International education should teach students how to think with a
If there is one Korean word that Park Chul, 59,
the president of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, is uncomfortable with, it
is woegukeo, which means a foreign language.
“Did you notice that the Korean
word woegukeo refers to every English test here?”
Instead of a greeting,
Park issued that complaint at the start of an interview last week.
referring to the fact that an English test for college admission is called an
woegukeo test, exactly the same word used for the English test component of the
national bar examination.
“Woegukeo simply means a foreign language. Why do
Koreans always think of English first when they refer to a foreign language?”
Park graduated as a Spanish language major of the university that he now
heads. Among his many goals is to change stereotypical thinking here: English is
not the only foreign language and Americans are not the only foreigners.
HUFS specializes in teaching 42 foreign languages. More than most Korean
universities, it could claim to have a truly international faculty; More than
100 expatriate professors make up 25 percent of its total faculty. Students are
encouraged to go overseas on exchange programs and internships.
recently opened a third campus, in New Songdo City near Incheon, that will house
an interpretation and translation center, an international business information
center, a Korean educational and cultural center and dormitory facilities.
“And that campus will be used for far more than just English,” he said,
pointing out that now Korea hosts about 1 million foreigners from European,
North and South American countries as well as developing countries such as
India, Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand.
The university is celebrating its 54th
anniversary last week.
Q. In your special lectures you talk a lot about how important it is for
Koreans to learn foreign languages to adapt to the international era. Your
university also earned a top rating in the JoongAng Ilbo’s assessment of
exemplary international education programs. Tell us what it means to provide a
good international education.
A. International education should teach
students how to think with a global mind, and learning another country’s
language is only the beginning. You learn the language and you need to live in
that country to learn the basics of what people there eat, what they wear, where
they sleep ... You need to breathe the same air as the people you want to learn
about. That way, learning their culture and philosophy becomes easier. As for
our school, we provide students chances to spend a semester in a country that
uses the language they are majoring in. That way, they can gauge their own
progress by comparing themselves to students abroad. Our students also need to
learn two foreign languages or study two majors in order to graduate.
But studying abroad for language training seems pretty common among Korean
students these days. And the job search has turned into a painful task for
undergraduates. Shouldn’t the school concentrate more on supporting its students
to get employed first?
True. I believe it is our job to raise students into
adults that our society wants, or that employers want. They want globalized
leaders and fluency in at least two foreign languages. Our school has a very
high standard for learning English and the culture, business, history and other
aspects behind the language. We may not expect the students to be as fluent in a
second language, but they should be able to communicate well in that
I was surprised that students these days welcome the idea of
learning another language other than English. They understand that it is one
factor that makes them better once they graduate. It is also true that many
Korean students go abroad for language courses, but the difference is that we
have institutionalized the program within our school so that they don’t have to
spend their money to go abroad. Also, we guide them to go through internships
abroad so that they are “ready-made” for their employers.
You welcomed the decision made by the Lee Myung-bak administration to shift
oversight for college admissions from the government to universities.
accurate, the Lee administration took away the essay part from the government
and let the colleges decide how they want to select their students. The College
Scholastic Ability Test will still be a state-run test. But we now have the
freedom to come up with our own essay tests that fit our standards. We want to
accept students who are good in foreign languages.
Does it mean that your essay tests will be in English? (The previous
administration had forbidden schools from creating essay tests in languages
other than Korean.)
Of course. It could be an English essay or a test
written in Spanish. When I was in school, I was tested only on English, Korean
and a selection of another subject. They accepted a fluent English speaker over
a good math problem solver because it was an English department that was making
the selection. I don’t understand why a foreign language school had to select a
student who got a higher score in math over a student who was better in a
foreign language just because that student got a higher rating overall in the
What do you think about the new administration’s controversial English
Frankly, I do not like the word “immersion.” It simply means
that this government wants to shift from the country’s traditional
grammar-oriented method to practical learning by using the foreign language more
often in the relevant classes. But the word immersion has scared the public. I
understand the drive as simply teaching classes in English, or Spanish or
French, which I welcome.
It has been proven many times that it is more
effective to learn a foreign language when you are younger. In reality, many
Koreans want to learn foreign languages. But I feel that there are nationalists
who do not want to face this reality.
(Joongang Daily, April 23,