to the support, some buddy programs serve as a platform to experience Korean culture and communicate with students of diverse nationalities.
“Most of the time, we try to provide opportunities for students to experience things that they can only do in Korea, such as visiting traditional markets and Korean palaces,” said Kim Ye-hee, a student mentor for international students at Seoul National University. “We also function as a link between international students.”
At Ewha, the Office of International Affairs (OIA) also organizes a social event, “Happy Hour,” every month. It gathers international students and the OIA officers to have lunch together and get to know each other.
“Through Happy Hour, students can simultaneously build relationships with other students and ask the officers for advice,” said Cho Ji-young who is the program coordinator at OIA.
Beyond assistance for adjusting to new campus life, finding a job after graduation comes to international students as a great burden as well. Unfortunately, most universities are not making any efforts to help international students find jobs.
“For graduating students, the school does very little or nothing to help international students to get employed, neither in Korea nor abroad,” said Hamza Lasri, a full-time international student from Morocco at Korea University. “As one of the top universities in Korea, the university can have a lot of leverage, but why not use it to help the students get better placements?”
The influx of international students can represent Korea’s vital globalization. However, if the after-care for these international students does not follow, this will end up as a temporary phenomenon. Therefore, universities should always be aware of the significance of their efforts to provide a comfortable environment for international students.
“It would not be possible for universities to provide every service that is needed,” Hong said. “Thus, the government also needs to help with securing necessary infrastructures.”