2019-11-27 20:12 (Wed)
Are the Korean Language Policy Changes Necessary?
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Are the Korean Language Policy Changes Necessary?
  • Berhane Weldegebriel / Dong Min Kim
  • Approved 2019.11.18 13:08
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The revised Korean language graduation requirements for international undergraduates, which seeks to help students improve their Korean proficiency and prepare for the mandatory Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) exam, will take effect beginning this semester. The academic policy change is among the major efforts of KAIST towards an envisioned global campus. Are the policy changes necessary to pursue these motives, or is it an unavailing move that only puts more burden on the students?

Wrong Solution to the Right Problem

By Berhane Weldegebriel Staff Reporter

The huge linguistic and cultural barrier that exists between Korean and international students has always been an issue in the KAIST campus. This long-standing problem is a thorn in the side of this university, with its goal to achieve a global standing. Various solutions to better assimilate the two groups are often discussed, the most recent being the school’s newly introduced policy on Korean language graduation requirements. However, the policy change has not been welcomed; instead, it has created more confusion and raised concerns.

Here is how it goes: in the old system, international students were required to take the first two beginner Korean courses, and then had the choice to take Korean 3 and Korean 4 as elective classes, so long as they got TOPIK Level 2 before graduation. In the new system, however, students are required to participate in a language camp that’s supposed to cover materials from the first two Korean courses, and then jump straight to Korean 3 and Korean 4 — which are mandatory required courses now. The alternative is to obtain a TOPIK Level 1 score. This means that students who could not join the camp will have to take the first two Korean courses or self study the basics of the language, which would be an extra burden. This change has raised a lot of eyebrows, and rightly so.

First of all, the proposed Korean Language Camp was initially planned to be held in July and August, which was problematic because the new students would have had to come to Korea before their first semester started. This was worrying as the majority of students rely on the monthly stipend from KAIST to cover living costs, and they wouldn’t even receive this money before the official start of the semester. So, in an email sent to the incoming freshmen last May, it was announced that the language camp had been rescheduled to January 2020. The postponement was supposed to resolve the issues raised by students, and it did answer questions related to financial issues. But now, students have to stay on campus during the cold winter break. That’s not the end of it. Because of the scheduling of the camp, the students will have to wait for two weeks after the end of the fall semester before the camp starts. In addition, Lunar New Year is celebrated within the camp period, which means that there is another chunk of time the students have to stay without their families. This can be hard for freshmen who will have their first experience of KAIST life away from their loved ones, especially during the holiday season.

It is generally agreed that something needs to change if KAIST envisions to become a bilingual campus. But it is doubtful that the winter camp will provide a solution. Instead, the school should focus on providing entertaining and interactive programs to encourage students and aid their learning. In that regard, the language exchange program designed by the KAIST Undergraduate Association seems to be a good example. The official language classes that are currently available mostly follow a textbook approach; thus, students consider it an extra load that they don’t want to carry. It is programs such as language exchanges that will motivate students to learn Korean, not enforced stays at school during a period that is meant to be a holiday.


A Shortcut to a Bilingual Campus?

By Dong Min Kim Junior Staff Reporter

The revised Korean language graduation requirements caused a stir among the international community, and much of their understandable discontent stems from the irony of the revision. While for a worthy cause of integrating international students into the campus, the toughened language requirements will hamper students’ studies and, naturally, their assimilation into the country. The four-week “Korean Language Camp” received its fair share of criticism; as one international freshman commented, “I don’t think I’ll be able to invest myself in the Korean language in such a short period of time.” While the camp’s instigators boast of its streamlined contents, it is doubtful whether the camp can provide students with an ample grasp of Korean in just one month. Furthermore, the arguably excessive obligations of taking Korean 3 and Korean 4 may leave students frustrated and demotivated on the true purpose of their studies at the university.

This revision is said to be a step towards making KAIST a bilingual campus. “Bilingual”, in itself, simply means speaking two languages fluently. But it connotes greater values of breaking down the language barrier and fostering the integration of different masses on campus. It is reasonable to assume that the instigators of the new language requirements anticipate such outcomes. The irony, however, lies in the lack of negotiation with KISA before the final decision. If one truly strives for an international campus, one must tackle the roots of a divisive environment by fully communicating with those affected by the change.

Advocates of the revision maintain the fairness of the new language requirements, asserting that both Korean and international students must improve in the language they are lacking in. However, the reason for which Koreans learn English and international students learn Korean is inherently dissimilar. English is the primary language used in academia; students are incentivized to improve their English to aid their studies. On the other hand, Korean is not. While learning the native language of the country one resides in exhibits both respect and a determination to integrate, forcefully increasing the requirements will not only inflict unnecessary stress on the students, but also undermine the very spirit of learning Korean.

The ultimate vision of a fully bilingual campus is commendable, but the path to such success should not entail shortcuts. Enacting new requirements is straightforward and will bring forth visible change, good or bad, yet the extent to which they lead to the said purpose is questionable. Steps towards idealistic ambitions are often criticized, and it may be a hasty move to rebuke a policy even before its enforcement. However improbable, the “Korean Language Camp” may turn out to be a dazzling success and contribute to the long-term establishment of a bilingual campus. Nevertheless, the current revision of the Korean language graduation requirements reeks of irony and the desire for a shortcut to an ambitious goal.


Community Insights

"The change, although late, is very crucial. It will play a key role in [KAIST's] lasting effort to facilitate the integration between Korean and international students. The only concern I have is with the course design; I believe the Korean language courses in KAIST are too technical and lack practicality."

- Yonas Girma, School of Electrical Engineering

"I think the Korean camp is very interesting and useful. But the timing does not really make sense, because after we finish a semester, we have two weeks of doing nothing. Then we have the one month camp, and a one month vacation. The camp separates our vacation into two parts. I suggest that we move the camp right after the fall semester ends or right before the spring semester starts."

- Le Viet Thanh Long, School of Freshman

"During this period, you only concentrate on Korean, which I think is more effective."

- Aidyn Aluadin, School of Freshman

"Personally, I think it was not a necessary measure. Korean 1 and 2 are enough to have a basic command and be able to survive in Korea. Some of the international students are not going to stay in Korea after graduating anyway, so I believe letting the students choose whether to pick more advances courses or not was much better."

- Dinmukhamed Mailibay, School of Electrical Engineering

"The good part is that it would help the students learn the language and the Korean culture very well, which will make their life in Korea relatively [easier], and it helps them greatly if [ever] they decide to work here. The bad part is that it seems like the rule has not taken into account [the fact] that KAIST students are very busy and have a lot of work."

- Mintesnot Shiferaw, School of Electrical Engineering


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