Language Barrier Stumps N.Korean Students in South

      October 05, 2010 13:00

      More than a quarter of North Korean defectors who entered 10 universities in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province through the special admission process quit their studies due to difficulties with their academic work caused by the language barrier, which includes English expressions and unfamiliar words.

      Grand National Party lawmaker Hong Jung-wook of the National Assembly Committee for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification cited a study Monday saying that 135 out of 475 North Korean students who admitted to Konkuk, Dankook, Sogang, Seoul National, Sungshin Women's, Soongsil, Chungang, Korea National Open, and Hanyang universities and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies dropped out.

      Hong said the dropout rate of 28.4 percent is much higher than the average dropout rate of the 10 universities combined, which is 4.5 percent. Also, 43.6 percent of North Korean students in the South took leave of absence, which is significantly higher than the university average of 15 percent excluding leave for military service.

      ◆ Trouble with English

      North Korean students found English classes especially difficult. One 24-year-old male student who escaped North Korea with his family 10 years ago entered a university in Seoul but dropped out two years later and then fled to the U.K. to ask for asylum, hiding the South Korean nationality he obtained when he defected. He was apparently drawn by the U.K.'s free English programs offered to refugees. Another 24-year-old student, said, "In order to get a proper job in South Korea, we have to do anything, even if it's not legal." A 25-year-old student at Seoul National University, who escaped North Korea eight years ago, said, "Most of the students from North Korea who took leave of absence or dropped out are afraid of English."

      ◆ Problems with Special Admission

      The special admission channel for North Korean students is a lot easier than the normal procedure, but it does not help students once they begin their studies. The 16 regional Offices of Education nationwide have different standards to verify the previous educational qualifications of North Koreans. Although defectors often need to learn academic skills, many skip the process, which makes it difficult to compete with South Korean students.

      Some North Korean students left university because they could not select the major they wanted as the special admission program admits students to a limited number of departments.

      In many cases North Korean students also took leave of absence due to illness or to take up a job. A 25-year-old male student at Hanyang University, who left North Korea alone at the age of 22, said, "Because I went through so much hardship during the journey out of North Korea, I have digestive problems, and I also have severe migraines. I took leave for one semester to treat my illness, but that disqualified me from benefits to cover my living costs, so I had no choice but to come back to the university."

      North Korean students call on the government and universities to help them adjust to university in South Korea. One 25-year-old student who entered Sogang University in 2005 said, "In order to understand classes and prepare for the job market, it is essential to take English courses in private institutions, but we can't afford them, so it would be great if we could get some support," A 26-year-old student at Yonsei University said, "When we take leave of absence, we lose out on the living allowance, which I think is too harsh. There should be some minimum support while we're on leave."

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