Underwood International College (UIC) is known as “Gook-jae-dae (International College)” in Korean. However, unofficially among UIC students, our college is also playfully referred to as “Gwa-jae-dae.” The word “Gwa-jae” means assignment, so that implicitly sets the equation “Underwood International College = assignment college”. This is a simple play-on-words of not-so-playful memories of the intensiveness and abundance of UIC requisite course assignments. Yet, their demanding nature is not confined to the assignments but also describes the courses themselves.
UIC requisite courses are called ‘Common Curriculum,’ also abbreviated to ‘CC.’ They include courses on a variety of liberal arts topics, spanning history, philosophy, language, science and data analysis. Some people might feel skeptical towards these courses that at first glance do not seem to be related to one another. Even the undergraduates who are accepted to UIC may question why those courses are mandatory and require a lot of workload when they seem irrelevant to their majors.
To provide an explicit answer to this puzzle, we can credit the aim of liberal arts colleges (LAC) as the reason for the existence of CC. Generally, the goal of LAC is to help students cultivate their ability to approach any problems or studies in an interdisciplinary and active manner. In approaching such problems, we know realistically that there are some solutions we cannot come up with solely based on ‘’knowledge” from our majors. In order to better approach the specific problem, we might need knowledge of other fields, cultures, or skills of working with other people. Of course, this does not undermine the importance of our majors.
CC can be roughly divided into two parts: social sciences and science/data. The social sciences courses of CC include World History/Philosophy/Literature, Eastern/Western Civilization, Freshman Writing Intensive Seminar (FWIS), Language and some UIC Seminars. Their shared objective is for students to learn different aspects of cultures or ideas. From personal experience, the World Literature class provided me with a whole new insight into Korean literature through analyzing it in English translations. I found out that the overall atmosphere of certain literature can change when translated into other languages. Regarding Japanese history, I believe it was a new experience especially for the Korean students who mostly learn about Japan from the focus of Korea in high school Korean history classes. In my FWIS class, I was able to thoroughly read about ‘Orientalism’ and discuss it with other students in class. From this, I was able to construct my own thoughts into words on how I disagree with the common notions of ‘identity.’ Taking these CC courses strengthened my ability to widen my point of view to think from a global perspective, as well as improving my skills to write and approach certain issues from the other parties’ perspectives.
The science/data courses comprise the second half of CC and include Research Design and Quantitative Methods (RDQM), Critical Reasoning (CR), and Science Literacy. Compared to the social sciences courses, these courses deal more heavily with data, science, and logical thinking. Take RDQM for instance: my research group was interested in how colleges affect the economy of college towns and thus, we focused on Songdo, the location of our International Campus. We then compared our data with other college towns in the US, which made for a very compelling research. Critical Reasoning focuses on how ‘logic’ works. Logic is a basic yet crucial skill students should possess, since it is the foundation of every study.
As can be seen, CC allows students to span their knowledge both on social sciences as well as science/data fields. On top of that, all CC courses allow students to think and participate actively while linking their interests with the materials learned from the course. They are not courses for students to perceive information in a passive manner. Rather, the knowledge and skills they acquire can be used effectively in any tasks or problems they face in the future. When asked about the purpose of CC, Professor Phillip Cho, who is in charge of the Social Cognition and World History courses, claimed: “UIC needs to reinvent the liberal arts for the 21st century. This means students must be as rigorously trained in science and engineering as in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. We are fast hurtling towards a world where the very fabric of life and society can be engineered and controlled. Imagine such a world lacking any humanistic vision that elevates us as more than just animal or machine labor. All the while, Nature also patiently waits to unexpectedly wipe us out. Those who have no scientific or technological understanding of how anything works will not only be left behind but exploited. In order for our students to lead a free society, they must be brilliant at everything to navigate the future. That is why we need a new Renaissance education.” CC may be the infamous source of stress and the name “Gwa-jae-dae,” but this curriculum is what leaves lasting academic impact on students as liberate arts graduates and truly makes us “Gook-jae-dae.”