It seems that the fall 2018 semester is remarkable for the international community at KAIST, as more than ninety undergraduate students were accepted, which is double the size of previous batches. I have personally experienced the influx of the new students, as the amount of paperwork to handle in the ISSS office has increased twofold.
While guiding freshmen through KAIST, I noticed that there is something special in observing the new faces on campus. Most of them are full of hope and ambition. Brimming with confidence and curiosity to explore the new surroundings, the new students are reminding us, the old-timers, of the times we were still fresh and energized. Just two years ago I was asking questions on which courses to take and which departments to minor in from my senior student, who seemed to me to be an all-knowing veteran. Now it feels weird to give such advice to incoming students, especially when you realize that you do not know all that much. Sometimes I feel the urge to take their rose colored glasses off, but then I realise that there is no need in speeding up the forthcoming stress season: the inevitable midterms week combined with culture shock will do the job.
Some people might wonder why so many international students have been accepted. In my view, there is no doubt that this was a part of the new president’s plan to increase the proportion of foreign students at KAIST. Although I do not protest against such ideas, I believe that simply increasing the number of one group will not facilitate the integration with another, much larger group. Considering the current miserable state of the international community, where KISA is no longer a student body but a “serve-free-pizza-once-in-a-semester” kind of organization, or where the recently banned KAIST Confessions group was the only place for internationals to post on Facebook, one might think that the community has to undergo serious changes. With respect to that, accepting more international students might be the change we want, but not the one we necessarily need.
But it is not solely the university’s fault concerning the current sorry state of the international community. All of us could do a better job in promoting integration on campus. Language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, the poor level of proficiency in English — these are the typical complaints from the international students at KAIST. Although we cannot deny the existence of these problems, we should not forget that integration is a two-way road. We are also partially guilty for the poor state of KISA and lack of organizations and events for the international students. In an older volume of The KAIST Herald, published in 2007, there was a report on the first full-time international students at KAIST. The author of that article expressed hopes that one day both local and foreign students would get along, and thus KAIST would become a truly global institution. 11 years have passed since that article was published, and yet the problems are still the same. I am not sure whether it is due to our passivity, or them not doing their job well enough. But I am sure that if we keep things as they are now, the new faces we see at KAIST would still have to experience the same issues as the first foreigners here did, remaining nothing more than a statistic in the university rankings report.