- UIC debates over the establishment of an international student representative and deeper issues rise to the surface.
|PHOTOGRAPHED BY KO EUN-BIY|
IN JULY, the UIC Student Congress held a meeting to discuss whether to create a permanent seat for an international student representative. The proposal was voted out, but the President of the 12th Student Council, Kim Min-suk (Jr., UIC, Political Science and Int’l Relations) decided to raise this agenda again in the General Student Assembly, which convened on September 6.
Under-representation of international students in an international college
As the current president of the Student Council, Kim Min-suk notes, many people are concerned that there is not enough representation for international students* in the student leadership bodies. According to the statistics from 2016, international students with foreign nationality make up 13.2% of student body, which is a substantial amount.
As the last UIC Student Council President, Kim Young-bin (Sr., UIC, International Studies) notes, the problem of “under-representation [of international students] has been an issue that [has] existed since the beginning of UIC.” However, Kim Young-bin explains that “In regards to the issue of establishing a seat for international student representative in the congress, that is indeed a new agenda that I had advanced throughout my term in student council.” Nonetheless, this proposal was rejected during Kim’s term. Critics claimed that a permanent seat reserved just for international students was unfair towards non-international students.
Eventually, a compromise was reached in the establishment of the Underwood Diversity Association (UDA), a subsidiary group under the student congress and an independent panel that is accountable to the Congress. However, UDA had not served its purpose and was generally unsuccessful in mitigating the problems of international students. Its low publicity and low contribution by the members were the main factors in its failure.
Dissatisfaction with the current situation became clear when the proposal’s unsuccessful outcome in the July meeting (with 6 votes for, 9 votes against) was posted on the official UIC student council Facebook page. Soon after the transcript of this short meeting was posted, the page was bombarded with ardent discussions, discontent and some dissuasion.
One debate started off with a UIC student challenging the founding principle of UIC, a supposed international college that “[does] not have an international student(foreign student-AKA not ethnically Korean) in their congress.” Other students then raised the point that international and non-international students have equal rights and opportunities to run for the 22 elected offices in UIC student congress, as well as the major student councils. In theory, international students are not restricted in running for office, except for the president and vice president positions, which require bilingual ability to interact with the general student body. In practice, however, the low levels of international student representation indicate something deeply amiss.
The key to solving a problem is to dig into the causes. The surface problem is the lack of representation of international students in UIC. The clearest solution would be to encourage more international students to run for office. This brings the question, why don’t more international students run for office?
Unity in diversity: A long way to go
Many Korean students assume that there is no international student running for student representatives because they are disinterested. This is undoubtedly a factor, but to consider other factors, it is important to listen to the international students’ perspective.
On the UIC council Facebook page, Lucie Benevise, (Jr., UIC, Info & Interaction Design) disputes the argument that international and non-international students are in equal position when in declaring for candidacy. According to Benevise, this is because international students enter school later than the Korean students as well as have hard time integrating with the existing student body.
Most overseas Koreans and international students enter as point fives, which means that they enter in the fall, instead of in the spring like most Korean students. In the 2017 fall semester, 69 students entered UIC, of which 46 were foreigners. During the spring semester, only 10-20 foreign students enter in general. Those who enter in the fall do not get assigned homerooms or get a chance to integrate with their colleagues in pre-freshmen events. Many international students start in a somewhat segregated environment due to the inevitable difference in the admission policy.
Currently, the UIC student congress is addressing the homeroom assignment issue. The General Student Assembly convened on September 6, voted successfully for the second agenda, nullification of the homeroom reformation passed in the 2013 General Assembly, allowing the upcoming student congress to change the current homeroom system that excludes point fives and much of international students.
On the other hand, many other international students agreed that they are discouraged from running as candidates because of the general atmosphere on campus. Unfortunately, as Kim Young-bin, President of the 11th UIC student council United,’ blatantly pointed out, “no matter how “international” UIC is, we are in Korea.” This means that international students are naturally surrounded by Korean speakers who differ in the broad spectrum of their English proficiency.
The fact that UIC Congress meetings have been mostly held in Korean until this semester has made many international students doubt their election chances. When we questioned international students about the divisions they feel with other students, they said that language was a prominent factor. UIC may offer all-English courses, but students generally speak Korean during group works that take outside of class, in social settings, and in chatrooms. International students understand that Koreans will naturally want to use their mother tongue. However, Korean-English bilinguals often neglect the extent of exclusion international students would feel due to language barriers.
Kim Min-suk, President of the current 12th student council acknowledges this, saying “[Congress meetings] have been operated in Korean for several years, became an uncomfortable tradition…I sincerely hope that we can break the chain of the tradition sooner or later.” True to his words, the UIC congress on September 12th successfully passed the agenda of ‘Operation of UIC congress sessions in English’ motioned by Kim.
The international students cannot help but believe that some Korean students would not feel represented by an international representative and thus would not vote for one. They feel the clear division between non-internationals and international students. The low competition in the UIC Congress elections does not lower the barrier for international student candidates. Ultimately, one only declares candidacy when one believes he or she has fair chance of success.
Representation is a form of inclusion, the most binding and perhaps the most structural inclusion we can enforce upon UIC. As Nicole Anne Hia (Soph., UIC, International Studies) notes, “having an international student representative will provide an official point of contact to which international students can address concerns and have somebody who has enough authority to voice their opinions.”
The most important mission for UIC is to develop a truly diverse community in which students are open-minded enough to mingle with people from various cultures. As Benevise stresses, and as many international students strongly feel, “the foremost important thing is inclusion.” As an anonymous student commented, “representation does not beget inclusion or integration.” True integration does not stop at structural inclusion—it needs to go further, deep into our community. In other words, both international and non-international students must be willing to integrate with each other.
Communication and compromise become crucial in this process. The student council and representative bodies should disclose information to all UIC students and encourage conversations. President of 12th UIC student council, Kim Min-suk indicated that he wanted to make a UIC website that includes English-translated constitution and other information about the overall structure and functions of UIC. Ultimately, students have to know the system and its functions to make changes.
Project no. 1: Defining UIC
Underwood International College was founded in 2006 as a liberal arts constituent college of Yonsei University. As the youngest college in Yonsei, it adopted the English-first policy offering an all-English curriculum to its students. UIC is an experimental college and it is not surprising that it is facing many difficulties.
With many students from diverse backgrounds and homelands, cultural clashes and miscommunications are inevitable in UIC community. As Kim Young-bin comments, “Discrimination will exist everywhere, and cannot be completely absolved in a foreign country. Some may disagree with this, but the goal is to minimize the discrimination, and to integrate just enough that students do not feel disadvantaged in this environment because of the fact they are foreigners.”
But UIC is special for its unique student community. As a cultural hub at the heart of Yonsei, the college provides students to experience various cultures and nurture an open mind. In order to do so, it must promote integration of students from different backgrounds. Hia comments that UIC’s admission policy should accommodate for the international environment that comes as a package with its liberal arts education.
Ultimately, these discussions boil down into an inherent problem the UIC public relations administration is creating through its misleading promotions of UIC. The official UIC page does not give a clear idea of how much UIC is Korean-dominated. The website states UIC has 2000 students from 58 countries. It does not show out that of the 2044 UIC students, only 269 students are classified as international students (2016). Statistically the proportion of international students and Korean students is 1:6.6. This proportion will rise significantly if ethnic Koreans who can speak the Korean language are termed as Korean students. A supposedly diversified and global liberal arts college, the idea of UIC as is advertised in the promotional materials may be irresponsible.
As a UIC student notes, “internationals are the minority at UIC…yet Yonsei continues to advertise UIC as an international heaven, and many of my international friends come in having unrealistic expectations of being within their comfort zone.” Since the international college is located in Korea and its student body is mostly comprised of Koreans, it is inevitable that the Korean culture becomes dominant on campus. Nonetheless, UIC should put sufficient effort to pursue a truly diverse and integrated community that lives up to its name as the Underwood “International” College.
*International students: Students with foreign passports (as defined by the university administration)
Lee Ha-yun firstname.lastname@example.org