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The Need for Interactive School Platforms
[Debate] Language Barrier - A means to Information Segregation
[ Issue 141 Page 7 ] Monday, November 09, 2015, 07:57:43 Simeneh Semegne International Reporter simeneh@kaist.ac.kr

In spite of KAIST’s notable effort to become a more global university, its on-campus bulletin and internal social platforms remain dominated by the Korean language. This is creating a challenge for the international community not only in accessing information but also in absorbing and becoming part of the campus culture. What could be a solution to this and who should be responsible for taking initiative?

Information access should be universal, but the language barrier in KAIST is prevalent and has played a significant role in why the Korean and international student bodies remain self-contained. Language differences hamper communication between Korean students and international students. The main root of the problem lies in how news regarding academics and administrative decisions is dispensed from different sources on campus. The posters and notices remain one-sided because the school is falling behind on taking initiatives to tend to its international community. Otherwise, important news updates are not readily available to foreigners not because of a lack of networking among themselves, but because that news is aimed at a rather narrow demographic audience. All students have the right to have access to full information and although the school does not hide information, it is difficult for most international students to access and interpret it.

The Online Timeplanner with Lectures, or OTL, is an example where the highest amount of discrepancy in English and Korean services are apparent. In addition to serving as a scheduling platform, the Korean version of the site lets students rate and assess classes and professors. Yet, the English counterpart is limited to the former. There is a threshold to the time the average international student needs in order to achieve a level of proficiency necessary to access basic information in Korean. How long would it take a foreigner to learn enough Korean to be able to take a glimpse of the posters on the notice board and actually understand what it says? Adapting to the system would be a grueling process, especially for students who enrolled for just four years of study, if they have to spend their first two or three years trying to achieve the language skills needed to utilize most, if not all, of the information dispersed on campus. Online services like ‘ARA’ and ‘Bamboo’ operate solely in Korean, with no English equivalent site that foreign students can fall back on. The school should therefore push forward with a better framework to let foreign students interact on similar levels and build similar forums that deliver the same contents as do the original websites.

It is the school’s responsibility to make basic information accessible to all of its students. All matters of the school’s work should be posted both in English and Korean. And, even though foreign students are required to know the basics of Korean, the proficiency level required to obtain important information and utilize it is too high for many international students to handle. But that is not to say students ought to shrug off their responsibility to stay updated on their own by means of improving their Korean proficiency. The problem is pronounced, even more so, with graduate and exchange students. It is unfair if all the information that their Korean peers found easy to access was masked from them because they lack the language proficiency to read the Korean emails their departments keep on sending them. Unlike KAIST, foreign students studying in other institutions in Korea agree to undergo intensive Korean preparation before they begin their academic endeavors. However, KAIST should admit its international pool of students under different terms. Students here are on a different footing. Studying the courses offered here are academically rigorous enough for most students, so KAIST should not entail that international students be further burdened with the task of independently updating themselves to important information.

The content available on KAIST Portal is at the moment sufficient enough for a student to get a sense of what goes on in campus. And even though KAIST offers nearly all of its classes in English, most non-academic activities that take place beyond the classroom are subject to students’ interests and may require newcomers to possess basic Korean communication skills. Of course a student would reap great benefits if he/she can converse perfectly with their club mates. But, let the student make the choice of the extent to which he/she wants to be involved. However, all the official updates from the school need to be put in a way all students would not have trouble understanding.

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