Back To Top

Foreign students struggle to adapt to Korea's hierarchical culture: survey

Foreign students in South Korea find the nation’s hierarchical culture the most difficult to adjust to, a survey showed Thursday.

According to the survey by the Institute of Language Research and Education, 32.8 percent of foreign students said that they had trouble adapting to the country’s hierarchical culture while living and studying in Korea.

Just over 16 percent of the students had difficulties adjusting due to Koreans’ indifference toward them, followed by gender discrimination at 16 percent, drinking culture at 15.6 percent and the culture that places heavy importance on respecting the elderly at 6.2 percent. 

Other reasons behind difficulties included the nation’s culture of always being in a rush and Koreans’ unkindness.

The ILRE, which is affiliated with Yonsei University, conducted the poll on 400 foreign students from 45 countries to find out problems faced by foreigners and their perception of Korean society.

The poll was released by Yoo Hyun-kyung, who heads the ILRE, at a workshop aimed at discussing ways to better manage foreign students here. 
Foreign students take part in an event reenacting a confucian ceremony in Daejeon. (Yonhap)
Foreign students take part in an event reenacting a confucian ceremony in Daejeon. (Yonhap)
The biggest challenge faced by foreign students here was the language barrier with 33.7 percent of the survey’s participants saying so, followed by financial problems at 12 percent, Korean food at 10.4 percent, housing expenses at 9.1 percent and cultural differences at 8.5 percent, the survey showed.

The most entertaining thing to do in Korea for the foreign students was eating Korean food, with 20.9 percent of them saying so. This was followed by making Korean friends at 18.6 percent, going on a trip at 18.4 percent and shopping at 17.3 percent.

Most, or 34.3 percent said they were learning Korean to pursue higher education here, 23.8 percent said they were driven by their interest in the Korean culture. Some 16.3 percent said it was to find employment here and 9.9 percent said it was to hold conversations with their Korean families.

Nearly 83 percent of those surveyed were contented with the quality of Korean language programs, while 17.1 percent were not satisfied.

According to the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign students here was 106,138 as of March, about four times higher than the 24,779 in 2005. The biggest group of foreign students here were the Chinese, followed by Vietnamese, Mongolian, Japanese and Americans.

By Ock Hyun-ju (