[Opinion] The Experience and Role of International Students Regarding Diversity at SNU

Stepping into my first lecture in Seoul National University, I was greeted with a much different classroom picture than I was used to. Everywhere I looked, there was a sea of black hair, and the air was filled with the cadence of Korean. It was a striking departure from the diverse array of skin tones and the familiar hum of English that had been my norm. Naturally, I anticipated such scenes; I was bound to encounter such sights while attending a university with only a 7% foreign student population. Undoubtedly, attending a university in a foreign country can be a daunting task, especially when the native language is not one’s own. Yet is language the biggest barrier to entry for korean universities for international students? Or could the problem lie elsewhere?

As an international student whose mother tongue was not Korean, I, along with many of my international peers, considered language to be the primary limitation to attending Korean universities. However, even beyond the language barrier, conversations with fellow international students revealed a common sentiment – many had never even considered South Korea as a destination for higher education. Despite the institution's esteemed reputation domestically, it seems to remain somewhat obscure on the global academic stage. The reasons for this lack of recognition vary. Perhaps it is the dominance of Western universities in international rankings, or perhaps it is the fact that South Korea has only emerged relatively recently as a hub for higher education. Additionally, the scarcity of English-taught programs and the perceived difficulty of integrating into Korean society are factors deterring many students from applying to Korean universities. Nevertheless, for those willing to venture beyond the familiar confines of Western academia, Seoul National University boasts world-class faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, and a dynamic learning environment on par with its western counterparts.

However, although I myself have found my education experience at Seoul National University to be both enriching and fulfilling, my social experience has been a different picture. It is undeniably convenient that my peers share similar pop culture interests, facilitating easy conversation. Yet, while discussing familiar topics may be comfortable, it won't lead me to uncover the Brazilian food enthusiast devouring hotdogs on YouTube or stumble upon the latest funky yet catchy Vietnamese house music. Those new discoveries and new avenues for topics of discussion only lend themselves in an international setting. As I found myself conforming to the status quo to blend in with my peers, I sensed a piece of my identity slipping away: My diversity. I slowly noticed myself mentioning my unique international experiences less often, instead joining conversations revolving around topics that were more common among my peers. International students bring a unique tapestry of experiences and perspectives to our campus. The presence of international students lend to a more dynamic learning environment, and enhances our understanding of the world through fresh perspectives. Preserving our diversity is crucial, as it ensures that we continue to uncover new world perspectives and embrace the richness of different cultures.

In conclusion, international students play a vital role in making Seoul National University a diverse and exciting place to learn. Our unique perspectives and experiences enhance the understanding of the world and enrich campus life of our local peers. As we look to the future, I hope to see even more international students joining our community at SNU, bringing with them their own stories and cultures. Together, we can create an even more vibrant and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and supported.