Through Friday, 19 Korean students from Chonnam National University and Seoul National University of Technology are on campus and in community internships as part of MU’s English Proficiency and Internship program.
Housed in the Asian Affairs Center, the program is a component of the Missouri International Training Institute, which gives college students from Pacific Rim countries the opportunity to strengthen their English skills and experience American culture.
“You have to understand the culture in order to understand the language,” said Kelley Frye, coordinator of the English Proficiency and Internship program.
“American culture helps students’ English-learning and also their understandings and perspectives of international relationships.”
Designed as a six-week experience, the first program was held in 2001. It began as a summer program; in 2003, a winter program was added.
“Through classes and seminars, culture exchanges, field trips and internships, Asian students can have a foot in the door about American culture — to get into the real American world and to make American friends,” Frye said.
Students in the program attend seminars and classes, visit American families and participate in festivals and sports events.
They are paired with MU students as language partners, mentors and friends. Korean students also have the opportunity to observe American workplaces through internships in local businesses, governmental and university offices and nonprofit agencies.
“We try to find internships that will be beneficial to them for American experiences,” Frye said. “Even though it is an internship, we stress more of the personal growth that students can gain from being in that professional environment.”
For many of the Korean students now visiting MU, the program was their first full exposure to American life. Dealing with culture shock is one of their big lessons.
“Americans say ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ whenever they meet,” said Seung Rok Kim, a junior majoring in architecture at Chonnam National University who interns at the Asian Affairs Center.
“But in Korea, we only say ‘hello’ once a day — when we meet in the morning. At other times, we just smile — no hi or hellos.”
Kim said that, though holding the door for the person behind you is a typical American courtesy, in Korea it means the person holding the door has an interest in the other person.
The program also gives American students a chance to appreciate other cultures.
Venita Cooper, an MU senior who twice participated in the program as an ambassador of American culture and who studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea, last semester, said being a part of the program inspired her greater appreciation of different cultures.
“I love being able to sit back, set aside my own preconceptions and just learn,” she said. “I’m lucky to be a part of their community.”
The program has grown from six students in its first year to 19 today. It has received positive responses from students.
“You may face unexpected situations and probably will be a little confused or disappointed,” said Young Ae Kim, a senior majoring in journalism at Chonnam National University who is interning at the Columbia Daily Tribune as an observer. “But this going-abroad experience is really something that I’ll treasure for a lifetime.”