Foreign Students' Perspective on History
Foreign Students' Perspective on History
  • Ewha Voice
  • 승인 2006.11.01 00:00
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   Recently, Korea has become involved in many disputes regarding perceptions of history, such as territorial disputes over Dokdo and Gando as well as historical distortions by the Chinese government. However, a majority of Korean youths are not aware of these issues or even interested in history at all. What then about the young people in other countries? The Ewha Voice interviewed three foreign students at Ewha: Teresa Wong (Physiology, 4), a Canadian student from the University of British Columbia, Dapeng Xie (World Economics), a Chinese postgraduate from Liaoning University, and Nicolas Bigotte (Finance), a French student from IESEG Lille to ask them about young people’s knowledge of history in their countries.


1. Are you interested in History in general?

Teresa: Yes, but not as an academic subject. I browse books and the Internet for articles related to history. I just like to know what happened in the past.

Dapeng: Yes, and I have even read about Korean Modern History in Chinese. I study Korea Economy, so I read it and because I felt that I needed more background information on Korea.

Nicolas: I like watching history related documentaries on TV and I read books about certain topics that interest me as well.


2. Do you think most university students in your country interested in history?

Teresa: I think it depends on the person. Although I am a Canadian, I grew up in Hong Kong, so in terms of Hong Kong people, they generally have a rough idea about what happened back in the past since they learned history in school but I don’t think they are well informed; in fact, I think some of them are quite weak in history.

Dapeng: In China, we studied world history and Chinese history in high school. But in university we didn't have history lessons except those in the history major. Nowadays since finding a job is more and more difficult; people usually prefer studying something practical that can be helpful for them in finding a good job instead of something as academic as history. But people with higher academic achievement (college graduates rather than high school graduates, for instance) are interested in the history of North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and the United States, and in the relations between these countries. But most Chinese are interested in practical skills, like the Koreans of the 1960s.

Nicolas: In general I would say that some of them are very interested, as France has a long and proud history, but others perceive it as a pain because there is so much to memorize!


3. How is History taught in your country? In the case of Korea, Korean History is taught merely through textbooks from elementary school to the first year of high school. History is not mandatory for college exams (expect for Seoul National University), so students do not study it as ardently as other compulsory subjects. Korean students learn World History for only one year, in middle school.

Teresa: When I was in Hong Kong, history was mostly taught in school, starting from secondary school. We have two history related subjects: Chinese History and World History. Our education system is kind of different than that of Korea. Hong Kong doesn’t have junior high and high school. We just have secondary school, which lasts seven years. So in the third year, we have to decide what we want to take in the fourth year and onward. There are two groups: Arts and Science. I didn’t need history for college exams because I was in the science group. I took courses on Asian History when I was in university, but it wasn’t compulsory or anything.

Dapeng: We start to learn History from the fifth grade to twelfth grade, both Chinese and world history. The teachers just teach what is written in the textbook, and the textbook is written in order of important events. Both Chinese and world history are required for college exams.

Nicolas: We are obliged to study it three hours a week, from when we are 10 years old until we’re 18. History not only through textbooks; we watch movies and go on field trips to museums and historical sites. I would say we study both world history and French history at the same time. A large part of our history was influenced by historical events that had a huge influence on the world, like World War 1 and 2 and the Cold War. Also France has influenced World history as well, like in the French Revolution. So studying French history is studying world history, and vice versa. 


3. (For Teresa) Are there any differences in how they teach history in Canada and Hong Kong?

Teresa: The perspective is a bit different. When I learned history in Hong Kong, the things I learned were from an Asian perspective, but in Canada, it was more from a western perspective.


4. What do you think is the biggest problem regarding young people's attitude about learning History?

Dapeng: As Teresa said, young people think of history as something academic and therefore think that it is not useful in the real world. However, students should be aware that if you know history, it would be “practical” when you are in a sticky situation; references to how our forebears acted in solving the same dilemma will guide you in not getting caught in the same problem again.

Nicolas: One problem in France is that not everyone goes to high school, so knowledge regarding history is limited for those who do not graduate high school. The French law requires mandatory education until 16, and after that you can either go to high school or start to learn technological skills to get a job. History is one of the subjects for the final exam of high school so those who make it to graduation study it a lot. If you want to pass you even have to know how to draw a map of Europe or the world and mark the major cities.


5. What kind of efforts do you think we need to boost interest in History amongst young people?

Teresa: I think history education should suit the young people’s tastes, by teaching in an interesting way, like using comic books about history or even online games like the “Age of the Empires” series. By arousing young peoples’ interest through such methods, students can be aware of history and learn basic background information. Further studies on history can only be achieved when youths have some historic background in order to progress. Also, it is essential that young people actually find some practical use for their history classes. We always say that we should "learn from the past,” so we should inspire them to think more about our roots or how this historical knowledge can be applied in actual life. ,

Nicolas: I think learning history should be an interactive process. It would be better for students and teachers to debate about it and exchange ideas rather than just the teacher handing out facts for students to swallow. I also think that it is essential for people to understand the logic of history. Most people just know about some main events; they don’t see the fact that history is a process, and no event is independent because it influences others or it is the correlation of events that make up history. If students knew these simple truths, history would be a lot easier to understand and study.


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