Moving Day

Today I arrived at my language institute – Kangwon National University.

Most people got picked up at the airport, and then, after perhaps waiting for some other people to arrive, they were bussed to the University. But being in Korea already, I made my own way here and just checked in with the coordinator.

After that I was pretty much on my own. The plus is that they give plenty of time for people to get settled and rested. Some people are coming from very long distances after all. The minus is that until orientation here, which isn’t until next week, there isn’t a lot of guidance about how things work. Of course the dorm managers and program coordinators are always willing to help and answer questions.

And now about our dormitory here at KNU. Remember ESID.

First, if you are in the Korean language program stage of KGSP, you are required to live in a dormitory, at least at the beginning. There are some stories of people moving out later in the year, but I don’t know how common that is, and so far I’m not tempted to. My dormitory is less than $100 USD per month (about 100,000 won), so in terms of surving on a scholarship student’s budget it’s the best option for me. (Again and again ESID… In some places it might be cheaper to live off-campus.)

Wherever you are the dormitories will be split for men and women. In the USA it is not uncommon to have co-ed dormitories, but Korea is a little more conservative.

Our dormitory is, frankly speaking, pretty old. But, the rooms seem to have been recently renovated and they are clean.

My room is small, but functional. It has bunkbeds (not ideal, but I can live with it), two desks, a smallish closet, and a shoe cupboard (you always remove your shoes before entering the room, so you need someplace to put them). There’s one drawer at the bottom of the closet, but otherwise not a lot of room for clothes you don’t hang unless you purchase something extra (and there are cheap options, as well as some space in the room to put it). There’s not a lot of room for clothes you do hang, so it is further incentive to pack light! I will definitely be switching over the closet from warm weather to cold weather clothes as the season changes. Mine will probably go back home to Seoul (I haven’t even brought winter stuff), but if you don’t have that luxury, you can store stuff in an unused suitcase.

P1150057 P1150058 P1150059 P1150060

As you’ve probably noticed from the description and the pictures, I will have a roommate. Some schools have special dormitories only for foreign students, but KNU does not, or at least not for us. Some of us KGSP students are paired with other KGSP students, but my roommate will be Korean. There are advantages to both, I guess.

The floor has a room with two showers, a bunch of sinks, and one washing machine, and a separate room with 4 or 5 toilet stalls and more sinks. So, yeah, communal facilities here. I think there are schools with en suite bathrooms, but ours is not one of them. When you become a grad student in your Master’s or Doctoral program you will probably get better choices for dormitories, along with the option of living off campus. Until then, you live with what you get.

There seem to be other facilities (like computer rooms and common rooms) but I haven’t explored those yet.

There are also some rules that go along with living in a dormitory. Depending on your past experiences with dormitories, they may seem restrictive, or normal. Some of the rules here include (this is not an exhaustive list)…

  • Curfew – you should be in the dorm from 1:00 am to 5:00 am. This seems to be fairly common across most schools, so be prepared for that. Sometimes it means that you can’t enter or leave the dorm between those times, but if you plan to come back after 5:00 am you are fine… If that’s your style, then go for it. (Check first to see if that’s how it works.)
  • No co-ed visiting, or parietals as we called them in boarding school.
  • No smoking in the dorm (I like that).
  • No alcohol in the dorm. (Imported alcohol included [sic]… I’m not sure why someone would think that imported alcohol was exempt from this rule, but that’s what they told me…)
  • No getting drunk and vomitting in the dorm. I think the getting drunk is okay, but not the vomitting. If you do it discreetly in the toilet and clean up after yourself, you’re probably okay, or just get it all out of your system before you come home. I think US universities would have a lot of people on probation if they had this rule…

My dormitory has a point system, with some violations resulting in an automatic ousting from the dormitory, and others giving between -1 and -5 points. The interesting thing is that you can also get points added (instead of subtracted) for reporting emergency situations, reporting other people’s violations, or participating in dormitory events (I haven’t been told what kind of events there are though… more on that later). If you get 8 minus points you are out of the dorm and banished for one year, so basically the rest of your language year.

So that’s where I am so far.


What is ESID? Some wonderful new scholarship? Some random government agency?


ESID is (or was) the mantra of the JET Programme in Japan. It stands for “Every Situation is Different.” And I think it applies quite well to KGSP as well. It’s something everyone should keep in mind both when applying and when participating in KGSP.

ESID basically means that you should not expect to have exactly the same experience as others, and what applies to some people doesn’t necessarily apply to you.

It all starts when you apply. First, each country has that darned quota. Each country’s quota is different. Each embassy has a different process for choosing people. Each country will end up with a different standard of applicants. You may be a very strong candidate from a very competitive country and not get the scholarship, while others you think are weaker do get it. Your country’s embassy may only accept people who have studied Korean, while other countries accept even people who haven’t studied Korean.

Unfortunately, that’s just the way the scholarship works. Every situation is different.

Then you are accepted.  You have to spend a lot of money to get a medical exam, while people in other countries can do it very simply. You have turn in extra forms for your visa that people in other countries don’t need. Every situation is different.

Then you arrive in Korea. Your dormitory fee is very expensive, while a different university has cheaper dorms. Your dorm doesn’t have kitchen facilities, but your friend’s dorm does. Your curfew is very early, while another university doesn’t have a curfew. Your language course spends a week learning hangeul, while another just spends two days.

Every situation is different.

If you look for them, you will be able to find any number of things that seem unfair to complain about. But with 800+ participants from all over the world, it is impossible to provide every single person with exactly the same experience. Even if you could, they would come with such different expectations that some people would be satisfied, and some people would not.

I’m not necessarily saying that there will never be a legitimate reason to complain, or that you will never encounter something that is unnecessarily unfair. I’m just saying that the less you try to compare your situation to other people’s, the happier you’ll be in the long run.

Try to make the best of the situation you have been given. In the end, if you have gotten the scholarship, you already have a big advantage over people who are not selected, so try not to worry about the differences between you and other scholarship grantees.

1,2,3… Breathe

I will warn you now.

When you apply, you will spend the majority of the time from February to September waiting.

Waiting for your recommendation to be written. Waiting for someone to confirm they received your application. Waiting for information about an interview. Waiting for the first selection result. Waiting for the second selection result. Waiting for the third selection. Waiting for contact from your language institute (or uni if you get to skip the language)… and… well, you get the point.

I HATE waiting. That’s probably why I am spending my time talking about the program – it helps me to forget I’m waiting.

Now a lot of this waiting has a deadline. There are certain dates when certain things are announced. It really can’t be helped.

But then there is the other waiting. When you’ve sent an email to someone and they don’t reply right away. Or you’re waiting for your uni to send you info about something.

Sometimes the combination of all of your waiting can just make you really impatient. This is also just a huge experience, especially if you’ve never lived, studied, or maybe even been abroad. This can cause mild panic attacks in the calmest of people. And sometimes… they are just really slow…

My advice to you is to count to 10, take a deep breath, and sleep on it.

First, make sure you keep track of the time difference between you and Korea. Display Korean time on your smart phone, set another watch to Korean time, or just memorize the time difference. Whatever it takes, remember that while you might be panicking, Korea might be sleeping. Give them time to get into work in the morning, have their coffee and look at their email. They’ll get back to you.

Next, look up the national holidays in Korea. Time differences are obvious, but a lot of people overlook holidays. Sometimes if they are really swamped they may come in on weekends or holidays, but you should consider yourself lucky if it happens, and not expect it. An additional catch is that Embassies are often closed both for holidays of the country they are in, and their own national holidays. This year holidays were a big problem. There are several announcement dates that seem to fall on the same day every year. This year a lot of them seemed to fall right before a weekend or holiday. It was like a hit and run, send an email and disappear for a couple of days while people try to figure out what it means. This is annoying, but there is really nothing you can do about it, so keep track of holidays and find something to distract you until they can get back to you.

Finally, stay calm and try not to send multiple frantic emails to whoever you need answers from.

  • Take a minute to gather and organize your thoughts.
  • Try to make your email and questions easy to understand, and give any background necessary to frame the question. (Remember many of the people in the offices are non-native English speakers and if your question is confusing then you may not get the answer you are looking for.)
  • Try to consolidate your questions into one email. If you are sending multiple emails with multiple questions, or multiple emails with the same question, then other people probably are too. This makes for a very overwhelming situation for the people tasked with answering your questions, and may delay things rather than speed them up. (This year there was one “email and run” incident where people’s emails actually got bounced back to them because there was no more room left in NIIED’s email inboxes.)
  • Sit back and think about how urgent your question is. If you stay on top of things then most of your questions probably don’t need to be answered RIGHT NOW. Even if it seems like a really huge problem there probably is a solution and in most cases it doesn’t matter if it is solved today or tomorrow. Even if NIIED bought you a ticket from the wrong airport, if you aren’t leaving for another three weeks then there is still time to solve it. If you have carefully thought about it, and you really do need an answer NOW (like you are leaving in 3 days and your ticket is wrong) then it is probably better to call them.

Just remember that there are relatively few staff members, and quite a lot of students who all have basically the same problems at exactly the same time… and most (staff and student) are communicating in a second language. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of other things that the staff need to do aside from answering questions.

Give them sometime, and if you still don’t hear back in one or two days, and it’s not a holiday or weekend, then you might want to contact them again because there might be some problem other than being busy.

And sometimes you just have to resign yourself to the fact that they are never getting back to you. Try to keep contacting them, but also try to find other sources for information.

And in the end, be glad for the opportunity to wait, and that your waiting will end with your arrival in Korea. This kind of waiting means that you have passed the current stage. There are many others who will end up waiting again for their next chance to apply.

What if I don’t live in my home country?

This was my biggest concern when I applied.

The official KGSP information includes a handy dandy FAQ… which either didn’t address, or didn’t fully answer most of the questions I had. Useful right? (To be fair it probably will clear up a lot of your questions, but may leave you with others.)

So there is one question in it that does address people who do not live in their home country.

16. I am Japanese but I am working in Vietnam. May I apply for the program through the Korean Embassy in Vietnam?

Perfect. I am American but I was working in Japan, so what do they say?

Sorry, but you can’t. You should apply for the program through the Korean Embassy in Japan. In addition, the Korean diplomatic missions of the countries where scholarships are not available are not empowered for selection of the candidates of the program.

That’s pretty good, and it is certainly the correct answer.

If you live in a country that is not your home country then you have two choices. You can apply through a designated university, or you can apply through the embassy in your home country. (So, basically the same two choices as everyone else…)

The basic assumption of the universities is that you aren’t in Korea (and all the better if you are in Korea), so beyond that the universities don’t care where you are. No matter what your country is or where you are in the world, you can apply through a designated university. (That is assuming your country has a “university quota” and you should check this.)

Regarding the embassy application, however, you should probably confirm with your embassy that it will be okay. Most things shouldn’t be a problem, but my concern was interviews.

I had found a lot of different experiences from past applicants about interviews. Some said they got called by the embassy. Some said they were never interviewed. Yet other people said they were forced to travel halfway across their country to go to an interview in person. This last one was the thing that worried me. If my country absolutely required an in person interview (and usually with very little notice) then that was not going to be possible.

This was when I called the Korean Embassy in Washington, DC. They said they couldn’t answer my question because I don’t live in Maryland, Virginia, or any other state in their jurisdiction. (For any country other than the USA you don’t have to worry about this issue. The embassy is the only place in your country that you can apply.)

So, I called the Korean Consulate in New York City (because my parents live there, and I have a New York driver’s license). They weren’t exactly sure what to do with someone living abroad (and told me to call NIIED), but by that time I had decided that if the Atlanta consulate was in charge of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, then an in person interview was probably not going to be an issue for USA candidates.

I ended up applying through the consulate in New York (if you are from the US and living abroad, go with whatever state your parents live in as your local residence, or if you have any other way to establish residence in the US). I also sent a copy of my New York license to show that I did in fact have a reason to be applying there. Overall, New York was pretty laid back. DC was less friendly…

But again, if you are from a country other than the USA  and are living abroad, you should check with the Korean Embassy in your own country yourself. There are embassies that have more strict policies regarding who can apply, and there is at least a possibility that they would require you to come for an interview in person. In this case, you would probably be forced to apply through a designated university if your country has a university quota.

NIIED cannot keep track of each country’s policies so I guess their answer in the FAQ is as complete as it can be. (Which brings up another important issue. Regarding application issues, you should contact a first selection institution (embassy or university) because NIIED will not answer most of those questions.)


背比べ (seikurabe) means to “compare heights” in Japanese. Every kid likes to check how much they’ve grown, or if they are taller than their friend. Even as adults, how many times have you stood back to back with someone to see who is taller.

As human beings, I think we have a natural tendency to compare and compete.

This is especially true when it comes to applying for school. It is natural for people to be curious about the profiles of other people who are applying, or people who have been accepted in the past. I have had several people ask me privately about my own profile (mostly people who wanted some explanation as to why they were not accepted and I was), and have seen many people posing general questions to the various groups and websites dedicated to the KGSP scholarship.

I do believe that such information is not without value (notice the double negative). Knowing approximately where you might rank can help you decide which universities might be good matches. In the United States there is extensive information about standardized test scores and university admissions. In Japan, they have mock exams that can tell you approximately what your chances will be of getting in to any given university. But with this scholarship there is very little information about successful candidates, or what kind of international students have gained acceptance to Korean universities.

I understand the urge to try to gather this data. Believe me. While I never actually asked the question, I certainly looked at the answers to other people who did.

But, I would warn against placing too much importance on whatever information you receive.

First of all, asking for a person’s GPA is a little like asking about their salary. Most people are reluctant to talk about it. Those that are willing to tell you are probably either really proud/confident about their stats, or were validated through success despite having little confidence in their stats (“My GPA was only 80% but I made it, so you can too”). You are likely to come away with a totally crushed spirit, or an inflated sense of confidence.

The reality is so much more complicated, which leads me to my next point.

Numbers can only tell you so much.

If you ask someone about their profile in a situation like this, they will probably tell you their GPA, their TOEFL or TOPIK score, maybe their class ranking, etc. They will tell you about the things they can express easily – the numbers. They probably will not tell you about all of the other important information that makes them unique, and got them accepted.

They probably won’t give you a context for understanding their GPA. For example, what university was it? How rigorous was the coursework? How many class hours did they complete? What is the grading system like at their university?

They might not tell you what their major was, or what department they applied for. Some departments are more competitive than others, and you really need to compare with people from your own department if you are going to compare at all. It also makes a difference whether your university major was related to what you want to study in graduate school.

They won’t tell you about all of their work experience or volunteer experience or talents. They may have less than stellar numbers, but practical life experience that gives them an edge.

They won’t show you their application essays and how well they express themselves and sell themselves to the admissions committee.

The list goes on and on…

For a real world example, there was one person who messaged me privately with this question. This person was asking because I was accepted at K University’s GSIS and they were not (the majors were different, but similar). As it turned out, their GPA was higher (by 0.07) with other similar numbers, but somehow I made it and they didn’t. You just never know.

So my personal advice to you is…

  • Sit back and be realistic about your own numbers. You probably know in your heart whether they are outstanding or just okay. And just for some perspective, remember 80% is the minimum cutoff for the scholarship. The closer you are to 80, the greater the chance that other people will be stronger than you, and the less likely it is that you will be accepted at one of the top Korean universities. But don’t just give up…
  • Try to figure out the best way to present your numbers. If your GPA looks low, does your ranking look better? Can you put focus on how advanced your coursework was? Try asking the professor writing your recommendation to help put some perspective on the numbers.
  • Really put a lot of focus on the things that aren’t numbers. Perfect your essays. Have other people check them for grammar and clarity (if you can find a native speaker, do it). Think long and hard about what you want to tell them, and what will make you stand out. Think about how to present work and volunteer experiences to strengthen your profile. If you still have time before your application is due, try to find things you can do to add experience. If your numbers are weak then these extra things can bring you ahead. If your numbers are strong, then you are probably also aiming high, so you still need to think about all of these plus alphas that will bring you up and above all those people who also have strong numbers.

And for the record, I am going to practice what I preach and not tell you what my numbers were. I’ll just say that despite all of the worrying I did because that’s who I am, deep down I was confident about getting the scholarship and getting in to the universities I applied to.

KGSP Application ~ Required Documents (Part Two)

There is a word in Japanese 職業病 (shokugyoubyou). Shokugyou means “profession/occupation” and byou means disease. Originally it is a disease or affliction that people in certain professions are particularly susceptible to. These days, however, it is commonly used to refer to quirks or habits acquired due to one’s profession that overflow into private life and may seem odd to people outside of that profession. For example, soldiers walking in line and in step when going home drunk from a night on the town.

In my case, I used to be a coordinator for international exchange programs, so now, even when I’ve switched to the student side, I see things from the coordinator’s perspective, and feel the need to explain and be helpful. I’m sure I can be rather wordy, but hopefully some people will find it helpful.

So without further ado… here are the remaining documents you will need for your application. See my previous post for information on the forms that are included with the application. The following are additional documents that you will have to prepare on your own.

But first a general note about notarization. For the following documents, there will be ones that you need to have officially notarized. In the application information it says “confirmation of collation should be indicated in the photocopied documents.” I, personally, had never heard “collation” used in this particular way, but maybe that’s just me. In any case, it means that if there are documents you cannot send an original of (like your diploma or passport), you should have the photocopy notarized. You will also need notarization for translations of documents not in English or Korean. It is best to get an official Apostille (or the equivalent). An Apostille is the international form of notary, but it will only be available in countries that have joined the Hague Convention of 1961. You can find information about Apostilles at the official site for Apostille along with the list of contracting states. If your country is NOT a member of the convention, then I would try to contact the Korean Embassy in your country. Sometimes they can authenticate your documents, and if they can’t they can probably tell you where else to go. Before getting an Apostille or Embassy authentication, you may need to get your document notarized locally, according to the laws of your country. Please check about this process, and the process for Apostille/Authentication in your own country.

7. Diploma or Certificate of Graduation from Undergraduate Institution
If you will have already graduated by the application deadline then you should send an official copy of your diploma. DO NOT send your actual diploma unless you are specifically requested to by your embassy, and they have specifically stated that they will return it. The general guidelines do state that no documents will be returned, and you do not want to give away the one and only original copy of your diploma. There are two possible solutions. The first is to get an official copy of your diploma from your university. Many will provide a substitute document for this purpose. The other is to have a photocopy officially notarized (see above). Make sure that you submit a “certificate” form of proof. For a variety of reasons, I originally submitted a letter from my university stating when I had graduated, but was told to resubmit a “certificate.” However, if you have not graduated yet (but will do so before August 31 of your applying year) then you may submit a letter from your university that states your expected date of graduation. If any of these documents are not available in English or Korean, you will need a translation. (Despite going to a university in the USA, my diploma was in Latin (“old school” you could say) and I did include a translation.)

8. Official Transcripts and Student Records from Undergraduate Institution
If you are a current student, request a transcript after the last term to finish before the deadline. For example, if you have grades that will be available in February then wait for those. My university gave me my transcripts in a sealed envelope, with a signature (or stamp) across the seal. I did not open the envelope, and submitted it just like that. They seem to be quite concerned with tampering and faked credentials, so anything you can do to alleviate these fears will help. In my case, transcripts were free so I just asked for four copies (one for each set of documents you are asked to submit), but you can also include just one with the original set of documents and ask the embassy/university to copy that part for you. As mentioned in my previous post, if your university does not grade on a 4.0-5.0 scale, then you should also have your transcript officially converted. If your university provides this service, that is probably easiest, but if not you should ask around for suitable services. (I’m sorry, this is not something I dealt with, but if I learn anything I will update you.) You should also ask for an English version of your transcript, or have it translated.

9. Diploma or Certificate of Graduation from Graduate Institution
This is only for people who are applying for a PhD, or perhaps if you have received a Master’s degree in another subject and are applying for a second Master’s. The instructions are the same as for the undergraduate degree above. (And note, if you are applying for a PhD then you will need to submit both undergraduate and graduate documents.)

10. Official Transcripts and Student Record from Graduate Institution
Again, just for PhD/additional Master’s candidates.

11. Certificate of Korean Language Proficiency (original copy of TOPIK), if applicable
Like the diploma, do not send the score certificate you received in the mail. You can request official copies from the organization that administers the TOPIK in your country.

12. Certificate of TOEFL or IELTS (original copy), if applicable
I have no experience of these exams, so I am not sure what is available. When possible order an official report to send with your application.

13. Published papers, if applicable
If you listed papers in your personal information, then include copies.

14. Awards, if applicable
If you listed awards in your personal information, then include copies. For me, I did not have award certificates from my awards, only the program from the award ceremony. I just included copies of those, and didn’t actually bother to have them notarized. I figured the awards were just a “plus alpha” and if they trusted that then great, and if not then hopefully the rest of my application would speak for itself. Of course, the more official you can be, the better.

15. Copy of Passport
I personally didn’t have this notarized either, but if you are getting notarizations for other things, then definitely do it. (And even if you aren’t. I took a chance that worked out, but it’s better not to risk it.)

16. Certificate of Citizenship for applicant and parents
I also included a copy of my birth certificate, and copies of my parents’ passports. They want to make sure that you cannot claim Korean citizenship because Korean citizens are not eligible for the scholarship. Anything that shows your parents citizenship (birth certificate/national ID card/passport/etc) will do. Your birth certificate will show that your parents are your parents. If one or both of your parents were Korean citizens you may need to show proof of expatriation (proof they gave up Korean citizenship).

17. Adoption documents
This is for Korean adoptees only. (Although I suppose if you were an adoptee from elsewhere, you might want to show proof that your parents are legally your parents as part of the above proof of citizenship.)

** Possible Additional Documents **

There may be other things you need to submit depending on your particular situation.

1. Study abroad related
As mentioned in my previous post, the current KGSP guidelines state that people who have studied in Korea on a D-2 visa previously are ineligible for the scholarship. (This seems to exclude people who did language study on a D-4 or tourist visa.) But, there is the exception for situations where such study abroad was a requirement of their degree at their home university. If this exception applies to you, then I would include proof of this from your university.

2. Additional University specific documents
You should read the KGSP application instructions carefully for the universities that you choose. Some may require additional documents, such as an additional recommendation or the online application. If you are applying through a designated university, you should include these documents with your original application. If you are applying through a Korean embassy, then you may be requested by the university to send these documents later (after NIIED has selected you and sent your application to the three universities). At this point, there will not be much time to prepare these documents, so you should prepare them ahead of time. The only university I have noticed that does this is Yonsei (online application and 1 additional recommendation), but read the university information carefully to make sure whether it applies to you or not.

I have not noted it everywhere, but remember to have everything translated into either Korean or English if they are in another language, and have the translations notarized.

You will need to send one set of original documents (or original notarized documents), and three sets of photocopied documents. This is true whether you apply through a university or an embassy.

Make sure you send your application with a tracking number so that you can confirm it has arrived. And make sure that you send it with plenty of time to arrive before the deadline. It is a good idea to research ahead of time how long mail will take to your first selection institution. The deadline is the deadline for arrival, not for sending (as is often the case with universities in the US).

And good luck with your application!

KGSP Application ~ Required Documents

**UPDATE** This blog post is from 2014. While much of the advice may still be valid, NIIED has changed some of the guidelines and requirements. For 2017 updates see this new blog post. And always be sure to read each year’s new guidelines thoroughly before preparing your application.

Okay, so in the 2014 facebook group for KGSP, a lot of people have asked about the required documents for the application.

(I say “a lot,” but it is probably less than 10. It just seems like more when they all ask the same question.)

First of all, you can find past and current year application information at the Study In Korea website. They publish the new graduate info at the beginning of February each year (and undergraduate at the beginning of September – be careful not to confuse the two). If they haven’t released the information for the year in which you plan to apply, then you can look back at previous years. The basic process has not changed all that much.

In the graduate program guidelines you will find a handy checklist of all of the documents that you will need to submit, so I really could just stop here, but I will try to add a few pointers regarding each one.


1. Personal Data (Attachment #1)
You will find this in the same file, right after the checklist. There is one set of forms for University applicants, and one set for Embassy applicants. The majority is the same, but some parts are different (for example the Embassy application has space to write your three chosen universities, but the University application does not).

Most of it is self explanatory, but…

  • English Proficiency/Korean Proficiency – If you have IELTS/TOEFL or TOPIK scores you can write them here. For me, under English proficiency I wrote “Native Speaker” just to make it obvious. NIIED says that these are optional, but if you are not a native speaker of either English or Korean, I would include at least one of them if you can. It’s important to show them and the universities that you will be able to study in either English or Korean.
  • Published papers – If you are applying for a PhD then you likely have some papers published from your Master’s Degree. I recommend including one or two of your best. More is not necessarily better, they only have time to read so much. If you are applying for a Master’s degree, then you may not have any published papers, and that’s okay. Don’t stress about it. But if you have published then go ahead and list them.
  • Awards – If you received academic awards, public service awards, etc then list them here. I recommend choosing recent awards (don’t go back to high school). Ultimately the choice is yours as to what you want to present to the selection committees.
  • University choice(s) – The application asks for University/Faculty/Department/Major, but the university information lists University/Division/Department/Field of Study. These are the same things, so you can write it as you see it in the university information. (For example “Ajou University/College of Engineering/Molecular Science and Technology/Medical Science”)
  • Grades/GPA – If your university grades on a 4.0/4.3/4.5/5.0 scale, then you are good to go. Input your term averages as listed in your transcript, then look at the table provided in the application materials to convert to a percentage. If your university uses a different scale (like 20), you will probably want to have your grades officially converted to one of the scales above. The problem is mostly that you also have to convert to a percentage (out of 100) and this is not always easy with different grading systems. (Simple division may lead to a much lower percentage than you actually deserve.) If your university will do the conversion, that is easiest and best. If not, you will probably need to submit your transcript to a grade conversion service.
  • Previous visits to Korea – Write down the dates of previous visits and why you were there. If you have ever come to Korea on a student visa (specifically D-2), you are theoretically ineligible for a scholarship (unless that rule changes). There are two exceptions. If you studied in Korea as a mandatory part of your degree program, and can get a letter from your university indicating that, then you will be eligible. Also, if you are a current or past KGSP scholar (undergrad or Master’s) and have at least TOPIK 4 you may apply again for a higher degree.

2. Self Introduction (Attachment #2)
This is pretty self explanatory. You’ll want to give them an idea of who you are and what makes you tick. Illustrate the things that lead you to your field of study, relevant academic, work or volunteer experience, and what is bringing you to Korea. The space is limited (only one page), so try to stay away from things they can find easily in other parts of your application. For example, stay away from listing every related course you took in university – they can find those in your transcript. Talk instead about particular aspects that really interest and inspire you. Leave your specific study plan and future plans for the next attachment below. Also, if you got into Korea because of dramas and k-pop, you can mention that (as something you know about Korea), but try to find something else you admire about the country, something with more substance. And if you have traveled or lived abroad, you might want to discuss what these experiences meant to you. And finally, if there are any question marks in your background (a particularly bad semester, and unfinished class, etc) that might need explaining, then you should explain them here. Short and sweet, don’t dwell and give them more importance than they deserve.

3. Study Plan (Attachment #3)
There are actually two sections here, with a half page for each. They are “Goal of Study & Study Plan” and “Future Plan After Study.” Be as detailed as you need to be about your study and future plans. You want to show knowledge of issues in your field, and how they can be applied to the real world.

4. Letter of Recommendation (Attachment #4)
You only need to submit one of these with your application. It should be an academic reference, not a work reference… Even if you graduated ten years ago (like me). Some people recommend getting high status people (like the school president or department head) to write your recommendation, but personally I would recommend having someone who knows you well (like an advisor or someone you took multiple courses with). Sometimes you can get the best of both worlds, an advisor to write it and the president to sign it. But, unless you went to a very small school where the president knows everyone, or you are the most standout student ever then don’t just have the president (or more likely some random person in an administrative office) write it. They’ll just create a nice form letter with generalities gleaned from your transcript. It should go without saying that you should choose someone you got along well with, and who can say good things about you.

Your recommendation should be in a sealed envelope with your professors signature or stamp over the seal. Do not open the recommendation to make copies. You can either ask your professor to give you four sealed copies of the recommendation (one for each set of documents you need to send), or you can ask your first selection institution (university or embassy) to copy it for you. (I put a post-it on the outside just to remind them.) This also means that you will not be able to have your professor email you their letter of recommendation. If you are not currently at your university, you should allow enough time for your professor to send you the recommendation, and then for you to send the application. Make sure your professor knows that the recommendation should be printed out and sealed, and that they know when you plan to send your application.

5. Pledge (Attachment #5)
Read and sign.

6. Personal Medical Assessment (Attachment #6)
You do not need to go to a doctor because this is a self-reported medical assessment. But, be honest because there will be actual medical exams later on. Primarily, they are looking that you are not involved in illegal activity (drugs), that you are physically able to complete a degree (which does not discount physical disabilities as long as they don’t severely inhibit your studies), and that you will not bring infectious diseases into Korea (or if you do that they are recorded and controlled). Korea has had travel bans for persons with HIV/AIDS, which apparently have been eased for some, but I am not sure of the current policies regarding students. For your sake (regardless of the scholarship) I hope this is not an issue for you.

And this is the end of the forms (attachments) included in the application packet. As this has gotten quite long, I will continue with the other documents you should gather at a later time.

Learning Korean ~ General Info

First I should tell you how I learned Korean.

I started with self-study, then took a weekly class for a year to increase conversation practice (but continued with the self-study), then went to Yonsei KLI’s three week summer course, then started doing classes twice a week (with self study) for about 9 months, and then went back to only self-study. In September 2014 I will be starting full time language study at a Korean university.

The one important constant through all of this is that all of my textbooks were (are) in Japanese (except for the Yonsei one, which was all Korean), and my teachers were all Korean/Japanese bilinguals (except at Yonsei, where they only used Korean).

So, if you want to know what English language resources I used, the answer is basically zero. I do have one English book I bought early on, “Korean For Beginners” from Tuttle. It has a good appendix about grammar terms in Korean (although I feel like it has too many terms that you’d only need to talk about English grammar. Useful I guess if you are learning Korean because you are teaching English in Korea.) It also has some interesting stories and culture facts, and is humorously written. Other than that, I haven’t really used it. I think I bought it in the beginning for an English speaker’s perspective on pronunciation (the one limitation of Japanese when learning Korean is pronunciation).

Why did I do this despite the fact that English is my native language?

Because I am also fluent in Japanese, and the parallels between Japanese and Korean are significantly greater than between English and Korean. It’s just easier to think of Korean in terms of what I already know about Japanese, than to try to understand it in terms of English.

So, if you also speak Japanese and would like some good Japanese resources for Korean, then please ask away!

For a great run down of Korean language resources (both internet and hardcopy) look at Hangukdrama and Korean. It’s all out there just waiting to be discovered!

If you are planning on coming to Korea to study Korean for whatever reason, I do recommend getting a headstart. One of the major reasons (aside from the already stated ones for KGSP people) is that in Korea, you will find that the instruction is primarily in Korean. Your classmates will be from a lot of countries and not all fluent in English. Depending on the school, however, you may find that they do provide beginner textbooks with versions for several languages (English, Chinese and Japanese with possible others). Still, it will probably be helpful in following the classes at the beginning if you have some background. And you can use the resources above (at Hangukdrama) to supplement your classes even in Korea.

Some random facts about the Korean language…

  1. It’s most commonly considered an Altaic language, which means it most closely resembles languages such as Japanese, Mongolian and Turkish (yes, Turkish). If you already speak one of these then it could be easier for you to learn.
  2. The other major influence on the Korean language is Chinese. About 60% of Korean vocabulary is considered “Sino-Korean,” or in other words it comes from Chinese (though with “Koreanization” of the pronunciation). Sino-Korean vocabulary is more prevalent in writing and formal speech, than in everyday conversation. Japanese also includes a similar percentage of words from Chinese. This means that speaking a dialect of Chinese or Japanese will give you a leg up on vocabulary. The nice thing about Korean, for those who already speak Japanese, is that every kanji character (or hanja as they are called in Korean) only has one pronunciation to remember in Korean (sometimes two for syllables starting with certain sounds). The disadvantage for Chinese or Japanese speakers, is that Korea doesn’t use many of the actual hanja characters in modern writing, so you have to figure out the connections on your own. But once you do catch on you’ll be able to work out more and more vocabulary on your own.
  3. Korean is considered a “Class 3” language by the US Foreign Service Institute, which means that it theoretically is one of the most difficult to master for native speakers of English (and presumably for native speakers of languages closely related to English). Difficulty is measured in the typical time it takes for US foreign service members to achieve “general proficiency” in the language. Class 3 means the estimate is about 88 weeks at 25 hours a week (about 2200 hours total, with half being in the country). Of course there will always be individual variation, and difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Other C3 languages include Japanese, the many dialects of “Chinese” and Arabic. (Just because Arabic is also dfficult fr English speakers doesn’t mean Korean is easy for Arabic speakers
  4. That said, Korean has one of the most logical writing systems in the world. Hangeul, as it is usually called in South Korea today, was deliberately and carefully constructed to make it easy for the general population to learn. At first glance it may look similar to Chinese or Japanese, but the characters are not pictographs, they are phonetic (sound based) like English. Unlike English, there aren’t as many spelling rules and exceptions. And the best part, the letters are actually modeled after the way your mouth moves to pronounce them.

I will do another post about Hangeul, phonetics, and my system for remembering them later.

Language Issues and KGSP

The native language in Korea is Korean.

I know that is pretty obvious to most, but I think it cannot be emphasized enough.

According to about 20 to 40 percent of courses at all Korean universities are taught in English. I take course in this context to mean class not major subject, but I could be wrong. That means the rest are taught in a language other than English (probably primarily Korean, with some language and area studies courses taught in another foreign language).

This article does not give a breakdown for undergraduate versus graduate level courses. I would guess that the percentage of English classes in undergraduate programs is slightly lower and the percentage in graduate programs slightly higher (for any given university).

So what does this mean for you as a potential scholar in Korea?

First, it means that you have a decent chance of selecting a course that is either entirely or partially in Korean.

Next, this article, indirectly, brings up an interesting issue. While some of the programs taught exclusively in English are taught by Korean professors educated abroad, or foreign professors proficient in English, there are also some programs (or courses) taught by native Korean professors who are not as proficient in English, and only using English as a medium of instruction with reluctance.

One of the consequences of this is that while classroom instruction in English may be mandatory, the professors still may prefer Korean outside the classroom. This can affect things such as a professor’s willingness to advise you.

From the letter sent to all students selected for a KGSP scholarship:

“Though a few grantees will take their classes mostly in English throughout their degree course, each one must possess adequate Korean proficiency to join various meetings and seminars, to participate in various research projects, and to live a fulfilling academic and social life in Korea.”

Korean will most likely be necessary or useful at some point in your academic career in Korea, and for those who don’t find an all English program (or aren’t confident in English either) it will be an absolute neccessity.

So NIIED provides a whole year of language study for exactly that purpose, right?

Well yes, that’s true.

BUT, by NIIED’s own admission, prior to 2012 only 60% of participants passed TOPIK level 3 after one year and were able to start their degree programs on time. Of the 40% forced to do an extra six months “a lot” were still unable to achieve level 3 and ultimately had to give up the scholarship.

Now as these language schools get more experience in teaching, and with NIIED’s encouragement making people take the language courses more seriously hopefully the percentage moving on after one year (or less) is increasing, as is the overall level achieved. Hopefully.

Still, I can say from personal experience that TOPIK level 3 is a bare minimum of what you will need to hold a (semi-intelligent) conversation, let alone study for an advanced degree. Even with a level of 5 or 6 (depending on how you got there) you will be at a disadvantage compared to native Korean classmates (in the Korean classes anyway). Things will just take longer and more effort. And, given the curriculum at most language schools, if you start from zero you won’t get as high as 5, unless you put in some serious self study.

So what am I saying?

I’m certainly not saying not to apply for the scholarship, not definitively anyway.

I am saying to consider it very carefully, and take the language issue seriously.

As I have mentioned before, know what you are getting into. Research the language of instruction for your program, but more than that research the professors. Where did they study? How comfortable are they likely to be with English? Pay specific attention to professors you might want to ask to advise you.

And, whether you have decided to take a gamble on a program with courses in Korean or not, don’t wait until you arrive in Korea to start learning the language. If you have found this blog then you have the resources to start learning Korean (the internet). Make use of them! More on that another time…

KGSP Medical Exam

After you’ve passed the first an second stages of the KGSP application process (ie been approved by a university or embassy and also by NIIED), you will be required to get a medical examination.

There was mucho confusion regarding this medical exam amongst the 2014 acceptee pool, so I would like to clarify some things.

First of all, it seems very detailed (asking about teeth, mental state, etc), but that doesn’t mean you need to go to a hundred different specialists.

I, conveniently, had my exam done in Korea, and they checked eyes, height/weight, chest xray (for tuberculosis), blood pressure, and they took blood, urine and stool samples (lovely right?). Other than that they appear to have just looked at me generally and decided everything else was okay.

Now unfortunately, each country has a different medical system and requirements. A lot of doctors may not be willing to sign off so quickly without an actual exam. You will definitely need to find someplace that can at least perform the tests above.

You do not need to send xrays or specific exam results along with the form. [**EDIT** As of 2015 they did ask for specific exam results as well. Check the instructions carefully.] You just need to have your doctor fill in the relevant spaces on the form NIIED provides, and sign it.

The exception to this rule may be the drug test, and largest source of confusion in 2014.

In 2014, although there was some fine print saying a drug test was required, it was not included in the official form for the doctor to fill out. This meant that the doctors didn’t know about it, and many applicants did not have one done – until they were requested to submit one much later by NIIED.

So, make sure you specifically request that a drug test be done, especially if you think it may not be included in the form.

The second problem with the drug test is that NIIED specifically asks for a test called TBPE. Unfortunately, however, TBPE seems to only be available in Korea, and maybe a few other countries. They do mention that if TBPE is not available then you can get another equivalent drug test, but not what drugs the test is designed to detect. The main drugs they are looking for are opiates, marijuana (THC), cocaine, and methamphetamines. If you can get tested for all of these then that is best, but drug testing is not as widely available in some countries. If you can get some combination of these tests, then get what you can (and it wouldn’t hurt to include a note from your doctor about it). If you cannot find any drug tests then contact the Korean embassy in your country. They may be able to tell you where tests are available, or that there are none available and you are therefore exempt from taking the drug test. Make sure you confirm with them though because if someone else from your country is successful at getting tested (inside your country) then not knowing will probably not be an excuse.

I would recommend looking into the availability of drug testing early (even before acceptance if you can without an actual exam) because there is only about one month to complete the exam and these communications can take some time. (You might want to wait about contacting the embassy until after you are officially accepted though.)

If marijuana is legal in your country/state/area (or even if it isn’t) and you do occasionally indulge, I would recommend stopping as soon as you decide to apply for KGSP. A positive result will disqualify you for the scholarship and marijuana (THC) is most definitely illegal in Korea. If you are caught with marijuana in the country, you will be deported, so get used to not using it now.

I am hopeful that NIIED will try to revise some of their forms in order to avoid repeating this year’s confusion, but just in case you should be informed.