UWRF’s ‘Year of South Korea’ seeks to bridge cultures at home and abroad

Posted November 28, 2017

Hyun Sung Jang is passionate about two things: teaching English and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

The TESOL major from South Korea dreams of one day becoming an English teacher to international students in an American public high school.

Jang transferred to Michigan Lutheran Seminary High School in Saginaw, Michigan, as a sophomore in 2013 with this goal in mind.

When it came time to look into colleges, Jang did lots of research.

“My first priority was my English — whether the university can provide some resources for international students to improve their English,” he said, “and also I was wondering which university has a good TESOL program.”

UWRF was one of the schools that Jang came across in his search after narrowing it down based on resources and tuition.

He ended up on the phone with Professor Marshall Toman, chair of UWRF English Department, asking a few questions about what resources the school provides.

Jang was impressed by the care Toman displayed when he spent 30 minutes answering Jang’s questions before also putting him in contact with Youngsoo Margolis, director of Korean partnerships, whom Jang could speak to in Korean.  
“I just had a compelling feeling that I just had to apply to this university,” Jang said.

This year, “the Year of South Korea” at UWRF, there are 17 other South Korean students studying here.Nine are degree-seeking students like Jang, and eight are here through one of the partnership programs that UWRF has formed with 13 different South Korean higher education institutions.

“We have some very special connections with Korea,” Chancellor Dean Van Galen said.

One of these institutions is Yeungjin College in the city of Daegu.

Van Galen, Margolis and Tricia Davis, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, recently visited Yeungjin College during a trip to South Korea on Nov. 4-8.

While there, Van Galen signed a memorandum of agreement that would bring more South Korean students to UWRF through a 2+2 program.

The program would allow South Korean students to begin their college studies in Daegu for two years and after completing up to 60 credits, transfer to UWRF for two more years to earn their bachelor’s degree.

Yeungjin College also partners with UWRF to host the Daegu Gyeongbuk English Language Village.

“This is a large facility that provides English immersion experiences primarily to elementary through high school-aged children in Korea,” Van Galen said.

South Korean schools can send children to the village for a week.

Margolis is in charge of hiring the teachers for the program. Several UWRF students and graduates have gone there to teach.  

Officials extended the program agreement between the two schools for another two years during the visit and also signed an agreement for an exchange program between UWRF and Yeungjin College.

The trio of UWRF administrators then visited two other universities that UWRF works with: JeJu National University and Hanyang University.

There is one South Korean student enrolled in a dual-degree program in business administration and economics at UWRF, a partnership with Hanyang University in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul.

A dual-degree program involves spending four to five semesters at Hanyang University, four semesters at UWRF and then another semester back at Hanyang before each university awards a degree to the student.

“Our goals of this trip,” Van Galen said, “were to support our strategic plan goal of global engagement, especially to encourage international students from South Korea to enroll at UW-River Falls and then also to look for opportunities for our students to visit and study in South Korea.”

Of the roughly 21 countries from which UWRF hosts international students, South Korea is usually No. 2, currently tied with India with 18 students on campus this semester.

These rich connections between UWRF and South Korea make it even more meaningful that the university is celebrating the Year of South Korea, said Katrina Larsen, executive director for international education.

“We picked South Korea because it is such a strong partner in many ways, and why not kind of celebrate that by having more agreements, more partnerships, strengthen our friendship with them?” she said. “It made sense for us, if we’re going to be signing a few extra agreements, the time to do that is during the year.”

Korea-themed events and activities have been put on throughout the year to provide an opportunity for faculty, students and community members to break down stereotypes and connect across cultures.

Larsen said she thinks UWRF’s Korean partners feel honored to be celebrated.

Van Galen said there is tremendous value in these agreements that bring international students to UWRF.

“It make us a much more international campus, and I believe that is one of the special strengths of UW-River Falls that has been part of who we are for many years,” Van Galen said. “Our students from this country learn a great deal by interacting with those students. International students have a tremendous experience, and also it encourages our students to consider study abroad.”