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[CAPK Contribution #3] Making the Most Out of ASEAN-Korea Student Mobility: A Bottom-Up Perspective

*Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this article are solely the authors’ own and do not reflect the opinions or views of the ASEAN-Korea Centre or Council of ASEAN Professors in Korea.

*이 글에 표현된 의견 및 견해는 저자 개인의 의견으로 한-아세안센터 또는 주한 아세안 교수협의회의 공식의견과 무관함을 밝힙니다.



Making the Most Out of ASEAN-Korea Student Mobility: A Bottom-Up Perspective


NONG, Thi Nghi Phuong



Korea has proved itself to be an emerging hub for international students with its growing number of inbound students coming from all over the world. In 2020, ASEAN students made up the largest proportion of foreign students studying in Korea, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total inbound students to the country. And this figure is expected to grow. How, then, can this force of young potentials be utilized to strengthen and deepen the ASEAN-Korea relationship and benefit everyone?


As early as 1989, ASEAN and Korea started building and strengthening their relationship. The result is a strong interdependent partnership between the bloc and Korea in all aspects of cooperation, including student mobility. ASEAN students are drawn to K-education with the popularity of K-culture, its leading technology, as well as its geographical and cultural proximity.


Yet it is not without blockades. One huge obstacle identified by scholars and the media is a lack of diversity and intercultural embrace in the Korean academic community. Though the number of courses taught in English is on the rise, the satisfaction level of students is not high. International students who lack Korean language fluency still find it hard to engage in class discussions, find information, and join in on and off-campus activities. There are also reported cases of discrimination and mistreatment of international students, particularly those from developing countries.


Another complication is the issue of illegal overstay of their visa. According to the Ministry of Education data, 2018 saw about 12,500 international students illegally over-staying in Korea. Yet, these students provide the needed number of students for some Korean universities striving to meet their student quota. This poses a dilemma to some of the local Korean universities, which as a result, cannot afford to be too picky about their incoming foreign students.


It is the author’s view that these problems all come down to the institution’s failure to fully grasp the students’ difficulties and thus meet their needs. Therefore, here I suggest a bottom-up approach that aims at understanding students’ lived experiences and providing relevant support.


To address both the university’s need to fill its student quota and the international students’ financial need, support for students to find appropriate part-time jobs that are compatible with their studies could be considered to help relieve the students from heavy financial burden while ensuring the completion of their studies in time. There should also be more efforts to facilitate international students’ access to school activities, events, and job recruitments. Moreover, space and opportunities for domestic and foreign students to mingle and make friends are important to foster mutual understanding and interest.


The Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI) encourages “[e]xercising autonomy and flexibility in institutional management such as designing college curriculum, creating integrated and interdisciplinary degree programs and introducing flexible semesters based on the flexible management of academic affairs”. Exercising autonomy and flexibility in institutional management requires fresh ideas and innovations, and, more than ever, relevance to students to attract them. Educational institutions can do so by involving international students in the policy-making process, organizing open discussions between educational leaders and students, and facilitating students in realizing their own, such as cultural and social, ideas and projects.


And this initiative does not have to come from the universities only but can also engage the local community and non-profit, non-governmental organizations. An excellent example is the Gwangju International Center (GIC), which provides space and support for foreigners, many being students, to engage in local activities and to realize their own projects. The GIC hosts various meaningful programs, such as international internship program, employment training program, translation, and legal consultation services, cultural and language exchange classes, volunteer programs, and the publication of Gwangju News, the first English monthly magazine for the general public in Korea, in which foreigners and locals alike can not only read and find useful information but can also contribute their own articles and findings.


International student mobility is an inevitable phenomenon with numerous benefits when properly handled. It is not only beneficial for international students, but also for the host country and its domestic students. Its impacts can be seen in multiple levels: personal (such as new knowledge, open-mindedness, and intercultural communication skills), interpersonal (such as friendship, exchange of new concepts and ideas), institutional (such as economics and reputation), and social (such as people exchange, promotion of diversity, inclusion, and peace). More holistic effort should be given to understanding the lives and needs of the students and thus better facilitating their pursuit of education and a new life. What lacks, in the author’s opinion, is an active platform. An action-oriented program of students, by students, and for students would be a strong foundation for student empowerment. One suggestion would be a monthly or quarterly workshop where Korean and ASEAN students can give talks on their respective countries and cultures, discuss their personal experiences as well as educational challenges and opportunities. These activities can be effectively carried out as collaboration among students, local NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations such as ASEAN-Korea Center. It is the author’s firm belief that initiatives such as this will be a fertile ground for creative and relevant solutions to take roots and grow. It will contribute to the fostering of an ASEAN-Korean strategic partnership and mutual understanding and prosperity, paving the way for international and regional peace and sustainable development.



Author’s Biography


Before returning to Vietnam, Ms. Nong Thi Nghi Phuong previously worked at the Gwangju International Center as a researcher. She completed her Master’s degree in Non-Governmental Organization at Chonnam National University and also holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in International Business from Tampere University of Applied Sciences in Finland.? She also previously participated in the Global Platform for Right to the City Asia Research Project in Gwangju as a researcher.





베트남 국적의 Nong Thi Nghi Phuong 은 전남대학교에서 NGO 협동과정을 통해 석사 수료 후 최근 베트남으로 귀국하기 전까지 광주국제교류센터 (GIC)에서 Global Platform for Right to the City Asia Research Project 참여 연구원으로 근무했습니다. 저자는 핀란드의 Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK)에서 경영학 학사를 수료하였습니다.

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