Every student, for once, at least, dream of leaving all the burdens; one wishes to forget about all the classes, the assignments, the presentations and dive into an exotic land. Some students succeed in fulfilling such dreams and they leave their home country and seek a better fortune in a foreign world. Nowadays, many international students are setting their eyes on Korea and among them are students attending SNU. The number of international students in SNU has been increasing dramatically and currently, about 1,500 students from more than 40 different countries are studying at SNU. Living and studying in a foreign country, however, is challenging in every aspect and international students in SNU have numerous obstacles to overcome.
Such difficulties of international students may just be the very reason SISA(SNU International Students Association) has been established. SISA, the first official International Students Association formed in Korea, was established by the university administration in March, 2007. Associated within the Student Affairs Department, SISA represents all international students currently attending SNU, from short-term exchange students to degree-seeking students. SISA has a short history, compared with the Korean students’ association, which has a history of half a century. The demand of an association for international students, however, has been great and the members of SISA are working hard to make SNU a more hospitable place for international students.
“Our main problem is this: because of the short history, SISA is unknown to many people. Many Korean students and even some international students do not know that there is an official organization for international students.” says Selim Kacar(Department of Economics ’07), the present president of SISA. “There are numerous activities and services for international students provided by SISA. Instead of feeling bad and frustrated by the difference of the system and culture of a totally different country, I hope every student could participate in these events with us and enjoy their lives in Korea to the fullest.” he adds.
There are, without doubt, various events held by SISA, including the annual SISA Ambassadors Meeting, Korean Cultural Trip, the Sport Festival, and volunteer works. At the SISA Ambassadors Meeting, ambassadors or representatives from 35 countries, from Switzerland to Burma, are invited to SNU in the name of the president of SNU himself. The meeting is a rare and honored occasion for the students as they get the chance to meet the ambassador of their own country and receive advices and support from the ambassadors. The Korean Cultural Trip is also one of the main events held by SISA where 150 students visit traditional Korean villages and experience the traditions and history of Korea. Students have tried making food like tofu and green tea and also participated in the traditional Korean wedding ceremony. Through this two-day travel, international students have opportunities to experience the other Korea, the Korea outside of the campus and the city.
The activities of SISA are not confined in the enjoyable occasions where students could befriend each other. There are practical orientations in which board members of SISA introduce freshmen and newcomers about the student life in SNU. This year, SISA held an orientation exclusively on class registration. Registering classes is much more difficult for international students, especially because of the language difference. Therefore, the orientation was conducted in two languages, Korean and English and about 150 students came. The board members of SISA introduced how to register the classes online and also the information from our own experiences, such as the Korean classes for international students and classes conducted in English that freshmen would be more comfortable with.
Tall and rigid, the language barrier is the one of the biggest obstacle international students confront in life in Korea and SISA board members, each with different nationalities and fluent Korean, translate every school announcement, including SMS messages, and information on scholarship and internship programs in 8 different languages. SISA has also sent the election pledges from two candidates after translating the pledges into six languages (Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, Russian, English, and Spanish) for the Student Government election held last year. “International students, as SNU students, have a right to vote. The pledges of the president candidates, however, are in Korean and the turnout of international students has been extremely low. Last year we asked the candidates to send us their pledges and two candidates sent them to us and many students who received the translated version of the pledges voted for the president of the Student Government. I hope that in the next election, more candidates would consider the votes of the 400 international students.” Kacar says.
When asked about the difficulties of managing an international student association, Kacar emphasized yet again, the importance of information. “We upload the recent school announcements on our homepage and send e-mails to students but there are students whom we could not contact or do not know about SISA. For international students, information is essential because various things, applying for a scholarship for instance, are conducted in a different way. We are putting up posters and banners on campus and on the portal site to inform students of SISA.” he says.
SISA is a young and sprouting association with many projects but their future plan was surprisingly simple. “SISA will be continuing all the activities and gatherings of course. But our future plan is to form the ‘senior-junior relationship.’ I think the unique Korean senior-junior relationship is what international students also need. In Korea, seniors assist juniors start their new lives as university students and they get friendly by frequent meetings and meals. This relationship is not what SISA could plan on, but we try to make such atmosphere where international students, regardless of their nationalities or majors, could form such relationships and become more united.”
The “Global SNU” project still in progress, more international students would be attending SNU. There are systems and school policies regarding international students to be improved, of course, but what is equally, and maybe more important is the attitude of both Korean and international students. “I’ve seen the ‘Dynamic Korea’ advertisement on CNN and thought that we, international students might have more influence to the world than the advertisement.” Kacar says. “When a foreigner visits, or lives in a foreign country, they leave with an impression on the country based on their experiences. Students who have enjoyed their stay in Korea would have a great impression on Korea throughout their lives; they would become a fan of Korea. But the system works the other way around, too. Once you get a bad impression on Korea, you may not ever change your thoughts. If all international students leave Korea with a good impression, the effect will be in further time, immense.”
Written by: Yum Sooyun