True globalization of KAIST has remained a tantalizing dream for the numerous ex-presidents that have passed through the institution. A great deal of change aimed at globalization has been implemented by them in the past decades, ranging from policies that changed KAIST’s curricula to ones that changed the student body and the campus. Yet the detachment of the international community and the persisting linguistic homogeneity of the student body belie the facade of globalization. The recently inaugurated president, Sung-Chul Shin, seems to have his own agenda in mind for KAIST’s globalization in the form of an “English-Only Zone” (EOZ), the draft for which has recently been released.
The draft itself is a bare outline at this point, only containing guidelines for future development; the content shouldn’t be treated as final decisions, as the details will most likely be altered and ironed out. Nevertheless, what has been proposed is interesting, to say the least. The draft states that an entire northern dormitory will be remodeled as an EOZ, and all undergraduate students will be required to live at the dorm for at least a semester. It will be co-ed, and benefits will be given to students who live in the dorm without any penalty points.
From what could be inferred from the draft, it seems most likely that the EOZ will be implemented in a way that will penalize students for speaking languages other than English. It is not surprising that this didn’t bode well with the vast majority of students. The majority of KAIST students live on campus, and dormitories are often the only place where students can unwind and relax in privacy. It would be unfair to take this freedom away. It also raises questions on how the school is going to enforce the policy. How are they going to monitor the students? How are they going to penalize students? How are they going to do all this without infringing on the privacy of the students? The only two obvious ways of enforcing the policy would be to install covert listening devices throughout the dorm or to encourage students to report each other, the former of which is illegal, and the latter nonsensical. If the EOZ policy is to be carried out, the school should redesign it in a way that wouldn’t impinge on the freedom of the students. After all, dormitories should be a place of quiet refuge and privacy, not an extension of an English classroom.
Besides, the policy would be a logistical nightmare. The EOZ policy outlines that all undergraduates are required to stay in the EOZ dormitory for at least one semester before they graduate, and that one northern dorm will be remodeled to become the new EOZ dormitory. One northern dorm accommodates just under 300 people (which is 600 people per year), and there are approximately 1000 students in each undergraduate class, already spelling out a management disaster and a cumbersome application process for the EOZ dorms.
Most importantly, what is most glaring in the policy draft is the inappropriate perception of international students within KAIST. International students should not be seen as private English tutors who are expected to converse with Korean students after being crammed into the same dormitory. If KAIST policymakers are truly striving for globalization, the perception of international students needs to change for the better; they should not be seen as foreigners, but as students just like any other Korean student. Until they realize this, KAIST will remain as unaccommodating and alienating as ever for the international population, and policies will be bound to be short-sighted and superficial at best.