Apathy recently reared its ugly head once again as a loud and largely partisan debate on the decade-old policy that assigned English/Korean language use to certain ratios of courses offered by the Department of Humanities and Social Studies official bubbled to the surface. On one side was the Student government. On the other the school administration. The fact that it was the administration that took it upon itself to voice positions that sounded most inclusive of the international portion of the student body and not the student representatives who, at least on paper, are supposed to treat all KAIST students equally marked a new perigee in as far as intercultural student relations at KAIST are concerned.
There were those who were of the opinion that the presence of international students at KAIST shouldn’t weigh that much when setting academic policies at KAIST and, arguing that it is the job of International students to adapt to KAIST and not the other way round, took to the cover of anonymity offered by Bamboo to air their views. They cited the apparent vacillation with which international students approached the issue of Korean language proficiency and in the process exposed a side of the “Adapting to KAIST” debate that rarely receives the amount of attention it deserves.
KAIST as an institution has done its part. The administration is always introducing policies and programs designed to mold its populace into the diverse but cohesive student body that characterizes the campuses of its peers around the world. Its efforts have been for naught, however, thanks largely to the parochial attitudes some of the students both international and Korean posses.
The non-inclusive policies of the student run organizations are most quintessential. If, say advertisement for school events -such as the recent camping and barbecue on school grounds- or the advertisements posted by social media by the Undergraduate Student council are anything to go by, international students are not interested in participating in school events. Otherwise what explains the fact that all communications of the same are done exclusively in Korean? It is quite telling that the few clubs that have allowed international students into their fold have done so to take advantage of the monetary incentive policy recently adopted by the school and designed specifically to encourage clubs to be more receptive to international membership - proving that things aren’t as rigid as the galant keyboard warriors that roam the Bamboo forest would have us think.
On the other side of the spectrum however are those who lend credence to the position that international student at KAIST are not interested in fully integrating. They are the ones who in between complaining at how KAIST is different from other institutions both within and without Korea. Last time I checked such were individuals, KAIST was an institution and Korea was a country. Only the most arrogant and egoistic of individuals would demand that it is KAIST (and by extension Korea) that needs to do all the grunt work to accommodate them while they rest on the laurels complaining at how slow things are happening.
In her determination to accommodate the attempts at courtship by the determined but a close to naive Bassanio, Portia in William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Merchant of Venice has her aides play a lute as Bassanio has his stab at the lottery designed by Portia’s late dad to weed out jokers. Nerissa is in on it from the get-go. She eggs Bassanio on as he moves from one casket to the other and in effect saves him from the fate that befell her other suitors. If KAIST is to usher in a new golden age of intercultural relations, this is the role the student population needs to play - complementing the school administration's efforts, not watering them down.