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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Foreigner Population Reduction?

Okay, so I decided to stop in the lobby of my dorm building on the way back in from having dinner with my friend at a small bunshik place just outside the university, when I saw a copy of friday’s Joongang Daily. For those of you who want to keep abreast of news in Korea, Joongang is a decent way to do it (though they also seem to have a lot of articles about stuff in other countries, but if you’re like me and you like international news, then it’s pretty cool). Feeling withdrawals from not being able to connect to Associated Press on my iTouch (because of a serious lack of Wi-fi in and around Korea), I picked it up and read.

According to Joongang Daily, the Ministry of Education has decided that new regulations need to go into affect that govern the number of overseas students coming into Korea. Apparently, instead of seeing a 375% growth in foreign exchange students over the course of 5 years as a good thing, the Korean government decided that they need to have better rules about who can and can not come in.

Now, in all fairness, the majority of these international students come from China, which isn’t a problem, except that recently a group of 10 Chinese students entered South Korea as international students and then began to work illegal based on forged documents. That being the case, the Korean government got a little scared it might happen again and decided that they needed to aim for quality and not quantity. This means that starting next semester (at the earliest), Korean Universities like the University of Ulsan, are going to have language requirements and even potential aptitude tests.

While this might sound like good news, meaning that our new international brothers and sisters are going to be high quality citizens, the level that they are going to require seems a bit high. Apparently, you are going to have to have a TOPIK score of Level 4. I don’t know if anyone reading this article have attempted the Level 4 exam, but I have, and it’s not easy. By it’s own explanation, the TOPIK is defined like this:

– Perform fundamental language functions necessary for daily life, visiting public facilities, keeping social relationships, and general affairs

– Understand parts of news and articles

– Understanding and use of general social and abstract topics with relative

accuracy and fluency

– Understanding and use of Korean social and cultural contents on the basis of useful idiomatic expressions and representative Korean culture

To do the things listed here, a person has to have an active working vocabulary of 4000 Korean words, and have a mental grammar bank of at least 300. Koreans, unfortunately, don’t know how to teach that much, and as such, any foreigners attempting that level generally have to come here to do so. A friend of mine from Australia is a Korean major at home, and 5 years into studying the Korean language, came here to focus on using it. She and I took the test together, and though I failed both level 3 and 4, my score was half of hers. She also failed the level 4, but passed the level 3, receiving encouraging words of “press forward, you’re almost there.”

Basically, the foreign student population in Ulsan, and even across the whole of Korea, is likely to drop significantly. Because foreign students are going to have to have a very strong grasp on the Korean language before being allowed into the country, the only students coming here will be the die hard fanatics. 5 years studying Korean still didn’t pass the test.

However, there might be hope. The regulation stipulates that a Toefl score of 550+ will also qualify you for study in Korea, and if that is applied to all exchange students and not just the ones from non-English speaking countries, then there is a chance. Toefl 550 is like child’s play for some from English speaking countries like America, Canada or England. In that case, the only thing holding students back would be their academic performance in their home countries.

I’ll end with a good thought. These regulations aren’t just putting pressure on students who want to study in Korea, but also putting pressure on the universities. Because of this new system, the government is paying more attention to how the international student community is being handled by there respective universities. In the Seoul Metro area alone, 22 universities were reprimanded this semester for “inappropriately managing”* their international students, and some (12) of those universities had a 75-94% dropout rate. So, for the incoming students who do make the cut, at least they’ll have something to look forward to.

At least there’s that.

*Note: inappropriate management is defined by “50 or more overseas students should have at least one employee devoted to looking after their needs, while those with 200 or more should establish an independent organization for them.” Unfortunately for the University of Ulsan, there has never been enough international students for this to change any of the faculty organization.