How Are You Doing in Jeju?

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Special Report – Foreign Students Living in Jeju
Date of report: November 2016 (Interviewed on October 27, 31, 2016)
Culture Reporter: Kim Ji-eun

Tan Jia Min, a beautiful challenger
Tan Jia Min is an undergraduate student from Singapore, who studies in the Department of Korean Language and Literature of Jeju National University. Having stayed three years in Jeju, she finds no difficulty having conversations in Korean.

Saying that she has fully adapted to the campus life, she spends weekend days for school lessons and assignments and works as a part-time worker in a cosmetic shop once a week. She enjoys a very special weekend activity: an academic club where undergraduate students learn about the humanities studies and practical business skills. A foreigner reads and writes on Korean books on the humanities studies and discusses them, which is a difficult task even for Koreans! It was truly remarkable.

“I first try to find the books in English if there are any. It is difficult to complete the assignments in Korean. But my members are very helpful, and I can meet many different people, so I am 100% satisfied!” Though a little behind in learning, she surely valued the people she work with.

However, she was reluctant at first when she first thought of joining the club. Korean students, with concerns over her different nationality, seemed to feel uneasy about studying with her. Therefore, taking the first step to be a true member of the academic club against the prejudice was a big challenge for her.

Tan now dreams of another challenge: chairing the Jeju National University International Students Organization (JISO), an association for foreign students enrolled in Jeju National University. JISO provides help and information to foreign students on campus. Tan stressed that students from Singapore, who are the minority group, get little support from the university. It must be already difficult to live as a stranger in another country, and she even has difficulties getting any assistance.

Tan wishes to actively take care of all the foreign students of minority groups in Jeju National University. I was impressed by her beautiful will to not just struggle with the hardships alone but to help others out as well.

Kurokawa Mayu: I want to make many local friends of Jeju.
Kurokawa Mayu greeted me with a bright smile. She is a new student who came to Jeju just this year. She majored in Korean education in Saitama, Japan, extending her studies in Jeju National University that is in a sister relationship with her school. As it has only been a few months, she is excited about the island of Jeju, visiting different places every weekend. “I like this tranquil island. In particular, it was not easy to visit the sea where I used to live, but I can see the pretty sea of Jeju everywhere!” Talking about Woljeong-ri with a broad smile, she said she had always dreamed of living close to the sea since childhood.

“I want to hang out with more local friends because I am in Jeju,” She tries to take weekend tours of the island with local friends, rather than the Japanese. Although she is still new to the local school, she even had a touching memory about her friend. Only a while after she arrived in Jeju, she became very ill but did not know how to visit the hospital. Then her roommate called an ambulance and took the role of a guardian. Greatly impressed, she even participated in the Korean speech contest to talk about the ‘jeong (heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind spirit of Koreans)’.

When asked what she would like to experience on campus down the road, she told me about the human rights camp she attended a few months ago. She interpreted in the event where Japanese and Koreans discussed a range of human rights issues including the comfort women issue. She was proud about herself, and now wishes to participate actively in such worthy activities. She said it was a valuable experience to learn about the historic issues between the two countries, while helping with their communication.

Even after the interview, the conversation with Tan Jia Min from Singapore and Mayu from Japan never seemd to end. When finally saying good-bye, we made a pledge to meet again soon. Meeting them made me do a self-reflection, wondering if I hesitated to be their friends with prejudice. Beside visiting some events to learn about foreign cultures and studying them, how about starting a conversation with a foreign student next to you? No other cultural exchange would be as close and effective.