KGSP University Quota – Regional Universities Revisited

**Disclaimer** I am not in any way affiliated with NIIED except to be a KGSP recipient. All opinions are based on my personal experience in Korea.

So, the Regional University quota versus the General University quota still seems to be a mystery to some (or many).

The Korean government’s apparent objective with the regional university quota is to attract talented people in STEM fields (specifically natural science and engineering) to universities outside the Seoul area. Keeping this goal in mind lets look at how that should affect your decision for your KGSP application.

Stage one: University selection

Say you are choosing between two universities that are roughly equal in prestige and are equally difficult to get into. One is a university in Seoul and one is designated as a “regional university.” There are 30 people applying to each of them. Based on their applications each person is ranked from 1 to 30 and the people at each rank are the same as each other (the first ranked people at each school got the same score as each other, the second rank people got the same score, and so on). Also, assume that all 30 are qualified for acceptance into the university, so the only thing that would prevent them from being accepted would be the quota that NIIED sets for university recommendations to KGSP.

You are an engineering major. If you apply to the school in Seoul then you must be one of the top 20 students, no matter what. (This is in a simplified universe where all majors are equally valued by the university. Obviously, in the real world, they may choose someone farther down the list because they want/need people from a particular major, or there is some personal relationship, or any number of random reasons.)

But, if you apply to the regional university then they get three extra spots specifically for natural science/engineering majors. (It used to be three, but it might be more or less now.) If you are in the top three students in one of these fields then you will be accepted, no matter what your overall rank is. For example, even if you are last in the ranking, if all 29 of the other people are majoring in history, psychology, business and philosophy then you can still be accepted. Also, even if you are not one of the top three  science/engineering students, then you just need to be in the top 20 out of 27 students instead of 20 out of 30 at the school in Seoul.

Stage two: NIIED selection

The exact same situation applies for the NIIED phase of the selection process. Now instead of being compared to people applying to one university, you are being compared to people from your own country.

Say that 10 people from your same country have been recommended by various universities. Your country has a quota of 2 people from regional universities and 3 general spots.

Again, if you have applied through a regional university in a science or engineering field, if you are one of the top two students who fit the regional quota, then you will be accepted, even if you are objectively ranked below everyone else.

But what if you aren’t one of those top 2 students? The quota for general applicants is bigger that the regional quota, so wouldn’t it be an advantage to apply just for a general spot? This is where you have to remember the original goal of creating regional university quotas in the first place. The whole idea is to attract smart people in STEM fields to non-Seoul universities. If, of the 10 students, the top five ranked people are all regional quota candidates does it make sense to reject 3 strong candidates in favor of people who don’t fit the regional quota? They are trying to bring people to these regional universities, so why would they turn them away?

The answer is that they wouldn’t. If all five of the best people applied through the regional quota then they will likely use the entire quota for that country for these five people. In other words, there is a maximum limit of three people that they will accept from outside the regional quota, but they may accept fewer if the regional candidates are strong. This works out in the following way:

General Candidates

Rank 1-3: Definitely accepted

Rank 4-5: Maybe accepted if one or more of the 1-3 ranked students were in the regional quota

Rank 6-10: No chance to be accepted

Regional Candidates

Rank 1-3: Definitely accepted

Rank 4-5: Definitely accepted

Rank 6-10: Maybe accepted if only one or fewer of the higher ranked students were in the regional quota

So you can see there is a definite advantage to choosing a regional university if you are in a natural science or engineering field. But, like all decisions in KGSP there is an element of uncertainty. If everyone decides to go this route then there will be more competition, but it is likely that the attraction of Seoul and its universities will balance against the attraction of a slight advantage in the admissions process. This is not a guaranteed process even for very weak students. You will still need to meet the standards of the KGSP program and for the university that you choose. Universities don’t necessarily have to fill every quota if there are not enough qualified students. But, if you think that you are a good candidate for the university, but worry about competing with others from your country who will be applying in Seoul, then the regional quota may be a good choice for you.

KGSP Updates – 2017

I’ve been responding to people’s comments, but I haven’t written in a long time. There have been some significant changes, so I do want to update some of the things I’ve said in the past. If you are applying to KGSP yourself, you should make sure you read the instructions for the year in which you are applying carefully and thoroughly yourself before sending in your application.

  1. There is still a regional university option for people in Natural Science and Engineering fields from certain countries. For more on this option see my 2015 post here.
  2. Always double check the available universities. They change slightly each year. (For example, this year Ajou University appears not to be on the list.) The same goes for countries and their quotas.
  3. Good news for people who have studied abroad in Korea! While there used to be a rule that people who studied abroad in Korea were not able to apply for KGSP, that rule no longer applies. If you were an exchange student at a Korean university you will be able to apply to KGSP (page 7 of 2017 guidelines). If you did a full degree in Korea (Bachelor, Master, or PhD) then you are still unable to apply, unless you were a KGSP scholar at that time. For former KGSP scholars, you may apply again for a higher degree program, but only through the Embassy quota.
  4. They seem to have strengthened the language on GPA. Those with GPAs under 80% or the equivalent will be automatically disqualified. They also require an official explanation from your university describing the “university’s evaluation system as well as the applicant’s academic achievement” (page 7) if either A) your transcript doesn’t include GPA info or B) your grades cannot be easily converted to a 4.0, 4.3, 4.5, 5.0 or percentage scale. This would seem to mean that you can’t use third-party conversion services, it must come from your uni.
  5. They specifically disallow use of the TOEFL ITP to show English proficiency. The ITP has always been for internal evaluation purposes and not for outside certification purposes. If you want to submit English test scores you will need to take the IBT (or PBT/CBT if those are what is available) or the TOEIC or IELTS.
  6. Other people who might get preference include the following. Remember, “preference” most likely means a couple points added to your score. (For example, the self-intro and statement of purpose are worth 10 points each. The other parts of the application are likely also worth some undetermined number of points.) So if you are an extremely strong candidate in a field that doesn’t get any preference then you still have a chance over a weaker candidate from a “preferred” field. Don’t give up just because you may have less “preference.”
    1. Applicants in natural science, technology and engineering
    2. Applicants for majors included in the Industrial Professionals Training Project of the Korean Government. This is a slightly more specific version of the STEM fields above and includes various high-tech fields like biotech, semiconductors and LED technology.
    3. Faculty from higher education institutions in countries to which Korea gives ODA.
    4. Descendants of Korean War vets.
  7. Changes to required documents:
    1. They give very specific requirements for the length of the Self-Introduction (or personal statement) and Statement of Purpose (including study plan and future plan). You must use Times New Roman size 10 font. Your self-introduction letter must be one page or less. Your Statement of Purpose should use the same font type and be two pages or less (including both study plan and future plan).
    2. You need TWO recommendation letters. (It used to be just one.) They should be able to comment on your academic abilities.
    3. You need an “original copy” of all diplomas or transcripts. That is kind of an oxymoron – it can’t be both original and a copy, can it? Remember never send your actual diploma, you will not get it back. You should get an official copy from your university (from my experience it should be in the form of a certificate, the closer to your actual diploma the better), or if that is not possible, have a copy of the original notarized or apostilled.
    4. Certificate of Korean Citizenship Renunciation and Adoption documents are “optional” in the sense that not everyone has to submit them, but they are a “must” if they apply to you (i.e. if your parents or yourself ever had Korean citizenship, or if you are a Korean adoptee).
    5. Notarize ALL photocopies. Including passport, etc.
    6. If you are applying through the University track, you only need to submit ONE set of original documents. If you are applying through the Embassy track, you still need one set of originals, and THREE sets of photocopies. You must get four sets of all sealed documents. This means that you should ask your professors or other recommenders to make three copies of their recommendation and seal each one, plus the original in four separate envelopes. Transcripts should also be in sealed envelopes and you should get four copies from your university.
  8. They have gone back to explicitly stating that students who get TOPIK 5 or 6 in the first six months may start their degree program in March. This was always the case, though they stopped talking about it briefly in the 2015 application guidelines.
  9. For the language year, they state that you can live off campus (outside the dormitories) if you have TOPIK level 3 or above.

These are just some of these changes. For other advice and requirements see my other blog entries and the comments. Good luck with your applications or future applications!

Long time no see… Yonsei GSIS

So I’ve been seriously remiss in updating this…

It’s been two semesters already since I started at Yonsei, which means I am halfway through my Master’s program, and more than halfway through this KGSP experience.

I had some requests (last summer… sorry!!!) to talk more about my experience at Yonsei, so here it is.

From talking to friends at other GSIS around Seoul (Korea U., SNU, Sogang) I can say that Yonsei is one of the bigger ones (300+/- students), if not by far the biggest. This has its advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, there is a fairly large selection of classes, comparatively speaking and the large number of students means that it is fairly easy to hold events such as academic conferences and social/sports events because there is always someone interested in participating.

On the minus side, more students and a higher student:teacher ratio means less individual attention. That means fewer TA opportunities and more difficulty in finding thesis advisors, for those who choose to go that route. (Indeed, at Yonsei it is not required to write a thesis, and the number of people eligible to write one is highly restricted to those with a 3.7/4.3 GPA. That’s an A- and the relative grading scheme limits the number of students who can receive any grade in the A range to between 40 and 60% of any given class.) This is not to say that professors are unwilling to help students, but you do need to make a concerted effort to approach them.

So far I’ve taken three core courses (required of most students regardless of major), one required course (of all Korean Studies majors, which I’m not, but everyone is allowed to take them), and four electives.

The core courses are all big lecture style classes. There were around 70 students in International Relations and Introduction to International Economics, and 30-50 students in Statistics and Data Analysis and Research Design and Methods (RDM). The professors for these classes vary a bit from term to term, and there are changes to the course content accordingly. Basically the grading is based on exams (often partly or totally multiple choice, sometimes with essays) and group presentations. Some have essay style take home finals, and RDM has a final research proposal.

The required class had around 25-30 people in it and was also lecture style. There are two required courses for Korean Studies, whereas other majors do not have required courses other than the core courses. In exchange, Korean Studies majors only have to take two core courses (IR or Economics and Statistics or RDM). This particular course may just be particularly popular with the general student body, in part because of the professor (it’s the one offered in the fall), and that accounts for the relatively high enrollment. This class had a midterm and final (identifications and essays for both) and a final paper.

The elective courses tend to be smaller with around 10-20 people (some may have even less). Of the three that I have taken, one was basically lecture style, two were seminar style with a large degree of student lead discussion, and the last one was kind of half and half. These mostly had midterm exams and final papers. Some classes have research proposals for these final papers due sometime midterm, but mine didn’t. Some classes have take home exams where you are given 24-48 hours to write essays on the assigned topics. All of these classes also had presentations (sometimes small group and sometimes individual), which factored into the grading.

For the most part I have found the professors to be not only knowledgeable in their fields, but to also to be active and respected beyond the university. Visiting professors can be a bit of a gamble, but the full time professors live up to the Yonsei name in reputation, and many of the visiting professors are quite good as well. Teaching skill can be another issue entirely, but how much you get out of a course depends on how much you put in. Even in my “worst” class, I feel like I gained valuable information and resources for future exploration. Whatever class you take there will probably be a lot of reading (anywhere from 50 to 150 pages a week per class), so the professor’s insight is important, but not everything.

There is a blog for Yonsei students to write professor evaluations (search for Yonsei GSIS faculty evaluations), so you can check out what people say there. It is for faculty evaluations, not questions, so don’t go there with questions. If you do have questions there is a facebook group for Yonsei GSIS, but try doing your own research online and in the past group posts first. Many questions have already been answered.

If you are choosing between GSIS, I highly recommend looking through course catalogs. At Yonsei, look under the notices section for the classes that have been offered each semester in the most recent semesters. There is also a place to find class descriptions, but I don’t know how recently it has been updated. Class schedules are also available for past semesters at the Yonsei Portal. These should be available without logging in (for non-students). Some classes will even have syllabi on record (though you will need to log-in to access a syllabus uploaded as a separate file). You can find similar lists and databases for the other schools as well. The most important thing is that there are enough classes that you are actually interested in taking. In a pinch you will be able to take a certain number of classes through another GSIS and transfer the credits (4 classes or 12 credits if you are at Yonsei).

Finally, about that relative grading thing…

Basically, Yonsei grades on a kind of curve, but how it works may vary by professor. “A” grades (A+, A0, A-) are limited to 40% of students in core classes (the biggest classes), 50% of students in other classes bigger than 10 students, and 60% of students in classes fewer than 10 students. An A+ can only be given to the top 10% of students. This is just a rough guideline limiting the maximum number of students who can get As. Some professors may choose to give a smaller number of students As, some might choose not to give any A+s, and in some cases it may depend on the ultimate distribution. For those who do not get As, there are no other rules or limitations, so everyone else could conceivably get a B-/B0/B+, or professors can choose to go lower. I haven’t found there to be a great degree of transparency in terms of distribution or curves or any of that (some professors do give that kind of information for the midterm exams, but not all, and after finals you’d have to ask directly for any kind of feedback).

For me, this system has worked out… So I’m not really sure what happens to the other half of the class…

 

 

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.

 

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!

Visas

Last Monday, the day after arriving back home from New Zealand, I went off to the Korean Consulate in Yokohama to get my spousal visa for Korea (the F-6-1).

It probably would have been a lot easier to get to the Embassy in Tokyo, but fortunately I called ahead of time, and they told me that because I live in Yokohama I have to go to the consulate.  Who knew… that they would even have a consulate in Yokohama with Tokyo right next door?  But I suppose there are enough Koreans living in Japan and the greater Kanto region to warrant more than one facility.

The consulate is in the middle of nowhere in terms of public transport, but right in the Yamate area, which is a beautiful (if uphill) walk, especially in the middle of cherry blossom season.

I brought my husband and mother-in-law (who was visiting) along for moral support.  I was also armed with the following:

1. Passport and copy
2. Japanese Alien Registration Card (外国人登録証… I renewed my Japanese visa right before the switch to the 在留カード) and copy
3. Invitation form (downloaded from the embassy website)
4. Reference letter (downloaded from the embassy website)
5. Marriage certificate and family register from Korea (where we got married)
6. Marriage certificate from America (or just the signed letter fom the US Embassy in Seoul)
7. Bank statement for my husband’s account
8. Contract for our apartment in Seoul
9. Picture
10. Fee
11. Application form (which we got and filled out there)

Things I did not have… proof of employment/salary for my husband (it’s complicated), any kind of health check or criminal record, any kind of credit record for either of us.

I was also really surprised because the application form I was asked to fill out was exactly the same as the one for every other visa type.  Having read up on the process rather extensively, I was expecting marriage specific questions, like when did you meet, what’s his favorite food… or something…

I brought along my Level 3 TOPIK results and my college transcript (to show employability? I happened to have it on hand because of the grad school apps, so why not?), but they didn’t ask for anything else.

The lady said to come back on Wednesday and sent us on our way.

We were too busy touring with the mother-in-law, so we waited till the following Monday and went all the way back up to Yamate to pick up my passport with its nice new visa.  Being a worrier, and feeling like we turned in way less than everyone else said they did, I was a little scared that the visa wouldn’t actually be given to me, but I just gave her the receipt for picking it up, and she gave me my passport and sent me on my way again.

Piece of cake!

BUT, I later realized I had turned in my application the day before the law supposedly changes, and requirements get stricter.  Phew!

The new law states that the Korean spouse (or the couple or someone) needs to be able to prove a yearly income of about 15 million won or more, and that the foreign spouse should be able to prove basic Korean skills (or they should prove that they can communicate in a language other than Korean).

On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense, but on the other hand it seems like a really hard thing to regulate.

It seems to make sense that you would want to be able to communicate with your spouse, and a little sad to think that there are people entering into something like marriage without being able to do that (prompting people to make such a law).  BUT, how do you quantify such communicative ability on a visa application?  It seems that level one of a test like TOPIK is the generally accepted level of Korean proficiency, but that seems like pretty basic communication.  And what if you want to prove that you communicate in a language other than Korean?  Do both have to give TOEFL scores if neither’s native language is English?  What if the couple speaks in French? or German? or Chinese?  Who is going to make standards for each, and then test them?

For the financial test, that’s a little easier, and it does seem to take into account that it may not be the Korean spouse who is the main provider in every household.  No problem there for now…  we’ll see.

Still, I’m glad I got in just under the wire….

Just a note, I am in Japan on a working visa, so this is not an account of the typical “visa run” to Japan.  The Yokohama Consulate did ask me on the phone if I was living here, and the impression I got is that they would not have processed my application if I did not.  Contact any Korean embassy/consulate ahead of time if it is not your home country or you are not living there currently before doing a visa run.

Starting a new journey

Sometimes timing is not on your side.

Along with moving to a new country, I decided to embark on a new journey of another kind.  After almost 11 years in Japan, nearly 8 of them as an “international exchange coordinator” at a private high school, I have decided to try to go back to school as a student myself.  So I am applying to graduate school in Korea, my new adopted country.  First, I am applying for a fairly well known scholarship there (which shall remain nameless for the time being).

I thought I was all prepared.  My transcripts were ordered last year, along with proof of graduation from my university.  I asked my former professor for a recommendation.  I finished filling out the forms based on last year’s application before this year’s application package was even available.  I got my TOPIK scores and even my JLPT scores for good measure.

And then I waited… and waited… and waited.

The recommendation did not come.

I emailed my professor more than once, and she assured me it would be fine.

But it still didn’t come.

I eventually realized that she was planning a big international conference set to take place the weekend before my deadline.  Bad timing.

And I was leaving to take students to New Zealand 10 days before my deadline, so I really needed to get that recommendation before leaving home for three weeks.  Bad, bad timing.

It didn’t come, but being the resourceful person I am, I sent my whole application to my parents, and had the professor do the same.  They put the whole thing together and sent it off to New York, and the first selection committee.  Better than having everything sent once to Japan, and then sending it back to America.  Crisis one averted.

I got confirmation that the application had arrived on the Friday before the Tuesday deadline.  Phew!

This was quickly followed by an email saying that the proof of graduation I had requested from my university was not suitable because it was in “letter form” and not “certificate form.”  Something about making sure the credentials aren’t fake and all that.  Not that certificates can’t be faked.  And I submitted a signed, sealed transcript from the university as well.

But if they want a certificate then I should send a certificate, right?  Only one problem… I’m in New Zealand.  And I have no idea where my diploma is.  (Okay, two problems.)  My first best guess is that the diploma is still at my parents’ house, where it was sent after I graduated.  This is also the best case scenario because, well, I’m in New Zealand, so if it’s at my house in Japan then there is no way to look for it until the end of the month.  I send my parents on a search of their house to look for the diploma.  And they come up with nothing.

My mom has no recollection of the diploma being sent to them (it was) and asks, “Didn’t you get your diploma at graduation?”  To which I reply, “No, I just got a translation at graduation.  They sent the real ones later.”  Wait, what?  Translation?  Sh**!  My diploma is in Latin!!  So I have to get a copy of my diploma, which has gone AWOL, and I have to get it translated?  And I’m in New Zealand.  And as if this all wasn’t bad enough I am leaving to take the kids to the wilderness, with no phone or internet for a week.  Bad, bad, bad timing.

A replacement diploma will take 4-6 weeks, and still be in Latin.  Now it’s the weekend and I can’t get any answers until Monday, and by that time I’ll be incommunicado.  So I send email to my uni about the translation, and email to the scholarship committee explaining the situation, and I leave for a week.  (Though fortunately for me, with the time difference it’s actually still Friday in New York when I get back.)

When I do get back I find a pdf of a nice notarized translation sitting in my inbox, and an email from the selection committee saying that they’ll send my application to the main selection committee in Korea, and if they need more they’ll contact me.  Just in case, I ask my uni if there is anything more certificate-y than the letter, but not quite as work intensive (or Latin-y) as a true copy of my diploma, and they agree to make a certificate for me.  (Thank you, GU!  Though I feel like that will look just as fake as the letter… really frustrating because it’s real…)

All I can say is that so far this experience has been more frustrating than anything else.  The instructions were in English, but not overly clear (am I the only native speaker who has no idea what “confirmation of collation” is?  Collating is something my printer or copier does, putting pages in order…)  It said “documents should be presented in their original form,” so rather than trying to locate and copy my diploma, I sent an original document from my uni… and that turned out to bite me in the butt. I tried to ask questions early to avoid just such a situation.  When I emailed Korea they said ask the US.  When I asked the US they said email Korea.  I called DC once and they said call New York.  I called New York and they said call Korea.

But if it all works out it should be more than worth it, and at the moment I’m still hopeful.

And just in case the scholarship doesn’t work out, I am trying to prepare my applications for the individual universities, and I’ll hope for private scholarships from them.  I’ll find out about the scholarship the day after I move to Korea, and then have another two weeks to make their deadlines.  Hopefully timing is on my side from here on.

The pictures are from New Zealand.  This is my seventh and last time bringing kids here, and I have to admit I will miss it.

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