Why do more and more Korean students choose to study abroad? Nowadays, more and more students are leaving their home countries to study. One statistic show that among foreign students in the U.S in 2006, Koreans were the leading group with 93,278 students. And they spent about 5 billion dollars in a year. And also the top country which the foreign students in U.S come from in the past 3 years has been Korea as well. For Korean university students, leaving for a year or more to attend a language course or university as an exchange student is becoming a common option. Furthermore in recent years, the number of middle, high school and even elementary school students at the age of is increasing rapidly. They are leaving their families and friends at an early age and must adapt to the different culture. Everything is so different and that kind of situation seems so harsh for them. Why do they have to study in such comfortable environments?
The most common reason is for language immersion, especially for English. Most people in Korea criticize that despite of 10 years of English study, they can't even say a word when facing foreigners. They complain that English education in Korea is not effective. Moreover in terms of SLA, certain limitation exists here. That is, students cannot get enough language exposure in an EFL situation like Korea. On the other hand, students in their 20s in this nation are eager to improve their English skills. Because getting a good job is their top priority and to get a great job, they need a certain level of English proficiency, and the high score on various English tests is essential. So the situation is that English is not merely a language to communicate with, but a critical value of assessing an individual's abilities. So, for Korean youngsters, English itself is a huge burden they should bear to get a great job or get promoted. In this situation, they easily choose to stay in English-speaking countries like America, Australia, New Zealand, or the Philippines. They attend courses there, hoping that their English really improves and they can be in a better position in this battlefield.
But the problem is not confined to English education. More and more parents come to think our current education system is neither effective nor even humane. From the early age of 12 or 13, the competition to get a better higher education starts and from that age, students feel lots of pressure on their performance and grades in school. The classes are usually aimed to do better on tests. But some parents want their children to enhance their creativity and to be really respected as a whole person, not to be judged by their scores. They believe that what they want cannot be accomplished in our current test-emphasized educational system. That's why they are sending their children abroad despite their emotional and financial difficulties.
There are many rising criticisms toward this social trend. In financial terms, it costs lots of money and only the students in the economic upper-class can study in another country. It might widen the gap between the-haves and the-have-nots. Also when the kids are leaving their families at an early age, the separation from family can cause some emotional difficulties. The new term "Gireogi Father" reflects the current situation well. These men are living alone after their kids and wives leave their home to study. They are suffering from loneliness and have to endure a lot of financial pressure to support their families (according to a 2004 statistic, they sent an average of 4,200,000 won to their families). Sometimes these hardships even lead to suicide. They are also victim in this situation.
President Lee Myung-bak and his government officials continue to announce new education policies to solve this problem. And those policies are stirring up a heated controversy all around the country. One sure thing is that Korean education system itself is facing a strong challenge to cope with this problem. We have to offer a vision to those trying to escape Korea for educational reasons.