Korean student must return home from MU without degree

Sunday, July 21, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:00 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Wonjoon Moon's family has asked him to return to South Korea because they cannot afford to pay his expenses at MU.

COLUMBIA — In the spring, Wonjoon Moon got a phone call from his parents in Seoul, South Korea: “It would be better if you could take one or two semesters off until we will be able to fully support you,” they said.

But even before receiving the phone call, Moon, a senior from South Korea studying finance and banking at MU, knew his parents were struggling financially to support him.

“I changed my major from accounting to finance in the summer semester to finish the school as soon as possible — accounting is a five-year program and finance is a four-year one,” Moon said in an interview conducted in Korean. “But that was not enough.”

Just like Moon, students with F1 visas must enroll in at least 12 credit hours in an American university or college to maintain their legal resident status.

“I’m feeling really bad because money is the main issue that I have to stop studying when everything seems all right,” Moon said. “But I also learned paying for tuition is not something I can control.”

The MU International Center estimates that, including living expenses and tuition, the cost of a year at MU is $35,000. Moon said he might spend less than that, but it is still too much for his family.

He worked part-time jobs at a dining hall and other places to meet personal budget demands. During the school semesters, Moon worked an average of 20 to 25 hours per week, and during the summer and winter breaks he worked 30 to 35 hours a week.

“I just can’t only depend on the parents,” Moon said. “I need to do something on my own. I made some pocket money by doing some part-time work, but it is not enough to meet the budget line."

“Some of my friends are doing part-time jobs to make pocket money, but for me it is directly linked to my life. I can’t only focus on working on school.”

Costs for international students

It usually costs more for international students to get an education because state universities charge them non-resident education fees as well as health insurance costs and international fees, according to the MU International Center website. Living apart from the family is another challenge entirely.

Moon began attending MU in January 2008 to get a better education in the U.S. In South Korea, getting a bachelor's degree from an American university was a pretty big deal, he said. Although he said he "didn't even know what was Missouri at that time," every experience has led to new opportunities.

But it was not easy for him to adapt to the new culture and language.

“Staying in Laws Hall at the first semester in Missouri was not easy," Moon said. "My language capacity was not enough to communicate to make a lot of friends. I felt isolation sometimes in the beginning.”

A semester after arriving on campus, he moved from the dorms to the Christian Campus House on College Avenue. Friends at the house turned Moon into a new person with a sense of humor, surrounded by friends, he said.

While hanging out with friend and roommate Josh Rusert, whom Moon described as "really open-minded," Moon learned how to behave and what to say when people around him learned about his home country.

“It is pretty fun to see some people who ask me ‘South or North Korea?’ when I said ‘I am from Korea,'" Moon said. "I would love to meet North Koreans in person."

Being an international student gave Moon opportunities to be independent and to stand by himself.

“During my high school days, my mom woke me up, she made me food and she took care of me," he said. "But over here ... it is great deal because I learned how to manage my life.”

He has not visited home in South Korea since 2011, when he was discharged from the South Korean army, in which almost all men serve for two years.

“On the other hand, I am pretty excited to catch up with my loved ones and old friends back in my home at the same time,” he said.

Moon said he wants to earn his finance and banking bachelor's degree at MU, but he's not sure he'll be able to come back to Columbia to complete his remaining classes.

“But I will do what I can,” he said.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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