Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Korean Dropouts

Kang Shin Who has been running a series of articles in the Korea Times about the students who gain admission to universities in the US by any method, legal or not.  Today's article focuses on the enormous drop-out rate of Koreans from American universities.  What I found particularly interesting were these bits:
One of the hopefuls said "I had a hard time to adapt to school life (in the U.S.) after I finished my army service and it was very stressful." ...
 "I witnessed a lot of Korean students having difficulties in studying there as it is much easier to gain academic credits in Korea," she added.
Cho, who transferred from Pennsylvania State University to Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, also said he saw many Korean friends who were forced to return to Korea due to their poor academic achievements.  
I think that one of the biggest hurdles for Korean students, whether they were admitted with legitimate application materials or not, is the incredible difference between the style of academia between the United States and Korea. Now I went to an exceedingly liberal minded school (Sarah Lawrence, which models the majority of its classes on small seminars and individual tutorials in which you carry out thesis like research...for every class) but there are some general education trends that we can examine. 

In Korea, much of education is focused on swallowing facts and regurgitating the material for an exam. By contrast, much of education in the United States, particularly at the university level, focuses on the student's ability to analyze information and come to their own conclusions---and defend them analytically.  The goal is to learn how to think and process information for yourself since presumably you will have to continue to do so for the rest of your life, particularly if you want to maintain a position at the top of your field. In addition to overcoming the differences in learning styles there is the sheer cultural differences. Language hagwons (cram schools) teach lots about the English language itself but often very little if nothing at all about the culture. I read several books on culture shock and cultural differences to be aware of before arriving in Korea and I still found it an incredible thing to adjust to. So much of a student's preparation focuses on the academic life in the US that they forget they will have an enormous cultural burden to deal with.  I remember when I got to France it was incredibly hard to adjust to doing all of my coursework in another language when I still had trouble navigating the more trivial aspects of my life, like the grocery store and the different library system.

I find it frustrating that these articles have such a narrow focus. They are so short! If 56% drop out, as Kang claims, then why could he only find 5 people to interview?  I'm interesting in hearing more in depth narratives of why students found it so hard to make the grade in the US, not just one line sound bites.


Nancy K said...

In your high school the largest ethnic group of international students was Korean. Most or all of them went on to American colleges. I wonder what their rate of matriculation is after a rigorous 3 or 4 years of american high school.

Alex said...

Pretty high I imagine, not a single one of my Korean friends from high school dropped out and in fact tended to graduate in the top percent of their class. However, the article focuses on students who go to the US only for university. Anyone who did well at Northfield Mount Hermon was well prepared for the rigors of university. After all, that's what those fancy college prep boarding schools are for.