Pet peeve

So I mentioned in another post that the KGSP facebook groups are a great resource when you are applying for the scholarship.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the basic leg work by yourself.

I am pretty sure many of the other bloggers or video bloggers would say the same thing (but don’t presume to spea for them, just myself).

I see a lot of people asking questions that have been answered elsewhere, often in that same person’s blog or videos. There are also a lot of people asking for very basic information about the scholarship that is fully answered in the guidelines for the scholarship on sites run by NIIED.

Now I will admit that the guidelines are not 100% clear, and that the bulletin for the scholarship is at the Study in Korea website, and not at the NIIED website, where one might expect it. BUT with simple google searches you should be able to get there. I did.

I am happy to answer questions, here and on facebook, but try to do your own research first. Think of it as the first step toward your advanced degree. If you can’t research a simple scolarship, how can you expect to produce original research in your major field?

I’d greatly prefer to answer questions about my own experience, than basic questions about the mechanics of the scholarship.

I’m not blaming, just reminding. We’re all busy people, so we need to take control of our own lives!

And finally good luck! There are so many wonderful opportunities available out there, and I hope that everyone finds one that is perfect for them!

Embassy or University?

So you’ve decided to apply for KGSP, and even have some schools you’re interested in. Now you have to decide whether to apply via a Korean embassy in your country or directly through the university in Korea.

There are some advantages and disadvantages to each, but first the basic process for each.

Designated University

Early February – Download the application instructions from NIIED, and check with the university for the application deadline

Mid March – Application deadline. Make sure you send your application materials so that they will arrive BEFORE the deadline. Remember, your application is going to Korea, so especially for some countries you will need lots of time. Make sure you send it express, and it’s best to have a tracking number.

Late March – Deadline for universities to report their decisions TO NIIED. They may or may not inform you at this time. (This is the “first selection.”)

May 1 – NIIED chooses candidates based on the country quotas. (This is the “second selection.”)

If you apply through a designated university then you are guaranteed a scholarship at this point UNLESS you do not return your completed medical exam results by the deadline, or fail it for some reason.

Rest easy until mid-June when the final list is posted with language school assignments.

Korean Embassy

Early February – Download the application instructions from the NIIED website, and check your local Korean Embassy for the application deadline. You must apply through the Korean embassy in the country of which you are a citizen. Check the NIIED guidelines for the location of the appropriate embassy, especially if there is no Korean embassy in your country. If you are American you will apply through the consulate in charge of your state of residence. You can check at the Korean Education Center in DC for the list of which embassies cover which states. If you are an American living abroad then apply through the embassy that has jurisdiction over the state where your parents live. (Confusing right?)

Mid March – Application deadline. Again make sure you send your application with enough time to arrive before the deadline. Usually, the embassy will be in your own country, so it will probably take less time than sending your application to Korea, but still leave plenty of time, and again get a tracking number.

Mid April – Deadline for the embassy to send their choices TO NIIED. Again, you may or may not be informed at this time.

May 1 – NIIED publishes the list of “second selection” candidates, and sends those applications on to the three universities each person has chosen in their application.

You may be contacted by your universities for extra materials or interviews at this time. (Look in the university information and on their kgsp info website ahead of time so you aren’t surprised by a request for another recommendation, or something equally difficult to get in a pinch.)

Late May – The universities will tell you if you are accepted or not. (This is the “third selection” which only applies to embassy candidates. If you are not accepted by any of your three universities then you cannot get the scholarship.)

Early June – You will tell NIIED which university you choose. As long as you also return and pass the medical exam by the deadline, you now have a scholarship.

June 17 – NIIED will post the list of all scholarship recipients and the language institute they will attend.

The differences are:

1.) The number of schools you can apply to (only one by university but three by embassy).

2.) The timeline (university applicants are basically done after the second selection, but embassy applicants have to wait for the third).

3.) The quotas (each country has a different number of places for embassy versus university. Some countries have only one or the other, so those people don’t need to decide.)

So, if you do come from a country with both university and embassy quotas, which method should you choose?

I personally don’t think there is a one-size fits all, simple answer to that question, but I will talk about what I think are the major considerations.

First, regarding difference (1)…

If you have one school that you are really interested in, and you are reasonably confident about getting in, then university may be the way to go.

As mentioned in an earlier post, you should research this school, and your desired department thoroughly to see if you really are a match (specifically regarding language ability, undergraduate experience, etc.)

If you want to apply to a top-ranked university (SKY, POSTECH, PNU, KAIST, etc), you should either be very, very confident, or consider applying via embassy.

On the other hand, if you are undecided about your first choice, or want to go somewhere that might be more difficult to get in (for you), then embassy might be a better choice. You can apply to a high-risk school (or two) along with a less risky choice. You can also delay your final decision until later.

Second, about the timeline…

This is not as big an issue for most people, but if timing is an issue, here are some considerations…

If you apply via embassy and are accepted in the first selection, you have a reasonably good chance of going all the way (if you have chosen your three universities wisely), whereas the guarantee is less for university applicants (for reasons I will discuss later).

On the other hand if you apply via university and make the second cut, then you are guaranteed the scholarship (as long as the medical check goes well), whereas embassy candidates still have to wait for their university acceptance.

If you are considering going to Korea even without a scholarship from NIIED (and there are numerous other scholarship programs, along with money available from the universities themselves specifically for foreign students) then you should consider which timing will work with your backup plans, and how much you want to risk.

This would also apply if you have other things such as job opportunities waiting for you.

By far the biggest concern, however, is quotas, and it is a complicated one.

The advantage of applying through university is that you may have a better chance of making it through to the second round, especially if your embassy quota is small.

If you apply through your embassy then the embassy will choose 1.5 times their quota to send to NIIED. That is 3 people if the quota is 2, or 12 if the quota is 8. If you are not one of those people NIIED will never even see your application, and if there are spaces left empty because other countries do not fill their quotas then you will not be considered.

On the otherhand, each university can choose up to 3 people from any one country (and 20 people total), and there are 60 universities. This means that in theory, up to 180 people from your country could go on to the second round, and at least have their application read by NIIED.

SO, university candidates are possibly more likely to go from round 1 to round 2, BUT embassy candidates are potentially more likely to make it through round 2.

The odds for embassy candidates in round 2 will never be less than 66% because the embassies can’t choose more than 1.5 times the quota, and as there are currently a number of countries that don’t fill their quota, the chances are actually much better. There were 63 countries in 2014 that exceeded their embassy quota after the second selection.

University candidates, on the other hand, will be faced with the same issue embassy candidates faced in the first round, small quotas and an abundance of candidates.

Ultimately, you are probably facing very similar odds either way, and these will vary significantly depending on the country you are applying from. This is not an easy scholarship to get, and if your CV is not strong, you should consider other back-up plans. BUT in as much as you increase the chance of your application going to NIIED, the university option may be better for those less confident about their chances.

If, however, your application is pretty strong and you are looking to go to SNU, Korea University or Yonsei (along with other popular choices), applying through the embassy is a better option.

Annually over 50 KGSP students (each) end up choosing SNU, Yonsei or KU.

If they all chose to apply through the university, they would be caught by the university quota of 20 students each (and no more than 3 from any one country).

Through university, you are also limited to choosing just one school. At top schools like these, where most of the candidates will be strong, there is an element of randomness to the selection, so if it is important to you to attend one of them, it is better to apply to multiple schools, as you can by applying through the embassy.

Of course if you have some connection with the university, or great confidence in the strength of your profile, then university still may be the way to go. (But if you are that awesome it probably doesn’t matter how you apply…)

In the end, as much as you may analyze and agonize there is a large element of chance. The country you’re from, the number of people who choose one method or the other, the other people who choose the same universities, etc. Try to maximize your chances and find the method that fits your situation, but also stay realistic and consider your backup plan as well.

Some numbers…

10 Most popular schools (2014 Final selection)
SCHOOL 2014# (2013#)
1. SNU 76 (86)
2. Yonsei 59 (50)
3. Hanyang 45 (38)
4. Korea U. 44 (48)
5. HUFS 35 (19)
6. Dongguk 32 (13)
7. Kyunghee 31 (30)
8. Ehwa Women’s 28 (21)
9. Pusan Nat. 27 (21)
10. Kyungpook 21 (23)

As you can see, the most popular schools all have more than 20 students each. Ultimately, no school admitted more than 12 people from the university selection (KU only had 3, Yonsei only 8).

There are several possible reasons for this. 1) Few people applied to popular schools via university because of the competition. 2) People were cut in the second selection by NIIED (although if someone is strong enough to be accepted at one of these, I find it unlikely they would be cut). 3) The schools only selected the strongest candidates at this early stage to leave room in their programs. I personally think it is a combination of 1) and 3).

4 = The number of people missing from the university quota between the 2nd and 3rd selection.

67 = The number of people missing from the embassy quota between the 2nd and 3rd selection.

The people who did not make the final cut for the university quota probably either decided not to take the scholarship and pursue other plans, or possibly had some problem with the medical exam.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people missing from the embassy quota were not accepted at any of their three choices. This emphasizes the importance of making wise choices in your university selection. These were all people who had been selected as representatives of their countries, and should have been worthy of selection at one of the 60 universities.


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!

Proficiency Tests

Today I took a break from moving preparations and goodbye meals to take the TOPIK exam.

The Test of Proficiency in Korean, Intermediate Level.  Three hours of vocab, writing, listening and reading.  Fun stuff, right?  A great way to spend an Easter Sunday…

To be perfectly honest though, I love tests.  That’s probably because I am a pretty good tester.  You name it I’ve taken it… or not really, but I’ve definitely done my fair share of language tests.

It all started in my year abroad when I first learned there were such things as language proficiency exams.  Take a test and get a pretty certificate if you pass?  Where do I sign up?  So as soon as I got home I signed up for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), level 2 (which at the time was the second highest of four tests).  And passed.

Then, when I arrived in Japan two years later, I signed up for level 1, and passed that too.  Then heard about the Business Japanese Proficiency Test (BJT), which at the time was run by JETRO, but is now run by the same people as the “Kanken” (Kanji Aptitude Test), and so I took that too.  And passed (but skipped the optional interview because while I thrive in written tests, interviews make me really nervous).

Then I got into Korean, and found that they have tests too (!!), so I took the TOPIK beginner level two years ago, and the intermediate test last year.

Then I decided I might want to go to Korea and that would mean looking for new jobs.  And when looking for new jobs what better thing to have on your resume than multilingualism (with more proficiency tests for proof)?  So, since it had been ten years since I first passed JLPT level one, and the test had since undergone a major overhaul, I decided to take N1 (now the highest level of five), and throw in the Nihongo Kentei (日本語検定) for good measure.  The Nihongo Kentei is actually a test theoretically designed for Japanese people, and tests knowledge of things like keigo, vocab, proper usage, etc.  In some ways it is similar to the English part of the SATs.

Almost took the BJT again, but I accidentally slept through it… or rather completely forgot I was signed up until the day after…

And of course one more intermediate TOPIK test (because the first time around I only passed level three and I want four).

There are a lot of people out there who like to devalue proficiency tests.  More so for JLPT than TOPIK (probably because JLPT has been around longer).

I personally think that you just have to understand the tests, and what they are and are not.

I cannot guarantee that having a level one JLPT has ever gotten me a job, but I can say that when we were looking for my replacement at work, we definitely filtered candidates based partially on language proficiency (as that is essential for my old job), and JLPT scores were one of the scales we used. (Of course we interviewed everyone who passed that first filter, and did language checks of our own as well.) If you don’t like proficiency tests, you are going to have to find some other way to demonstrate your proficiency in an easily understandable way.

I can also say that a JLPT score exempts one from the language test required by one of the master’s programs I have applied to, so being able to demonstrate that proficiency in the application stage has got to be some advantage (as it is a requirement of the program.)

If used correctly, proficiency tests are great for your resume.

Of course they have to be used correctly.

For example, in looking for my replacement we fairly quickly discounted anyone who wrote level 3 or below. For some it was an old result, so it is theoretically possible that they are much better now, but without any more recent indication of higher proficiency it wasn’t really worth our time. For some positions it is possible that even level 2 (N2), might have been cut, so you have to really understand the demands of the job. If it’s an old result that doesn’t really reflect your current level it might be better to leave it off.

On the other hand, proficiency tests are not necessarily great indications of your actual proficiency.

As the people evaluating the candidates, it was necessary for us to do checks of our own.

As someone taking the tests, you have to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, in my case…

I studied Japanese for seven years before I’d even heard of language proficiency exams. I took formal classes, I studied abroad, and I did a lot of conversation practice. By the time I took my first test, I was functionally quite proficient (the only reason I didn’t go straight for the highest level was some insecurity about kanji and reading). As a result, the exam result was just confirmation of what I already new myself, and was a fairly accurate representation of what I actually knew and could control. I never really studied FOR the exam (other than familiarizing myself with the format.)

With Korean it was (and is) a whole different story. I knew about the existence of the tests almost from the very beginning, and took my first test after only six months of study. I was taking formal classes, but conversation practice was limited. I very much studied FOR that first test, and every test thereafter.

As a result, the scores may open some doors, but conversationally speaking I am still an infant. My comprehension is not terrible, so that’s something, but the test results are a very poor representation of my language production skills.

Anti-testing people largely cite cases like mine as reasons the tests are “worthless,” but I think you just need to be realistic about how much value to place on them.

As a learner, I am very happy with my pretty little certificates, and grateful for every door they have opened, but I also am aware of my own limitations, and that passing the highest level does not necessarily eliminate the need to progress.

And as someone looking at the tests to evaluate others, I realize that they do have limitations, and that it is fine to use them just as one clue to the bigger picture, but dangerous to assume they tell the whole truth.