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[Herald Interview] ‘Dutch education fosters open-mindedness’

Head of Nuffic Neso Korea says discussion-based system helps students think creatively

Leo Chung, chief representative officer at Nuffic Neso Korea, says his biggest goal was to get Korean students interested in Dutch education. But just as importantly, he wants students to understand exactly what they are getting into.

What Dutch education can offer is a system that helps students to work through independent thinking, according to the head of the nonprofit organization, who is promoting Dutch education in Korea.

Chung said academics in the Netherlands “challenge students to challenge their professors,” rather than focusing only on delivering information.

“Rather than to focus on factual knowledge, Dutch education is more about discussions: ‘What do you think the author’s intention was?’” he told The Korea Herald. “The whole thought process is important.”
Leo Chung, the chief representative officer at Nuffic Neso Korea
Leo Chung, the chief representative officer at Nuffic Neso Korea

While such an approach can be taxing, the return is promising, Chung said, speaking from his personal experience as a Dutch-Korean taught in the Netherlands.

He spoke of a professor he had encountered during his master’s course in business economics at the University of Amsterdam.

“During the first class, he showed us the textbook, and said, ‘You have to study everything from this book.’ But then he threw it away and said that was not the main point of the course,” he said. “The main point was to learn how to think about things. Not just study what was in the book, but what was not in the book as well.”

According to Chung, students in the Netherlands also tend to be more flexible about different teaching styles, as long as they are given a chance to exercise their minds. Even if students do not use any of the material from a given text, their work will be accepted as long as it addresses the problem.

“That’s what I really like about Dutch education. It opens up your mind, and helps you think outside the box,” he said.

Chung said this education style is especially evident among professors of MBA courses, who consider themselves mentors rather than teachers.

Being open-minded can help students later in life when there is no “correct answer” suggested by the teacher. Chung learned how to look beyond boundaries and search for the best possible answer while attending the Royal Military Academy in the early 1990s. At the time, the very first thing 19-year-old Chung and his classmates came across was failure as they attempted to find answers by themselves.

Instead, students were encouraged to use the experience and knowledge of the entire team to find the solution, regardless of hierarchy. He said this is connected to the general culture in the Netherlands, where it is “acceptable to doubt your superiors.”

This contrasts with Korean culture, where the authority of professors or one’s superiors at work often prevents students or subordinates from openly expressing their opinions.

Earlier this month, a high-ranking Korean Air official― who was also the airline owner’s daughter ― forced a plane to abort takeoff because she wanted to eject a flight manager over poor service. The so-called “nut rage” incident took the country by storm, and reminded Koreans of the arrogance of the superrich.

But Chung pointed out that the incident also was a “typical example of Korean hierarchy,” in the sense that her absurd demands were ultimately accepted because of her position. He said this sort of incident was highly unlikely to happen in the Netherlands because the culture permits people to voice their opinions to their superiors.

This culture extends to classrooms, where students are encouraged to express their doubts freely to professors, he said.

“Information and knowledge is updated rapidly. In (fields like) sociology, psychology, business, finance ... there are so many developments. (The professor’s) methodology may be outdated,” he said.

The attitude of not being constrained by social status, being open to all sources of information and being able to find one’s one path can help students prepare for the real world, where nobody tells you how to do things, he said.

While Nuffic Neso Korea has been promoting educational opportunities in the Netherlands since 2008, Chung said the organization was relatively obscure to Korean students. In a bid to overcome this hurdle, it launched the Orange Tulip Scholarship in 2010 to attract their interest.

Last week, Nuffic Neso Korea announced its scholarship plans for the 2015-2016 school year. This year, they offered 850,000 euros ($1.05 million) worth of scholarships ― the highest amount ever ― for 52 master’s and bachelor’s degree programs at 17 universities.

Students can submit their applications to Nuffic Neso Korea (www.nesokorea.org) by March 25.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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