International student numbers have shot up in recent years and most are happy with life here. Photo courtesy Jeju National University
Jeju National University was until recently a local university catering to local students, but in the last decade or so more and more foreign students have arrived. Most are Chinese, as is the case at other universities in Korea, but there are also large numbers from the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Even Westerners, from both Europe and North America, have found their way to JNU.
But what is it like to live and study at JNU? That depends on your background. If you have religious dietary require-ments things can be tricky. “For Muslims getting halal food is impossible, so we have to import a lot of our food from Seoul,” one student from Pakistan told me.
For Hindus, it is easier: “We don’t eat pork or beef, but there are no religious problems with eating many other foodstuffs we can easily buy locally. Anything else we can order over the internet, from Seoul,” said Indian Apuroopa Cherukuri.
At the same time, quite contrary to what many Koreans believe, all students interviewed happily eat kimchi. “I had to get used to eating it, but now I eat it almost every day,” one Indonesian student said.
Many of the students live in facilities where they can cook, but financially that is often not worthwhile, as they quickly realize it is just as cheap to eat out. Especially for the Western students, who are used to high prices in restaurants, this is novel: “It makes the decision about what to eat somewhat easier,” joked one Canadian student. “Since you never really have to wonder about the cost, eating out daily becomes a serious option.”
The weather for several French stu-dents was a surprise; one exclaimed: “The Hawaii of Korea, n’est ce pas?” He soon discovered that the weather on Jeju can be quite cold, complete with snow. Others, from more tropical climes, take more adjusting. “For me the cold was something I had to get used to - I saw snow here for the first time in my life,” said one Vietnamese student, as did others.
The cold season exacerbates the isolation of the JNU campus, away from town. “Personally I like Seoul better, with all its sights and the subway. I do miss that. When the weather is bad the distance to town here becomes psycho-logically even worse,” a student from a large Japanese town said.
Another problem with the cold is poor insulation and high energy bills. “The dormitory is okay when it comes to climate control, but the one-room [apart-ments] behind the university are often terrible...the mold literally grows on the walls. Also, since insulation is almost nonexistent, the costs of heating these rooms is quite high.”
European students, often from coun-tries with active policies and rules on insulation, wonder why the Korean government does not regulate construc-tion more. A Russian student wondered: “After all, energy is a strategic resource for a country without oil or gas, why waste so much of it?”
The language is particularly difficult for most students - except the Japanese. “For us the grammar is relatively easy to learn, but I noticed many other people struggle,” said one.
JNU does offer courses in the language, but even though they are very intensive, speaking is particularly tough. “I now have a TOPIK level two certificate and am studying for the next level. Reading and writing is not bad, you get used to that fast, but speaking, that is still very difficult for me,” said Apuroopa Cherukuri. “And the Koreans are shy to speak with us, even if we can speak some Korean,” a student from Sri Lanka added. “I wouldn’t mind having more contact with Korean students.”
Many of the students, however, don’t mind these relatively small draw-backs.“My professor in Cambodia recommended specifically I come to JNU because of the biotechnology lab,” Tethvoleak Srey said. “Since Korea is a developed country, so many things are possible here. For me this will really help my career.”
Most students do intend to return home after finishing their studies or research at JNU. In that way, the university is helping many countries develop to the level of South Korea, itself as recently as 50 years ago poorer than many of the countries of origin of these students. In that regard history has now come full circle.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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