hello,

dear everyone who would like to study in South Korea.

I major in Business Administration and thank goodness for that I can have half of my classes in English because they normally have certain classes taught in English for the foreign exchange students. but the thing is, these classes run out. you might think that being able to speak in English would be a plus for you and that you’d definitely score in those classes because Koreans are bad in English.

and that is where you are wrong.

there are a huge portion of them who don’t speak English. but at least a quarter of them speaks or write better than you and me. they have been forced by their parents to attend English speaking schools, study overseas, live overseas for a few months/years, go to English tuition centers or just study loads of English. that’s what they do. and they are better than anyone could ever expect. NEVER underestimate Koreans for their English. and these are the kids who would sign up for the English classes. I know many Koreans from the country side (most of them do not speak English very well =S. but I’m sure most of them had a better childhood. haha.) whom had registered in a few English classes but pulled out first day because the Koreans inside those classes speaks fluent English. (every student must take at least 3 classes in English in 4 years. that’s why.) hence, studying in English will be like studying with the super smart students from the smart. and it wouldn’t be easy as well.

then, we have the bell graph grading system where they grade you relatively. what I meant was, out of the 60 people you have in your class, only 30% of them are eligible to get the A or A+ grade. which means, only 18 over 60 people whom are geniuses will be able to get an A. and another 30-35% gets a B or B+ and the rest will range from C, D, and F. if you’re a foreigner, you’re practically doomed in the Korean classes. bitch please, I got around 90 in some test and got a B+. hahahahahaaaaa. it was an English subject and the test was MCQ. imagine, these kids are the top students of South Korea and they battle their way in to these prestigious universities. even if half of them are lazy, half of them study very very very hard. which explains the 24hour libraries. I only used to go to the 24 hour library in Yonsei because it was close to my house and it was always very packed even at 2am. I am now one month into my semester and the library’s half full the last time I left it at 8PM. so if they are studying through midnight at the library, you need to double their amount. and that means no sleep at all. I’m practically a living dead. my eye-bags are so deep I need no on-purpose eye-bag surgery. except I look horrible with eye-bags.

if you plan to fight with these genius Korean people IN the Korean language, getting an A is almost like getting yourself to land on the moon.

DO NOT. I repeat, DO NOT take online subjects where the tests are in multiple choice questions. because Koreans memorize things rather perfectly. they are like machines. so always opt for those which requires a lot of thinking rather than memorizing.

some subjects are in bloody Hanja. like for me, I had to take this class which studies the Analects of Confucianism.Β everything the teacher wrote on the boardΒ were inΒ Korean traditional writings. it’s the same with the traditional Chinese characters (China uses the simplified ones now. so, imagine.) and everything that’s taught in the class sounds very aliena to me. it’s good for the Chinese students as they could probably understand if not all, most of it easily. still, competing with Koreans who knows at least a little bit of Hanja is MADNESS. I’m only looking forward for a pass.

the average results for foreigners in my school was C+ and only 1/3 foreigners manage to graduate (apparently. I was told.)

there are assignments for almost every class and if not, you’d have to read 20-80 or more pages of the textbook to prepare for a class. that’s where all your time will go to. and those aren’t studying, it’s merely just preparing.

some teachers do not like foreigners (who look Asian).

people get annoyed listening to English sometimes. cafe owners might tell you to keep your volume down even if you speak at the same volume as the Korean people sitting at the table next door. especially old people, so you’d get scolded at least for a few times if you stay here long enough.

you’re always the black sheep in presentations. unless your Korean is super duper fluent like every other Korean. which is almost impossible if you’ve only learned Korean for less than 2 years.

you get not much social life because there’s literally not much time for it. other than during summer and winter holidays where you’d be suddenly so free you wish you were in school. there’s not much time to hang out. because if you go out, you’ll spend too much time on transportation already. unless you’re hanging out at your area, which would be boring. but the good thing is, there would actually be enough time to slip in 2-3 hours for dramas and another 1-2 hours for you to chat with your friends.

thinking about going to concerts or “bumping” into celebrities outside their dorms? you wish.

that’s of course possible if you do not care about your grades.

there’s no midterm break. so right after sleepless nights studying for midterms, you will need to rush for assignments and presentations right after.

“no matter how hard it is I’ll be able to survive though it. I’m good at taking stress.” that was what I thought when I first came. I was wrong. I do break down and cry because I felt so helpless. that no matter how hard I try I will never be comparable to the Koreans here. but I just forgot to remind myself that, it is already hard enough to study in a foreign land in a totally foreign language. so why should I compare. =S.

one tip on getting better results? well, go to schools outside of Seoul. as Seoul gathers all the smartest students. you’ll probably be able to live a happy life outside of Seoul. (well not including the A-listed schools and Seoul schools that has campuses out of Seoul). but I do have a very hardworking friend who sat for the Korean SAT 3 times just to get into a decent school. and such a student is already studying in the more popular school that isn’t located in school. so I’ll leave the thinking for you.

well, there are plenty of nice things about studying in Korea. like the beautiful 4 seasons and glorious restaurant and cafes. and amazing clothes. but I’m not sure if that’s a good enough trade for all the stress.

36 thoughts on “why studying in Korea is tough.

  1. Jane says:

    Jamie, I am lost now too…. I have no idea what am I doing here T.T
    I can’t go back now…

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    Not too late to go back. You should know it too. Hahha.

    [Reply]

  2. Jamie liew Fan club says:

    My heart goes out to you…
    The language alone is hard to learn, yet alone doing academic work in their language..
    You’ve already made it so far! YOU KNOW IT.
    All these studying will end once you graduate! Cherish it even if it’s hard alright πŸ˜€
    You have the RESPECT and SUPPORT from all your readers

    ….at least theres so many cute guys around to motivate you!

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    Thank you hahha ur name makes me crack. Cute guys don’t last! Malaysian guys are nicer at some points too!

    [Reply]

  3. Airi says:

    Jiayou~! You can do it!! Just don’t give up ^^

    And actually…this is *exactly* how I felt when I was in university. Study all the time, bell curve, no social life. I don’t know if this is how you’re feeling, but we call it Imposter Syndrome when you feel like you don’t belong (amongst all the smart students.)

    What you’ve said makes me wonder…Everyone always says that Koreans play more in University (compared to in high school), and that there’s a lot of drinking..but how do they find the time if it’s that hard?

    And thank you for a very informative post ^^

    [Reply]

    Jane Reply:

    But it’s hard for a foreigner to maintain the grades in Korea Universities.

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    I’m saying this on a foreigners perspective. If you read my post, I mentioned that as foreigners we gotta work twice as hard. Or thrice. Usually koreans play during their first to second year, thats y most of their results aren’t that good. Plus they resit many papers. Many of them took tuitions on those subs before coming to uni too so they do not need to study as much. But yeah, my friend with good grades always invite me to study with him at the library till 11pm everyday. He’s korean btw.n they feel like they have more time cz high school in korea ends at 10pm. So for them uni is somewhat more relaxing than school. Thanks for the cheer :). Ill try my best to stay in track!

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  4. Meitzeu says:

    Wow~ Seems hard to study in Korean.

    Cheers!

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    It is U.U. thanks!

    [Reply]

  5. Michelle says:

    As difficult as it is, it will take time. I cried everyday during my first two and a half years in undergrad (basically almost my entire program) because the Australians are so much better than I am in English (and think about it, I come from a private school). We have to prepare 500-1000 pages per week (we take four subjects per sem) and some of the material is literally undecipherable because it’s written in Shakespearean English. Because everything back in school was rote learning, the idea of using your brain to think is so alien that I actually scored a 13 out of 30 for my first essay.

    But eventually, things will fold out. Your hard work will blossom and even if you don’t do as well as the others, the most important thing is, you have something to put out there in your resume.

    In the end of the day, the resume is what matters for the employers. You can be smart ass and scored 100 out of 100 for your tests but if you have zero critical thinking skills, it’s the end of you.

    I understand your feeling but don’t give up!!! YOU CAN DO IT!

    [Reply]

  6. Fiona says:

    … amazing to know the differences. Korean Interns we have here at work would actually struggle to learn english/tagalog just to speak to us, if they aren’t fluent enough, they shy away or say sorry for not being so fluent. But we are really kind and would always tell them that it doesn’t really matter. Well, see the turn of things then, maybe if I will go to their place I can be the same. πŸ™‚ Good that I treat foreign people well.hahahahahaha πŸ˜€

    with studying, well the way you say it, it is really hard. Its good that i have no intentions of studying in Korea though (well, it suddenly disappeared upon reading your post hahahahaha LOL). Perhaps, its not really a good bargain, I prefer to be a tourist ifever. πŸ™‚

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    Yeah being a tourist is so much better. But nonetheless, its a good experience since I long to live overseas. Except there’s just too much stress sometimes. Or maybe I’m giving myself too much stress. Friends told me to take things lightly lol. Thanks for reading too!

    [Reply]

    Fiona Reply:

    Welcome. πŸ™‚ I do read/ scan all your posts. πŸ˜‰

    [Reply]

  7. alex says:

    OMG i was JUST looking online into graduate programs in the Seoul area today. I didn’t know it was this tough… I think i’ll just opt for a korean language program for the summer.Props to you for hanging in there! I envy your perseverance and for studying in Korea! thanks for this post =)

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    don’t be discouraged because the graduate programs here are known to be one of the best in asia especially SKKU. plus, there are plenty of foreigners and also the classes are in English so it’ll be rather fair =).

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  8. david says:

    Just my 2 cents, thats just how working life is like (esp as you get higher in ranks), many times you will feel helpless, not having sufficient resource/info and work late nights/midnights consequtively, so I guess it is a good platform to prepare yourself for future, good job for coping well so far! πŸ™‚

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    I guess working in Korea would be similar =S. but other than just helpless I do feel like it wasn’t fair. but I chose to be here, in an unfair world haha. so I couldn’t complain so much =S.

    [Reply]

    david Reply:

    life is always unfair i guess πŸ™‚ just need to get started n get moving, as long as we did our best -who cares if our grade is lesser than the locals/others? Essentially working life is about continually making positive progression, rather than hitting it right the first time we tried (because there will always be something ahead which we are unfamiliar/ disadvantaged of). I had few Malaysian friends who worked in Korea with initial zero Korean language skill as well, I presume they coped well, so can you πŸ™‚ In fact you already are!

    [Reply]

  9. Stephanie says:

    hmm I know your position since I’m also a foreign undergraduate student now in Yonsei.. I feel it’s really hard to study in Korea especially the bell graph grading system, I feel it sooo unfair too.. no matter how hard you study, you won’t be able to compete with Koreans.. and as foreigner, we have 2 problems, language and the subject itself γ… γ…  But I saw many foreigners who studied and graduated well also, so in my opinion, if other foreigners can do it, I can do it too..

    anyway, which year are you in now? I hope you are doing well in school since the midterm is coming soon~
    Just keep your hardworking and don’t lose your spirit! πŸ™‚ ν™”μ΄νŒ…!! <3

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    =(. I dunno. I wonder how did they cope with it. no wonder the average results for foreigners are so low T_T.

    [Reply]

  10. Sean says:

    I was really considering saving up for the MBA program in Yonsei. It’s done entirely in English so language-wise I’m probably covered. In some of the online syllabus entries for their units, you would see the lecturers writing about how they would strive to be fair to all students and encourage honest opinions from everyone. I guess this was their way of avoiding the ‘hating on other Asians’ that you wrote about.

    Do you think you are facing a lot more stress because it’s an undergraduate program (your first degree) and that you also have to take more than half of your course in Korean?

    I am now totally re-evaluating my long-term goal of studying in Korea after reading your post o.O

    [Reply]

  11. Jamie Liew says:

    I heard masters are tough but they treat foreigners there much better than us =(. so I guess you don’t have to worry so much.

    [Reply]

  12. Claris says:

    How long did you take to study korean language? N u are really pretty
    Sometimes i just wonder whether studying in korea might be a good choice
    because it is really expensive to study there. If you do not mind are you on a scholarship?

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    nope not on a scholarship. I was pretty unlucky you can say. and I didn’t want to wait for another year so I just came here on my own =). I studied about a year before going to Korea and another year in Korea. thanks! =D. I am not sure if it’s a good choice either but I guess stress is not something I am unfamiliar with.

    [Reply]

    ssyannelf Reply:

    did you apply for the korean government undergraduate scholarship?? I’m considering if I should apply it as we’ll need to wait a year late and start a year late and would be a waste if not selected and I don’t really think I would get selected as I don’t really get 80% purata throughout my high school years hahaha…..

    after reading your post I feel like maybe I should choose and study in some more rural schools outside of seoul it’s sooo stressful!! does the reputation of the school really important? like the seoul national/yonsei/kr/skw etc is graduating from a more unpopular school okay?? because I’m planning to study in busan haha where there will be less competition maybe?

    [Reply]

  13. Zaki says:

    Oh my, looks like you had a very different experience from me! I took part in an exchange program to Hannam University, but ‘accidentally’ topped most of the classes there despite my tourist mindset (I’m normally a high-flying slacker in Singapore as well, but I had expected this to be way more difficult). There weren’t any of them in my class who studied overseas for longer than three years, so their English wasn’t as great. Your article gave me a completely different picture of the study experience. Perhaps my university is worse than I thought. This is definitely eye-opening. Looks like I won’t be returning to Korea just for an easy degree…

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    o_0 I think it is because I’m in one of the top universities in Seoul. only the top 0.5% of the country’s best students can enter my uni according to my lecturers hahaha so I guess it differs. but I heard most of the top 20 universities are just as hard. to be honest I’ve never heard of Hannam University. I didn’t even know there was a university there despite going there pretty often. hmmm. I think you went on an exchange to a… not so well known uni? 50% of my classmates in english lectures were speaking like americans @_@.

    [Reply]

  14. Leyasheena says:

    Hello! Which uni did you study at? And was your course almost entirely in English? Were there classes that were purely in Korean etc?

    [Reply]

  15. Jesss says:

    Hi jamie! I’m a 16 year old malaysian currently in form 4 and i have plans to study in korea in the future. I wanna ask you if you have any tips for self-disciplinary during your stay in korea? Is the life there hard to cope with? I currently have an average of 3-5 hours of sleep per day, how many hours do u spend studying on average on a single day? Will it be too late for me to start learning korean through icls now? D: Thank you in advance!

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    it will be difficult to cope with at first. that’s of course if you get into one of the top schools. mine is top 3 in Seoul and it requires a lot of dedication and studying. no time to enjoy, no time to see superstars, no time to even listen to Korean music. just study lol. but it really depends whether you want to choose your grades over leisure or leisure over grades. I study on an average of 6-10 hours per day and up to 14 one month before examinations. learning a new language differ from person to person. I’ve had friends who learned for years and still couldn’t cope with it but I had a friend who learned for a month and she’s almost as good as me now. maybe you can try it out and see how good you can become.

    [Reply]

  16. qiling says:

    Hi, I’m a singaporean planning to study in korea, I was researching korea universities and came across your post so I would like to ask some questions if possible.. I have an A level cert and will graduate from a diploma in business admin this Sept. I wanted to study in Korea because I am semi-fluent (currently self studying korean seriously) in korean and also because i got rejected by local universities here../: i applied for SMU but if this fails too then..
    which is why I thought of studying in Korea. I might be planning to apply for Yonsei, Seoul and Ewha University, is it gonna be really tough to get accepted in my case? And are daily expenses, lodging etc expensive? I was planning to study business admin but your post kinda scared me, now I’m not sure if I am ready for all the stress..

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    Hi qiling,
    you will definitely need to work hard if you study here no doubt. that defers from person to person. if you are ok with just getting a passing grade then no stress for you! =). but I am afraid you would not be able to follow up the Koreans. can you understand everything while watching a drama? since university requires a certain level, I think it’s best if you have at least a level 5 in TOPIK before you apply if not you will feel left out in school too. Korea isn’t too expensive if you compare it with Singapore I feel. but since you already have a diploma, I think you will have to waste that diploma if you were to study in Korea as you will need to do the entire 4 years here in Korea for the degree. getting in 3rd year straight will be highly unlikely especially you didn’t get the diploma in Korea. hope it helps!

    [Reply]

  17. Marc says:

    Coincidentally I wanna go there and do a degree 100% in Korean though

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    lol good luck in that :).

    [Reply]

  18. Valen Lim says:

    Hello there! Firstly, thank you for writing up this post! I was rly lost and was looking for a blog which I can look up for more information and I found yours! πŸ˜€ Looks like your life there was rly stressful uh πŸ™ it kinda worries me alittle. I have a few ques that I hope you can help me out πŸ™ If you have the time.

    1. What are the chances for foreign applicants to get in SKY universities? Considering I have a polytechnic diploma and a SPM Cert (O-Lvl) from Malaysia!
    2. Are most of the courses taught in English? Like at least 75%? Do you get to choose which language you prefer to take?
    3. There is a total of 4 years Uni, does that include the part where you take TOPIK and learn Korean there? Or learning Korean itself is another separate year there? So total 5 years? :O
    4. Do you need a visa to study in Korea? Do we do it in Korea or SG?
    5. How are the monthly expenses on food like? Accomodation?
    6. Do we get to apply to stay in the school dorm for all 4 years?

    Thank you so much in advance for taking your time to reply to my enqueries!!! I rly rly appreciate it!! HAVE A GREAT DAY AHEAD EONNIE

    [Reply]

    Jamie Liew Reply:

    Hi Valen,

    I am graduating soon and am glad to say that there are more and more foreigners being able to graduate these days as they are paying more attention to helping foreigners graduate.

    1. very high. around 1/3 for my university and all the people whom I know applied for Korea U got in. Yonsei is trickier because they require a lot of documents many people might not possess.
    2. no. maybe at most 60%. selectives are mostly in Korean. other than business courses, there are rarely any English courses. so if you were to study anything other than Business, it may be 80-90% in Korean.
    3. yes 5 years to 5.5 years in total.
    4. yes. apply it in your own home country.
    5. I would say 800,000won will be enough for you to survive including rent. half for rent, half for food. and you should also cook frequently to save money. no/minimal shopping. depending on your rent and lifestyle though, my classmates rent is 700,000won alone and she seem to spend around 1,000,000won on food and etc every month.
    6. nope, not as I know. dorm in my university costs 350-400+k from what I know. and you will have a room mate. normally offered to only first year students.

    [Reply]

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