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A Unique Academic Adventure of Excellence

  • July 26, 2007
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This summer, 120 students from six different countries participate in the newly offered SNU International Summer Institute (ISI). The program covers a wide variety of topics, ranging from liberal arts such as language, culture, history, to more practical topics such as the Korean economy and East Asian politics. With courses such as “Current Issues in Korean Economy and Politics”, “Culture and Society of Contemporary Korea” and “East Asia: Democracy, Markets &Security”, the ISI provides lectures to undergraduate students that amass the wide spectrum of topics that are needed to understand the current situation of East Asia. Also, the rare opportunity to meet and learn from 21 professors from world-renowned universities in a single program provides a golden opportunity for participants to not only enforce their academic knowledge, but also embark on an intense, but joyful academic adventure.

Some visiting professors such as Stephen Epstein, who teaches Korean, Greek, and Latin Literature at Victoria University of Wellington, made the lecture friendlier through his acute sense of humor, which was warmly welcomed by many students. Other lecturers such as Professor Pempel from the University of California, Berkeley, took a more stoic approach, by opening the floor to answer questions from students after a strict academic lecture. While explaining Chinese political reforms, Prof. Jean Oi from Stanford University, shared her personal experience in the fieldworks in China, which helped students to understand the atmosphere in the early days for the People’s Republic of China. Known as the top American expert on Korea, Professor Cater Eckert from Harvard University, and Professor Stephen Haggard, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, by sharing his firsthand experiences in working with various international organizations, also provided prominent, exclusive lectures that left the participants in awe.

Meeting scholars, who are world-known experts in their respective fields, excited many participants, and led to great accolades for the ISI program. Brian Kim, a student from the University of California, Irvin, said he was “surprised to see numerous world-renowned professors giving intensive lectures on East Asian history and culture in a single course.” He also added that the courses provide the rare balance of being both interesting and challenging, and the credits are also transferred.

The most important characteristic of the ISI of Seoul National University is its academic atmosphere. Yongjae Kim, from SNU Department of Political Science, stated that many students choose SNU over other summer schools offered by Korean universities, because of the academic intensity of SNU, and added that SNU ISI courses are much more practical, reflecting ongoing issues of the current world, compared to other programs.

The ISI is also acting as a bridge to connect foreign students with SNU, and deepen their interest in Korea. Naomi Pollica from Vermont University, who is simultaneously taking ISI courses with Korean language courses, said that the ISI courses taught here a great deal about Korea. “This is my first time taking courses related to Korea, but I have learned a lot, and I would love to return to Seoul. I am seriously considering participating in a exchange program at SNU.”

However, there is a room for improvement. Despite the fact that most students were satisfied with the quality of the lectures, some students felt confused due to the weekly rotation of lecturers. “The weekly change of professors is good for students who encounter East Asian culture for the first time and good for those who want a general understanding of Asia. For in-depth knowledge, however, it might be a good idea to have professors lecture for a longer period of time.”, suggested Kang from Bristol.

Other suggestions include the lack of opportunities to experience Korean culture. For instance, on the trips organized by SNU, some ISI students mentioned the absence of fellow Korean students. Most of the Koreans participating in the ISI program are Korean-American, and they are here to learn more about Korea themselves. Some thought that an ISI Buddy program, which would couple a SNU student with a foreign student to ‘buddy’ him/her for a extended period of time, would help this problem.

Jeffrey Sieh, who was awarded a fellowship from the president, said that he was more than satisfied with the quality of the ISI courses and its participants. “The content of the program and reading materials are very challenging. Although the Asian students are less inclined to question during the lecture, it’s probably a product of cultural difference. It’s very difficult to have a chance to meet so many professors from prestigious universities at one place. This is a great opportunity and I would definitely recommend this program to my friends back in the UC Berkeley. ”

July 24, 2007
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