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Multicultural Korean Universities

Posted June. 16, 2007 04:57,   


19-year-old Chinese student Yaoyao at Underwood International College won the grand prize from Yonsei University last month; the first time a foreigner has been so honored. She said that Korean students have a tendency to be cliquish.

With more than 1,000 students with diverse nationalities, it is fair to say that Korean universities are globalized. However, it is not true globalization in a sense because Korean students tend to stay in small groups and do not actively mingle with foreign students. So much so that Korean and non-Korean students are effectively separate in their own small groups in cafeterias and libraries.

Korean universities are actively working to improve the situation. Departing from the existing strategy focusing on learning the language and culture of the U.S., including “English Only Classes,” they are rushing to adopt “multicultural campus” policies that are aimed at educating students in the languages and cultures of various countries.


A Saudi Arabian exchange student at Seoul National University wanted to be part of Korean traditional percussion ensemble or martial art club but gave up after knowing that he would have to drink a lot to be a member of such clubs. He said, “Many foreign students fail to become familiar with other cultures, like religion and customs, even though they have studied for a long time in Korea.” Yonsei University decided to mix such students and plans to launch “mandatory” multicultural education initiatives by making a multicultural seminar mandatory for exchange students.

The class will be composed of some 15 students, less than half of who will be Korean students; the rest will be foreigners with diverse nationalities.

The activities of the class will become an essential criterion of the screening process for the school’s outgoing exchange students. Therefore, given that experience as an exchange student or language study overseas is considered a must these days, students will have to mingle with foreigners, who will make up half of the class.

The class is also mandatory for foreign students so that they can have the opportunity to meet Korean students.

Exchanges Outside the Class-

Multicultural societies, including U.S. universities, prefer exchange programs to occur outside the classroom. For example, Stanford University provides one-on-one English conversation and cultural education to foreign students by using retirees as volunteers.

Many foreign students get close to the volunteers and with the school and society at large by taking trips with the volunteers’ families and going to parties with their friends.

Korea University, Sungkyunkwan University, and Hanyang University have all embarked on out-of-class “multi-cultural education” initiatives. Korea University will complete the construction of the “Dongwon (Global) Leadership Center” in August and allocate an entire floor to a language exchange center and foreign language café so that students can exchange various cultures and languages.

Hanyang University established a language exchange program in its “International Zone,” while Sungkyunkwan University established satellite broadcasting facilities in its “e+Global Zone” so that students could have access to programs in five languages (English, Chinese, Japanese, German and Russian).

Multicultural Universities Are Only in Seoul-

Korean Universities are actively adopting such multicultural policies because they have become in essence multiracial universities thanks to the influx of large numbers of foreign students.

However, foreign students are largely concentrated in Seoul and the metropolitan area in terms of their number and diversity, according to an overview of foreign students in five universities in Seoul and five national universities in provincial areas (including undergraduate, advanced degree course and language course schools).

Seoul National University has the most diverse pool of foreign students (1,327 students from 72 countries), followed by Yonsei University with 1,892 (the largest number) from 68 countries, and Korea University, with 1,358 students from 59 countries.

However, the figures are lower than half in provincial universities. Chonnam National University has 492 foreign students from 22 countries, followed by Pusan National University with 468 from 29 countries, Kyungpook National University with 423 from 26 countries, Kangwon National University with 335 from 13 countries, and Chonbuk National University with 245 from 16 countries.