The Work, English, Study, Travel program for Koreans in the U.S. has hit a snag even before it has got underway. WEST, as it is known for short, is a program allowing up to 5,000 Korean college students or recent graduates a year to study English in the U.S. and get a paid internship there for 18 months -- five months for English training, 12 months for an internship, and a month for travel -- as agreed by the two presidents in August.
But under time constraints and due to lack of sufficient preparations and economic difficulties, the government has drastically cut the number of beneficiaries and has difficulties finding the money it needs.
In early November, the government decided to recruit 2,500 students in 2009, the first year of the WEST program -- 1,000 for a program that will begin in March and 1,500 for September. But it has now decided to reduce the number for the March program to 200-300 to implement it as a "pilot," it said Sunday.
The reason is apparently that the process of securing quality internships, the core of the program, has been delayed. The Korean government must consult with American sponsors designated by the U.S. State Department. But the U.S. government has not yet finished the selection. Even if sponsors are selected, there are insufficient internships for all Korean students due to the economic crisis.
The government originally decided to recruit 20 percent of beneficiaries from low-income families and give them a grant of W1 million (US$1=W1,464) per student and a government loan. But it has reportedly failed to secure a budget for the program. In addition, experts say the government grant would be of little use given that it normally costs a college student about W40 million a year to study in the U.S.