Korean students’ hearts are often filled with joy and expectations once they hear that they got accepted to Underwood International College of Yonsei University. Little do they know, hundreds of reading materials, hours of discussion sessions, and seemingly endless pages of English writing would be awaiting them the following year. Some Korean students feel exhausted and dissatisfied for various reasons; Korean Students sometimes have difficulty catching up with the lectures, discussions, and assignments. For those who have ever felt this way, trust me – you are not alone. I myself was, and still am, another student in the long queue of lost and dumbfounded Koreans in the UIC. Having been educated and residing in Korea for the entirety of my life, my background knowledge on Hegel or the Enlightenment was virtually non-existent. Moreover, writing critically about a given article was too much a difficult task for me to handle. And wasn’t alone in having trouble with keeping up. Many of my Korean friends were also lost, spending more than half of the time looking up the words they did not know in the readings as opposed to using that time to actually understanding the readings. The Korean education system is known for its focus simple memorization and college application preparations. Thus, UIC’s liberal arts approach of learning and critical thinking is often an “out-of-the-box” experience for native Korean Students.
Back to the focal point of this article, I do not consider myself to be a “role model” UIC student. There are many Korean students who have higher GPAs or are smarter than me. Nevertheless, the following contents are invaluable lessons I have learned during my three years in this college and I hope that they be a use to not just Korean Students, but other UIC students as well.
1. Never be afraid to speak with your professors
In Korea, there is an old saying that “the king, the teacher, and your parents are one(君師父一體).” The meaning of this idiom is that one should be grateful to the three figures, because one benefits so much from them. This idiom shows that, although Korean students are respectful toward their teachers, they also feel some distance towards the teachers as well. This sentiment intensifies when Korean students go to college because professors are perceived to be bigger figures than middle school or high school teachers. This is the reason why many Korean students shy away from their professors. My advice, however, is that there is no need to be shy towards professors in UIC. Whenever I had difficulty understanding something in class, I visited the UIC professors who were happy to aid me. The impressions that I got from these visits were that the UIC professors are kind and open-minded. They welcome your questions, and are willing to help you during their office hours or via emails. Nobody can be of a bigger help in understanding the classes than the very professors of the courses you are taking.
2. Seek help from your friends, especially international ones
In university, friends are often your closest allies. Of course, as mentioned above, UIC professors are happy and willing to help you. The downside is that the professors have busy schedules, so they might not be able to answer your questions every time. Moreover, the language barrier is something that the professor might not be able to help you with. This is where friends come in. The friend you make at UIC can help explain the contents discussed in the lecture and may even be able to translate some of the content for you. The main reason for the emphasis on “international friends” is due to the fact that, unlike Korean students, international students are often more familiar with the contents taught during the lecture. As an added bonus, one can improve English skills by conversing lots with those international friends.
3. Always stretch your thoughts
One of the comments I received quite frequently when I submitted my writing assignments or essays in freshman year was “So what?”. During middle school book report contests, I mostly summarized the books that I read and filled the final page with my own thoughts. However, the expectations are quite different in UIC and college in general. One needs to build his or her own argument in their essays, and that means creating new ideas that might not be written in any existing book. First, start by accumulating basic facts from primary sources. Then ask questions regarding those basic facts and find sources that can answer your questions. Once cohesive thought is formed after organizing those questions and answers, the thought becomes the backbone of one’s argument. For Korean students, this is a painful process akin to using unused muscles. Nevertheless, the process is not impossible and only gets easier through time.
The three tips listed above does not guarantee that one’s college life will go flawlessly if one were to follow all of them. Despite being a university in Korea, Yonsei UIC is an English-speaking liberal arts college and has all the difficulties accompanying one. Nevertheless, the takeaway here is that with endeavor and some assistance from kind helping hands, a journey in UIC does not have to be as challenging as it might seem. I hope that these few tips can help many students, Korean and foreign, enjoy their time in this college. Good luck!