The KAIST Herald sat down with Myeongchan Ko, a member of the International Secretariat (IS) of the Undergraduate Student Council (USC), to discuss the recently implemented language exchange program.
Can you introduce the program for those who may be unfamiliar with it?
It’s a language exchange program where we match an international student and a Korean student so that they could learn each other’s language. International students get to learn Korean while Korean students get to learn a language of their choice and, at the same time, meet new people and make new friends.
Where did you get the idea for the program?
The idea isn’t actually wholly mine. It was one of the USC’s election pledges. The president, Yeong Deuk Cho, mentioned that it would be good to have something like this, and I was eventually put in charge of it.
Which aspect does the program place a bigger importance on: socializing or learning?
I wanted to place a larger focus on the educational part of the program rather than the social part. When we were conceptualizing the program, making a distinction between socializing and learning was important because we wanted to differentiate the program from the Buddy Program. So we aimed to build different dynamics between participants from what the Buddy Program had done. The Buddy Program builds one-way relationships where only the Korean student helps the international student, but we aimed to make both parties benefit from the program. We encourage our participants to socialize, but our main focus is learning.
Your program has been underway for half a semester now. Can you tell us about the results so far?
There are approximately 90 students participating. To be exact, there are 88 students in the chat room we created for the program. 55 international students and 54 Korean students applied, and we tried our best to match most of them. There were 19 languages you could learn in total. While matching participants, we noticed a relatively large demand for languages like Spanish and Japanese, so we couldn’t match all 110 people. But we were mostly successful in catering to all the participants, and matched around 90 students.
What happened to the unmatched participants?
We first apologized about the situation. Then, we asked the unmatched Korean students if they would be okay with learning another language that’s available, and if they said no, they had to reapply next time. If they said yes, we went through a secondary matching process and proceeded with the program.
What are the opinions of the participants so far?
We are going on a field trip tomorrow (November 3), and while surveying the number of students participating, we received a midpoint feedback. Most students reported that the program required a bigger commitment than expected.
We designed the program so that participants would be relatively independent and free to do anything when they meet each other, but some reported that it would be nice to be given topics for possible conversations. One person also said that it would be nice to have an orientation for the program, which we actually did have! Turns out he just didn’t attend it...
Did the participants join the program for socializing or learning?
I think most international students had socializing with Korean students in mind, while Korean students had mixed motivations. So it made sense that many international students reported that the time investment was surprisingly large.
You mentioned a field trip earlier on. Can you elaborate?
We were originally planning on letting them plan and go on an overnight trip together — expenses would be mostly covered by us. However, we realized the plan had many problems. Male-male partners and female-female partners would be fine, but if they were a male- female match, it may cause problems in terms of getting accommodation and etc. We also thought about grouping two male-female matches together, but we anticipated a scheduling issue. So, in the end, we decided to lead all the participants on a day trip. We are actually leaving tomorrow (November 3). We are going to Goon-san on a bus, and letting each pair freely roam and explore the city until dinner, when we will all eat together before heading back to campus.
Do participants receive a reward if they successfully complete the program?
At the end of the program, we have a presentation session where participants actually get to use their newly acquired language skills. At the same time, we can check if the program actually helped participants learn something. We have Vesta coupons and book coupons prepared for the three best couples. We also want to give them leadership mileages, but we haven’t talked to the leadership team yet. That actually reminds me, I need to go talk to them soon.
Is the USC preparing more programs that promote interactions between international students and Korean students?
We were planning on hosting a baek-il-jang (a Korean essay contest) for international students. We wanted Korean language professors to be judges for the event, but it didn’t work out, so it’s not going to be happening this semester. And, as you know, we started collecting student fees from international students starting this semester, so we have more upcoming programs for next semester.
Any concrete plans?
We are planning on organizing a bento picnic at the Open Space on a nice, warm spring day next semester. Details are yet to be confirmed.