FAQ ~ Where will I study Korean?

If you are selected for KGSP, and do not yet have TOPIK 5 or 6, you may be curious about where you will study Korean for your language year.

The answer is not so easy.

The first thing that I can say is that you will not study Korean in the same region as your degree school. This is definite. They do this on purpose so that you can experience different parts of Korea.

Personally, I think this is a good thing. Different parts of Korea have different dialects and cuisine etc, so getting to know them is enriching for you as a Korean traveler. Another advantage, especially for those ending up in Seoul, is that whatever region you end up in is likely to be cheaper to live in than Seoul. A year to save up is not a bad thing.

Of course if you already have a home someplace in Korea (like me), or you have a spouse somewhere in Korea (like me) this may not be the most convenient arrangement. I was lucky in that I am still close to where my husband is, so I can go home for weekends if I choose, but I may just be lucky (or they may have done it on purpose. I don’t know.)

The next thing I can say is that you cannot choose where you will study Korean, nor can you change schools once they have decided for you. You can’t do it, it doesn’t happen, end of story.

So then what are the possible places you could be sent?

The answer to this question varies by year.

This year (2014 selectees) there are ten schools, but last year (2013 selectees) there were twelve schools. In addition to a reduction of the number of schools, there were also some changes to the schools.

They can be broken down roughly into 5 regions. Seoul, Northern Region, Central (West) Region, South Western Region, and South Eastern Region. (The colors below refer to the map at the bottom.)

  • Seoul/Red – These three universities were used for 2013 selectees, but for 2014 there are no schools in Seoul proper.
    • Kyunghee University (2013)
    • Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) (2013)
    • Sungkyunkwan* (There are Seoul and Suwon campuses. Suwon is just south of Seoul.) (2013)
  • Northern Region/Blue
    • Inha University, Incheon (2013/2014)
    • Kangwon National University, Chuncheon (2014)
    • Hallym University, Chuncheon (2013)
  • Central (West) Region/Green
    • Sunmoon University, Asan (2013/2014)
    • Chungnam National University, Daejeon (2013/2014)
    • Pai Chai University, Daejeon (2014)
  • South Western Region/Orange
    • Jeonju University, Jeonju (2013/2014)
    • Chonnam University, Gwangju (2013/2014)
  • South Eastern Region/Purple
    • Keimyung University, Daegu (2013/2014)
    • Yeungnam University, Gyeongsan (2014)
    • Dongseo University, Busan (2014)
    • Silla University, Busan (2013)
    • Pusan National University (2013)

On the map below you can see approximately where everything is. The highlighted areas are special designated metropolitan areas. These are Korea’s bigger cities (Seoul is pink, Incheon is blue, Daejeon is green, Gwangju is yellow/orange, Daegu is the inland purple, and Busan is the coastal purple). The stars are smaller cities.

You’ll notice that even when they’ve changed schools, they’ve generally added a school in the same general area, for every school they’ve taken away (with the exception of Seoul).

South_Korea_location_map
Map courtesy of Wikipedia http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b2/South_Korea_location_map.svg

As for how they choose which schools to send people to, that is a mystery. One thing you will notice is that none of the old, well established schools are on the list; such as Yonsei, Korea U, SNU, Sogang, Ehwa, etc. Part of the goal of KGSP is not only to raise the level of Korean among foreigners, but to also raise the level of Korean language education in Korea. Well established language programs have little trouble filling spots, and can constantly work on improving their programs with student feedback and results. Smaller programs like the ones KGSP uses need more help. Beyond that, I’m not sure what motivates NIIED to drop one school, keep another, and add yet another. The group of schools for 2015 and beyond may be similar, or totally different, but they will probably be in the vicinity of existing schools.

NIIED Orientation

So remember ESID?

Well, it applies to situations between KGSP year groups as well as those within year groups.

If you’ve followed my advice and watched Lolaloveskorea on YouTube, or found her on your own, or found other blogs from 2013 KGSPers or earlier that talk about NIIED orientation… yours may not be like that.

Mine certainly wasn’t.

And I’m not necessarily complaining.

Last year it appears they bussed everyone to the same place and did a two day orientation/tourism thing – in matching yellow polo shirts.

This year, they are being more economical and practical. We were divided into 4 groups of 2-3 language schools plus people in the area who are exempt from language study. And we got a tote bag and towels instead of polo shirts.

totebag
I love KGSP totebag
towels01
Towel gift
towels02
Inscribed towels. If you spend long enough in Korea, you’ll probably end up with a lot of these.

My group went right to the NIIED headquarters in Seoul, but other groups are gathering at one of the language schools nearby.

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NIIED Headquarters in Seoul

Instead of all the touring and socializing at the past years’ orientations, ours was pretty no nonsense, and went something like this…

1. Video about NIIED (fun fact – it started in 1962 and has been facilitating educational exchange between Korea and the world since then)

2. Video about KGSP

3. Greetings from the President of NIIED (in English)

4. Greetings from a student representative (in Korean and English)

5. Traditional Korean performance of gayageum and samulnori

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Gayageum
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Pungmul nori (the music with the streamer hats)
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Pungmul nori with samul nori instruments

6. Group photo

7. Coffee break

8. Explanation of Rules and Regulations following the handbook (mostly just reiteration of what is in the handbook, but it seemed to be based on things that people routinely ask questions about)

Handbook
Handbook

9. Speeches from two former scholars (one from 2011 and one from 2009, good information especially if it’s your first time abroad or in Korea)

10. Dinner

And then we went home. All told from checking in to going home, we were there for about 5 hours.

Some of the things they mentioned:

  • If you achieve TOPIK 5 (or 6) then you MUST start your degree program at the earliest opportunity (September if you do it before you arrive in Korea, or March if you get it between September and February of your language year). You cannot choose to do more language study.
  • You CANNOT change your degree university under any circumstances (and keep the scholarship). It has never happened in the history of KGSP.
  • During the application process they got between 400 and 800 emails a day! With a relatively small staff, that’s a lot of emails, so refer to this post and think carefully before you send them email. Again, I’m not saying don’t send them email, just think about it carefully.

And that’s what our orientation was like. Yours may be similar or completely different.

 

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.

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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.

ESID

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

Nope.

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.)

Comparisons

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.