KGSP Advice ~ Choosing a University

Being an International Exchange Coordinator at a private high school in Japan, I had a number of students ask for advice about studying abroad.

Choosing to go abroad in the first place is hard enough, but choosing a university in a foreign country is even more difficult. The “best” universities are easy to find – people love ranking things. Unfortunately, “best” doesn’t necessarily make a good match for every person.

I personally am happy with the choices I made, but if I were a different person and doing it again, there are some things I would do differently.

1. Be realistic about your chances

Not everyone can go to SKY. (Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University) Or POSTECH and KAIST. That’s just the way it is. If you are not really confident look at other schools too.

But where?

2. Start with the lists of people accepted in past years

The NIIED information includes each university and the available majors, but not much else. It’s a fine place to start, but there are just so many choices!

In the same place where you got the NIIED scholarship information, you should be able to download at least the most recent list of scholarship grantees. Use the search function in your pdf reader and look for people planning to study in your major. Not only can you find the schools they chose, but you can find the schools that chose them. This second part is actually really important, as I will explain later.

3. Use the wealth of info on the internet

Once you’ve got a list of schools you might be interested in start researching them. Look at rankings to find out approximately how competitive they’ll be. Then look at the universities’ websites.

Along with being realistic about your chances regarding your academic history, you need to be realistic about your abilities linguistically. Do you speak Korean already? How well? Do you have experience with Asian languages? How much Korean do you think you’ll be comfortable using after one year of language study?

One thing you should look for on the university website is the language of instruction. This is Korea, so Korean is the default and English is the exception. Still, there will be programs that are all in English (especially GSIS, or Graduate School of International Studies, programs if that is what you are interested in), and some programs will use a combination of both. If it’s not clear on the website then contact them.

The KGSP scholarship provides for one year of intensive Korean study here in Korea, which gives many people the impression that they can apply for any of the programs listed in the NIIED documents, and learn enough Korean to be successful, but if you come to Korea not knowing any Korean and apply for an all Korean program it will be challenging to say the least. Other KGSP scholars already on the program have attested to this. An important part of graduate programs is making connections, getting good advisors and internships, etc, so if you are constantly struggling just to keep up with the day to day, this will be harder. This is not to say you shouldn’t try, just know what you are getting into, and think about it carefully.

That said, there are also programs that will not admit foreigners (or at least foreigners who don’t speak Korean already prior to applying for the scholarship). If you are applying to a program that is not obviously in English you should check to make sure they will even consider your application. Unfortunately, there have been people who have essentially thrown away a choice on a school that never even considered their other qualifications. (If you have started with programs that past KGSP scholars were accepted to, then you can be reasonably sure that they admit foreigners, but ask if you’re unsure.)

Going back to my previous post about starting early, it is best to contact the universities in between their application periods. Once applications start coming in, and other people start contacting them about urgent matters, they will get slower at responding.

Another thing to look at is class descriptions and professors. Some people may think this is just common sense, but I find people who haven’t really thought about it. Are there 48 credits of classses (or however many are necessary) that you want to take in your department? What about the professors’ research interests? Do they match yours enough that you’d want them to advise you?

Armed with all of this information, and other things like location, size, campus environment, etc, and you should be able to narrow things down significantly.

See what I mean about starting early?

More next time about whether to apply through one of the universities or through the embassy. 🙂

An end in sight

So the waiting is almost over.

After my mild panic attack back in New Zealand about diplomas, I have made it through most of the gates, and barring any other disaster will be starting Korean language study in the fall, with a Master’s degree to follow in 2015.

The program that was sending me through all of these hoops is the Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP) run by the National Institute for International Education (NIIED). It’s the major scholarship for study in Korea in terms of numbers of people and countries, and the amount offered. And consequently, the hoops are major as well.

For more info on the exact details check out NIIED’s website or the Study in Korea Website.

The information is all under GKS (Global Korean Scholarship).

If you are interested in applying LolaLovesKorea has a great series of videos on YouTube explaining about applying and her experiences in Korea. She is doing the language year now (2013-2014) and hopefully will keep updating as she starts her Master’s in the fall (2014).

But, as a fresh applicant going through the process almost as I write, I thought I would give my advice based on my own experience, and the experiences of those around me.

This series will probably extend beyond this post…

First, and foremost, start early. If it continues as it has in past years, NIIED will release the official application information for the graduate programs in the first week of February (at Study in Korea->GKS->Notice), and the info will also be available later via the Korean Embassies and Universities through which you apply.

BUT, you should look at the previous year’s information and start assembling your application package NOW (whenever it is you read this 😉 ), or at least well before that. Recommendations can take longer than you expect them to, and you may find that your diploma is lost in the chaos that is your parents’ home and you need to order a replacement that will take 4-6 weeks till delivery (or maybe that’s just me).

Of course if you are still a student now, you probably want to wait until the last grades before the deadline are in before you ask for a transcript, and there are various other timing issues to consider, but figure those out and give yourself plenty of time.

Second, join the Facebook group. On the one hand it was incredibly nerve-wracking. Every problem someone has makes you worry if it applies to you too, and every day that goes by as you still wait for results while those around you gradually get their results will drive you crazy. On the other hand, you can get your own questions answered, learn about your fellow applicants, and find out that no, SNU really hasn’t released their acceptances yet.

I’d also go look at the archives of past groups, so you can try to avoid many of the mistakes that we made.

In the next post I’ll talk about choosing universities, and how to apply based on my personal observations of these experiences.

A new start

It has been about a week since I arrived in Korea.

This time it is semi-permanent, but so far that fact hasn’t quite sunk in. I’m still staying in my in-laws’ house (we have an apartment but it needs work before we move in). I don’t have a job or occupation (as previously mentioned, I’m applying for graduate school, so I’m not looking for permanent employment at the moment). My husband has taken time off work to help me get settled, so we’re always together.

Basically it feels like every other vacation I’ve spent here in Korea.

Only this time it’s “for keeps.”

The day after I arrived, I went down to the immigration office to register as an “alien.” I’ve been an “alien” for the last 11 years in Japan too, so I’m used to the term. I really wasn’t sure what to expect because I’ve heard horror stories about long lines and terrible waits. As we were on our way I realized it was possibly the worst possible day to go because it was a semi-holiday (ie. many companies were off, but public offices were still open).

Fortunately, aside from the terrible timing (right during lunch when only one window was open to process people), it really wasn’t as bad as I expected. Armed with my Korean speaking husband everything went quite smoothly.

We then went down to the new apartment, so I could see it for the first time. It had actually been bought for us by my husband’s parents “on spec” several years ago (before I’d met my husband) because they hoped to someday have a “myeoneuri” (daughter-in-law). It definitely needs work, but I like the space, and especially the neighborhood, so I’m looking forward to moving in and making it ours.

There, I found out that I passed the second screening for the scholarship program (more on that later), so that was quite exciting!

This week, we went back to immigration to get my registration number. Theoretically, I could just wait for my registration card to come out in another two-ish weeks. We paid the extra money to have them send it to us, thus it wouldn’t require another trip back. EXCEPT… I needed the number, and the extension of my visa in order to have my stuff sent from Japan.

I really don’t understand that part… The visa they gave me in Japan was only for 90 days. They told me that was standard, and from what I’ve heard elsewhere that’s true. BUT, in order to send my 41 boxes of stuff to Korea for “personal use” I needed a visa of at least a year. (I mean, who sends 41 boxes just for 3 months, right?) They basically just gave me the extension when I registered the day after arriving, so I’m not sure why they don’t make the initial visa a one-year visa. I’m sure there is some (good?) reason, but to me it’s just a mystery. The first of many, I’m sure.

With my registration number also on that piece of paper, I was told I might possibly be able to get a mobile phone, but of course it was more difficult than that. Korean husband again to the rescue just made it in his name instead. That we could have done a week ago, but we were planning to do it with his phone company… and they unfortunately are in the middle of a 45 day suspension for reasons I didn’t ask about. In the end we decided a different company might actually be more advantageous for certain reasons, so the phone is coming tomorrow!

It’s amazing how hard it is to go back to living without technology, no matter how temporarily.

So life in Korea has started! I’m looking forward to many new adventures here in Asia!