“We are humans, too. Do not treat us as yuans,” said one Chinese student at a rally held at the Shilla Hotel asking for fair treatment from Koreans and the Korean government. On February 21st, 300 Chinese students studying in Korea met in the hotel to discuss the mistreatment of Chinese students in Korea. They stated that protests by Chinese students will continue until the Korean government and Korean universities make resolutions to accommodate them within the Korean environment. In fact, Chinese students make up about 60 percent of foreign students in Korea. However, 39.5 percent of them claimed to return to China full of animosity towards Korea. “The main purpose of attracting foreign students to Korea is to make foreigners like Korea. It is not working, however. Many Chinese students studying in Korea have negative emotions toward Korea,” said Lee Byung-jin in the Office of International Cooperation at Hanyang University. Why is Chinese animosity towards Korea increasing? Is there any way to overcome it?
The Conflict Begins
“The animosity is there mainly because Korean Universities receive incentives from the government when they attract foreign students to come to Korea,” said Lee Sang-eun, director of the International Administration for Chinese Students.
Now an overall average of 12 percent of the students in an university are foreign students. Nevertheless, there are not enough welfare facilities to accommodate all of them. Since the dorms are limited in number, they have no choice but to live in boarding houses. To make things worse, rent is too expensive for them. Like it or not, they live with friends in a small room or work part time jobs to pay for the rent. “At first, I was really bewildered to know that dorms were very expensive. Usually, when international students come to another country, dorms are provided for a comparatively small fee. I hope the government can improve this problem,” said Min tuo, a Senior in the College of Engineering.
Furthermore, discriminating against them from Koreans by calling them jangkke, a derogative term for Chinese is another reason for the increasing animosity towards Korea. The Korea Herald conducted a research study in 2008 and it showed that 47.3 percent of the news about China was about its poverty. This created a prejudice amongst Korean students, encouraging them to develop an attitude to not get along with Chinese students. Another survey by The Hankyoreh in 2009 showed that 69 percent of Chinese stated that Koreans look upon them with prejudiced eyes and would not socialize with them which can be hurtful. This tendency grows stronger when Chinese students cannot speak Korean well. Unlike developed countries such as Japan or Canada, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Korea does not have a strict regulation to accept only foreigners who can speak or write Korean at a certain level. Hence, students who lack Korean language skills can come to Korea making them easily discriminated against by Koreans just because they are Chinese who cannot speak Korean. “Every time I was supposed to do a team assignment with other Korean students, I was really hurt. Even if I joined a group, the group always seemed frustrated because communication between them and me was uneasy ” said Hao-wi, a Sophomore in the Department of Public Administration.
Moreover, the many companies having indifferent attitudes towards Chinese students in Korea is another problem. “Many Chinese students want to be employed by globalized Korean companies like Samsung, LG, Hyundai and so on. However, their goal is not achieved as smoothly as they hope,” said Lee, a director in Office of International Cooperation. Statistics by Joongang Daily show that 58 percent of Korean companies are concerned about whether or not to employ Chinese students in Korea. “There are many reasons why we deliberate whether or not to hire them. Firstly, to keep them in Korea longer, Korean Universities are likely to give them better grades. Therefore, their GPAs are less credible. Also, they are frowned upon by Korean employees. It is doubtful that they can adapt to the Korean atmosphere. Thus, many companies choose to employ Koreans who are fluent in Chinese instead,” said Moon Jung-hoon, an employer from a big enterprise in Korea. “I really wanted to work in big enterprises in Korea, and that is why I came to Korea. However, my resumees were all disqualified. I cannot understand why the companies ignore us. It makes me feel angry. I am thinking of going back to Shanghai this November,” said Hao, a Sophomore in the Department of Public Administration.
Healing the pain of the Chinese International Students
The anti-Korean wave by Chinese students in Korea is not just a problem that can be left untouched. In reality, this anti-wave can cause problems. The vital problem is the decreasing number of Chinese international students. As mentioned above, the purpose of attracting Chinese students is to make Chinese like Korea more in the truly globalised society.
Also, they are very important marketers for shops. About 90 percent of the students from China come to Korea with their own money. Students will live in Korea and shop for clothes, food and experience other aspects of Korean culture. If they enjoy it, it will not take long till many of the Chinese in China know about it. Then, the market can gain more customers.
In addition, they are an important source of revenue to the Korean universities. Currently, about nine percent of schools’ financing is from Chinese students according to Hankyoreh. However, now many Chinese students are leaving Korea. Increases in Chinese students have stopped since 2009 and it is now on the decline. “As popularity to study in Korea decreases, more and more students consider Korea as a refugee for students who failed to enter university. It is really a shame,” said Lee, a director in the Office of International Cooperation.
This attitude is like dry wood for the anti-Korean wave as well. Chinese students in Korea are making diverse portal sites that condemn Koreans. The website “Koreanseatdog.cn” is one. “This is a serious problem for Korea. It means that we are losing our chance to fix the anti-Korean wave. Also, many universities that do not have secure revenue will suffer from serious financial problems.,” said Lee Hwa-kyung the leader in Asia Culture and Economy Exchange Center.
To decrease the anti-Korean wave, adjustments to the international student policy is necessary. First of all, a strict policy in choosing foreign students is urgent. Grades on the Korean National Language Test and GPAs should be required for them to speak minimum Korean when they come to the country. Then, Chinese students will easily be able to communicate with Koreans, and it makes them feel less solitary.
Moreover, an increase in the quality of welfare for Chinese students is imperative. Like Japan, the USA, and Australia, all foreign students who come to Korea to study should be able to live in a dorm for a reasonable cost. Then, it will be more convenient for them to create a culture where Koreans and Chinese student can comfortably co-exist.
In addition, they should not be exempted from academic probation. Many professors give high grades to international students for the purpose of their longer stay. Now, a strong act by the university is essential. For instance, Yamauri University, a renowned university for international students due to its strictness in grades, is famous for putting 120 international students on probation in 2008 because their GPA’s were not high enough. Hence, many companies in Japan have faith in foreign students who graduate from Yamauri University. The school is also famous for the fact that 72 percent of foreign students successfully get a vocation after graduation.
Lastly, Koreans must help Chinese students, not exclude them when they are trying to adjust to the culture. Schools should provide one-to-one mentoring programs so Chinese students will easily adapt to Korean culture. “There is a program that helps foreigners to adjust in Korean culture in Hanyang University. However, the system is not working well. For instance, no concrete programs exist, so even if there are mentors, those mentors usually get muddled. A c oncrete system is necessary,” said Lee from the Office of International Cooperation.
To be a Global Citizen in a Harmonious World
After the Beijing Olympics, the anti-Korean wave has reached its climax among international students and Chinese. During the games, the Chinese unilaterally criticized Koreans. To make things worse, after the Taiwan Taekwondo competitor lost a gold medal to a Korean player, the anti-wave grew stronger.
Now, there are more than 600 thousand Chinese students in Korea. Living in the globalised world, for Korean society to be one of the developed ones, regarding foreigners as citizens, not profit generators is urgent. Also, schools and the government should act to provide the best welfare system and need to show that Korea is a good place for foreign students to study. If the government, schools and students work hard together, it will not be long before Korea wave boom reoccurs.