|Two international students are talking to each other about their hardships being exchange students.|
|/Photograph by Im Chae-hyun|
This semester, 162 international students from 28 different countries came to Dongguk University. As they are living in a new country, Korea and entering a new university, the students are looking forward to having a lot of experiences and making good memories in Dongguk University. Yet, despite their expectations, international students are going through some hardships. Not only students from overseas, but also Korean students who are trying to go or have gone to a foreign country as exchange students are raising some problems. Still, the school is aware of the problems students are going through and is trying to make improvements.
Dongguk University has made an academic exchange agreement with 221 universities from 42 countries in America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
According to the Center for International Relations, in 2015, 263 international students came to Dongguk University and 291 in 2016, with 537 Korean students going out to foreign countries in 2015 and 560 in 2016. Considering the international students who come to Dongguk University, they first have to be selected as exchange students according to the exchange student program in their home universities. Then, the final result is sent to Dongguk University. For example, Divagar Ramassamy, an exchange student from Institut Polytechnique des Sciences Avancees (IPSA) in France explained that participating in an exchange student program for one semester is mandatory in his school. “There are many students who wish to come to Korea. Thus, the competition rate was high and only the top ten students who had the highest grades and TOEFL scores were able to come to Korea,” he added.
In terms of Korean students in Dongguk University, they should first apply for the exchange student program through Udrims, submitting their academic transcripts written in English, official language reports, and study plans. Then, students should go through another process as they have to be accepted from each international university as well. Jung Jae-hoon, the assistant manager of the Center for International Relations, mentioned, “Since they are students who have already passed the evaluation in Dongguk, few students actually fail to pass the evaluation in the school they are applying for.
Growing attention but loopholes lie: miscommunication with faculty
In spite of the increasing number of both inbound and outbound exchange students, the system of the exchange student program in Dongguk University has some loopholes to fix. First, international students criticized the administrative management in that the amount of information given to them through e-mail differs depending on who the advisor is. Vlad Kovacs, an exchange student from University of Wisconsin, River Falls in USA, said, “My French roommate seems to receive more information than I do and even if I do receive an e-mail, it arrives relatively slow.”
Also, while there are hundreds of exchange students, there is only one faculty member in each department; America, China, Japan, and other countries including European countries. As a consequence, it takes too much time to make inquiries. Not only that, it is difficult to get information from other staff members since they are not fluent in speaking foreign language.
|An international student and Korean students are meeting up in the Language Exchange Program orientation.|
|/Photograph by Im Chae-hyun|
Complaints on the administrative department from Korean students
Korean students agreed with the problem of the administrative department. Park Jae-Deok (Senior, Department of Mechanical, Robotics, and Energy Engineering), who went to New Mexico State University in America during the autumn semester in 2015, said, “The faculty who dealt with the American universities did not give me information. When I had problems with making a dormitory contract, I asked him what to do, but he did not reply back even though he said he would. Instead, the faculty in the Europe Department helped me.”
Plus, Yang Ji-yeon (Senior, Economics), who is currently staying in Ecole de Management Bretagne Atlantique (EMBA) in France, stated, “In EMBA, exchange students must register for French National Health Insurance which requires an original copy of birth certificate. However, my friend only had a duplicated copy as she had already submitted the original copy to the Center for International Relations in Dongguk. She sent an e-mail to the Center but still had not got a reply yet.” Yang added, “A number of Dongguk University students felt that the Center gave up on them as soon as they left abroad.”
Credit approval system is criticized due to its complexity and vagueness
Furthermore, Korean students pointed out that receiving approval of the credits they took in foreign universities is difficult. Students are ought to submit the study report and academic transcript to the Center after they come back to Korea.
Nevertheless, the standard is vague and the faculty is criticized by the students for not providing enough information. Kim You-jeong (Senior, Media Communication) explained, “What most students worry about is that the credits they would receive in a foreign university might not be approved as major courses in Dongguk, which can become a problem in graduation.” She added, “Actually, approving the credits as major courses is totally up to the professors, and the Center suggests students to visit them to get confirmed before going out. However, it is nearly impossible since the class syllabus is not prepared in foreign universities until students go out.”
Lack of information about exchange student system both online and offline
Students struggle in finding the information. The information in the English, Chinese, and Japanese versions of Dongguk website is limited. In the English version, the most recent article was written in March 2016, and most of the articles were only related to Buddhism activities. Compared to the Korean version, which has eight different cells such as academic affairs, scholarship, and international, the English version only has one: Notice. Even worse, there is no Notice banner in Chinese and Japanese ones. Kao Zong Vang, an exchange student from University of Wisconsin, River Falls in the USA, said, “I cannot find the information I need and have to use an online translator.”
In addition, when trying to register for courses, which should be done online, it is hard for international students as the program is totally in Korean.
Difficulty in finding information applies to Korean students, too. The school provides the general information, but not the specific information of each foreign university. Park Jae-deok said, “In order to register for courses, I had to send e-mails to all the faculty in the foreign university because I did not match the conditions, while it had to be done before the semester began. It would have been much better if our school told me who the foreign manager of the College of Engineering was in the first place.”
Difficulties in participating in lectures and class activities
Moreover, the lack of English lectures is another problem international students face. Even though it is written as “English Lecture” on the Udrims class syllabus, many professors carry on lectures in Korean. Divagar said, “I had to change five lectures since English lectures were actually done in Korean.”
Also, they feel many Korean students tend to avoid doing teamwork together. Regarding this, Huh Eun-jin (Junior, Philosophy) said, “Personally, I am highly favorable to international students in that they came to Korea to study. Still, doing teamwork is a different issue. I do understand them, but they might put a negative influence on receiving a good grade since they are not good at Korean.”
Not enough interaction between international and Korean students
Some international students maintained there are not enough opportunities to get along with Korean students. There are several programs that international and Korean students can interact like “Dongguk BUD”.
However, “Dongguk BUD” has a problem, not every buddy seems to be active and helpful. Vlad from USA, a participant of the program, said, “When the semester begins, we need help from buddies to issue an alien registration, a bank account, and a mobile phone. However, there are some buddies who are seniors or have taken a leave of absence from school.” Divagar also mentioned, “In my case, I only met my buddy one time. While the buddy is expected to provide help with several administrative work like making an alien registration, a bank account, and a mobile phone, I did not receive any help.”
School faces practical difficulties in reorganizing the system
The problem regarding administrative management is mostly caused by the small number of faculty. Since the average number of exchange students in one language area is 60, the Center for International Relations receives tens of phone calls a day. “We do face a shortage of human resources. However, the condition is the same for every office. So, it is hard to request for more staff members,” said Jung Jae-hoon, the assistant manager of the Center.
Regarding the lack of information on the English version of the school website, Jung stated, “The website is not designed for enrolling international students but for student who are willing to study at Dongguk University. Therefore, we only update information about application, registration, and news that can advertise our university.”
Also, the Center is discussing with the school concerning the problems of course registering and the confusion of English lectures. However, building a course registering site in English is complex because it requires not only translation but also a new platform. As an alternative, the faculty of the Center gathers the list of classes from students and registers their classes for them.
Meanwhile, the English lecture confusion is the most problematic hardship for foreign exchange students. The Center has kept on discussing the problem and starting from this semester, the school administration decided to monitor professors related to the issue. Nevertheless, the monitoring system could not be held strictly since the professors have the freedom to teach in their own method.
Concerning “Dongguk BUD,” the Center admitted there are some students who do not do their duties in a good faith. Jung mentioned, “Dongguk BUD” is a voluntary work students do without any return. We do not give the students scholarships or other benefits. So, it is not likely for us to check if they are doing well or not.” The Center is working to find a resolution, but in the meantime, they could only change the buddies or let one diligent buddy take care of two international students.
|The Chinese and Japanese exchange students are attending the Language Exchange Program orientation.|
|/Photograph by Im Chae-hyun|
Dongguk is trying to improve but still has a long way to go
The Center for International Relations is setting up plans of improvement to find a solution to the exchange student problems. They are continuously having discussions with the school to make an English version of the course registering site and to settle the problems of English lectures. Until the discussion reaches an end, the Center has made a plan B to meet the pressing needs of exchange students. It is to increase the chances of Korean students and foreign exchange students to meet and make them help each other.
Though it has some loopholes, the fact that “Dongguk BUD” is helping foreign exchange students to adjust to a new environment is undeniable. They pick up their buddies from the airport, help them get a bank account, a foreign registration card, a cell phone, and most of all, be their friends who can listen and try to help with any hardships. Also, the Language Exchange Program, where one international student and one to four Korean students make a group and exchange their languages and culture, lets foreign exchange students learn more about Korea.
Furthermore, the Center has organized events to make foreign exchange students get to know each other well. Every April, Dongguk University holds a hiking contest to commemorate the death of the students who fought against tyranny in the past. The Center made an event for a group of international students to join the hiking contest and let them wear the same group T-shirt to feel unity. Lu Ke-an, an exchange student from Shih Chien University in Taiwan, who participated in the hiking contest, said, “I was able to make a lot of friends since many exchange students came.” Moreover, the Center concluded an agreement with many external enterprises to give opportunities for international students to get together and experience Korean culture. For instance, last September 9th, the students went to a K-pop concert and on September 23rd, they went to a Friendship Tour initiated by Hyundai Motor Company.
Dongguk University has an exchange agreement with all five continents of the world and has recorded 444th, the highest ranking ever in the world’s university evaluation. As the world is focusing their eye on Dongguk, the school will have to listen to the voices of students. The exchange student program which was created to strengthen the interchange with other countries should not become a barrier to communication.
Lim Ji-soo, Im Chae-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
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