Underwood International College began its very first semester in March of 2006, making it almost 14 years since the birth of our school. As the very first international, English-based college in South Korea, the school’s mission to integrate Korean students with the global sphere was quite unprecedented. Based in an extremely homogenous country not necessarily known for high English literacy, the school would face many challenges in realizing its mission.
Issues that international students face at UIC
Some of the common complaints made by non-Korean students at UIC include that there is a lack of information provided in English–even though this is supposedly the official language of the school. Also, the school provides minimal support for international students who have no family in Korea for issues like storing of their luggage during school breaks, forcing them to look for off-campus solutions that may be inconvenient and expensive, when they have to move out of the dormitories every semester.
Alumni Lucie Bénévise, who entered UIC in fall of 2015 and majored in Information and Interaction Design, shared some details from her experience as an international student. She recalled the frustration among the international student body when it was revealed that the Korean students had been divided into “homeroom” groups that held events together, while the international students were not made aware of the existence of this system at all. Issues such as this have created a certain division between the international student and Korean student bodies. However, she notes that along with the increase in the number of foreign students over the years, “the school has worked really hard on the integration of international students,” and overall, she is impressed by what the school has done–but mentions that there is still room for improvement.
Ways that international students deal with these issues
Luckily, there are several support systems in place to help. Student organizations and clubs have risen over the years to help each other out, such as UGC (Underwood Global Community), which holds events to help international students and Korean students mingle, and organizes airport pickup events for students coming to Korea for the first time. Also, FSU (Foreign Student Union) provides international students with the information they need to thrive at Yonsei and answers any questions students may have. The Office of International Affairs is making efforts to outsource any programs that the school can not yet implement themselves, such as free personal counseling in English for undergraduate international students. Aside from these groups and organizations, another support system comes from the solidarity that forms between international students from all over the world, that comes from their shared struggles in a foreign country. Furthermore, the Korean students of Yonsei are typically more than happy to help out their international classmates and peers.
Improvements that UIC has made over the years
Over the course of my own two and a half years at UIC, I have witnessed a significant improvement in the school’s efforts to cater to their international students: speakers at the mandatory English chapel sessions used to speak in Korean more often than not, information about scheduled fire drills were not translated into English, and it was not uncommon for UIC professors to teach classes in Korean instead. But through cooperation between students, student organizations, and the school itself, many of these issues have been largely resolved. In order to continue to help the school help them, international students should be proactive and ask for help when needed. In an interview, the UIC Dean, Professor Taeyoon Sung expressed his eagerness to support student activities that can harmonize UIC students of all nationalities together, and emphasized that UIC’s strength comes from the globalization that students go through from being exposed to more cultures and backgrounds. He revealed plans to expand the resources available for all UICians, including adding more academic advisors who can help solve not only academic but also personal issues for students. Further, he encouraged all students to “try to be open to other students, administration staff, and faculty members,” and said that “by cooperating more, you can become really globalized and talented graduates.”
Despite UIC’s foreigner friendliness evolution over the past years, there is still some growth to be desired. But UIC is working hard to become a truly international space for global-minded students to come together, and in the meantime, international students can rely on each other, their fellow Korean students, and student organizations in order to make the most of their time at this school.