Struggling to study in Korea
I am studying at one of the best universities in Korea. It’s not easy to study here, in academic or daily life.
Academically I can study without many problems since all classes are conducted in English but when it comes to research it’s not easy because of language barriers.
How about daily life? Most Korean students at KAIST are rather unkind to foreign students for two major reasons: the language barrier and Korean students’ unwillingness to embrace or mix with different cultures.
First, language often provides a communication barrier, resulting in miscommunication. Korean students do not consider foreign students’ existence, because it’s a lot easier to exclude them.
I remember when I first came to the laboratory. I tried to be nice by greeting someone beside me. He was one of the nicest people in my laboratory, but I stopped talking when I saw several students put headphones on as if they were being disturbed. Things were different when they talked to one another; they laughed and made loud noises. I concluded probably they did not like me as I was speaking in English.
When we had a group discussion in class, Koreans chose to ``discuss among themselves” and then give me the work later on. I didn’t take part in the discussion, just the Koreans and then they gave me, the one and only foreigner in the group, some work.
Before I came to Korea, I was a cheerful person and loved to meet other people. But eventually I feel I have changed my personality to enjoy spending time in front of the computer and working alone rather than meeting people or communicating with them.
As this is my first year in Korea, I still try to greet others and start conversations only to stop them, as there are no warm responses from my colleagues in the lab. Before I came to Korea, I also loved to learn a lot of things from people around me. I raised questions and was active, but since coming here, I have become a passive person, just waiting until it’s my turn. Koreans don’t seem to feel comfortable with questions, and are slow to criticize. Different opinions are something abnormal here.
I feel like an outsider in this society. The language barrier is a big problem if you come to study in Korea. Study aside, you need to know the Korean language to be able to be accepted in society here.
Therefore I would like to suggest foreign students who want to study in Korea need to know the language. Daily life needs Korean. I am trying to learn the language to be accepted by society. I believe they will be nicer if I am good at their language.
Second, Korean students are not ready to embrace or willing to mix with different cultures. I would say I have a totally different culture from Koreans. I am a Moslem, and use hijab, a scarf that covers my hair, and I have several restrictions, such as not eating pork and not drinking alcohol.
But when we eat together and go drinking, they often become “kind enough to offer me alcohol.” They even say, “Drinking could make you cool and you could be our friend.” For the first time in my life I heard people saying that in this world, how people can select their friends by drinking alcohol or not.
I think we should be friends with people by their personality not by the different culture. I strongly suggest this country needs to learn how to embrace many different cultures and think being different is normal.
This experience was strengthened by a recent survey conducted by the Korean government. According to the Korean Multiculturalism Inventory conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family on 2,500 citizens between December and January, only 36.2 percent of Koreans agreed to the coexistence of various cultures in the country. Some 86 percent of Koreans also said having Korean ancestors was important for the nation’s identity, attaching greater importance to ``racial homogeneity” than Japan’s 72.2 percent, the United States’ 55.2 percent and Sweden’s 30 percent.
The survey also showed, in general, people experiencing events related to multiculturalism or those more frequently meeting foreigners are more open-minded.
I was born in Indonesia, a country which has multicultural ethnicities. I always thought that that there was ``diversity in unity,” and always respect differences. Differences are beautiful, like a park full of many different colors and flowers. I think this kind of value should be learned here.
Korea needs to be more open minded. Don’t exclude people since they are different; embrace multiculturalism.
The writer is a Ph.D. student in KAIST majoring in nuclear and quantum engineering with her research mostly related to nuclear safety. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.