Otis has many international students from all over the world.  But I'm sure you've all noticed and asked, “Why are there so many Koreans here?” My fellow classmates and I have been faced with this question, and we wanted answers directly from our Korean classmates. So, here's the 411.

Many international students come to Otis to experience something they cannot get in their own country. Although many Koreans prefer to go to China, America is still a hugely popular choice. Each of the Korean student we interviewed had a different reason for being here and a different background story of how they got here.

When we asked "Why did you decide to study in America instead of Korea or any other country?" we received many looks of confusion. To them, it seemed obvious. They wanted to experience American culture and they wanted an American education where innovation, critical thinking and freedom of speech rules!

To them, Los Angeles is a big city filled with opportunities and dreamers just like them and Otis is the school that contains all this. Instead of staying in a hyper competitive and pressurized Korea where you mostly know everyone, America was a chance for them to meet people with the same goals, challenge themselves, and become fluent in English. Also, with a BA from Otis, chances of getting a job in Korea improves, not only because of their fantastic design skills, but because their English is better than others.

There are a lot of things to get used to when coming from Korea to America.  Jae Young Jung, (Male, 22 years old, Toy Design) said the most surprising thing to him was when the teachers and students openly argued a problem in his Critical Analysis class. This was a surprise because in Korea, classes are a one way street: teachers lectures and students learn. But in his Critical Analysis class, there was a lot of debating and open opinions that were neither right nor wrong. He found it refreshing!

Yeji Hong, (Female, 26 years old, Digital Media) said, “I wanted to get a job and start a new life in America. In Korea, the salary for 3-D designers is too low. To get a job we would have to study the TOEIC, a vocational test, depth interview, and we need multiple internship experiences. The competition rate is so high in Korea. If it is a good company, the acceptance rate is less than 0.5 percent.” 

EunHee Kim, a graphic designer who graduated from Otis in 2010 said, “I came to America to study art, because I wanted to get job in a better environment. In Korea, the companies prefer people who studied abroad because they are good at English, and more experienced than others. But the funny thing is I have never gotten a chance to use my English after I got hired."

However, coming to Otis has it’s own set of challenges for the Korean students. The tuition rate is higher than Korean colleges - in fact, the tuition in Korea is thousands of dollars less per year. There are also miscellaneous costs, like housing and all international students cannot get federal loans, so financial aid is limited.

The Koreans found making new friends not very easy. Making jokes in English was hard even if they were pretty outgoing in their hometown. Eventually, they were able to make friends because instead of trying to talk to them more, they showed their friendliness through their actions as they slowly developed their English skills with the help of their new friends.

Along with the language barrier there are other frustrations that come with being an international student when it comes to the classroom environment. We went around Otis and asked these two simple questions to Korean students we came across: 1) What is the one thing you want the faculty to know about you? and 2) What is the one thing youd like the faculty to do for you? The responses we got were interesting and eye opening.

Eric Kim, (Male, Senior, Digital Media) said, "A year ago, there was a Neighborhood Gap Bridge assignment that featured quotes about Koreans and quotes from Korean students posted throughout the school. These promoted segregation between the Koreans and the non-Koreans that was practically non-existent. People at Otis, regardless of race and gender should be able to attend school without ridicule. We are an art school after all, who is more tolerant of weird ideas than us?"

Isaac Kim, (Male, Junior, Digital Media) asks the faculty to respect his cultural background and wishes Otis had a culture night where all the cultures at school could get together and have a big event. Eileen Cho (Female, Junior Toy Design), said she is perfectly good at speaking English and Korean, and that shed appreciate it if the faculty would stop complaining about the other Korean students and understand them. Grace Lee, (Female, Junior, Toy Design) also agrees with this statement and hopes the professors would stop judging and respect Koreans based on their skills and not their cultural background.  Chloe Woo, (Female, Junior, Digital Media) said that she is giving up time with her family in Korea to get a better education here. She wants the teachers to be dedicated to her as much as possible. She wants them to take their jobs more seriously, to teach more valuable lessons, and be more prepared.

Many said studying abroad is a great experience. It is nothing like what they have ever experienced before and that is what life should be about. They also thought, just by living in the U.S their English would improve on its own naturally, but they suggested you should still study English on the side because you won’t learn it fast enough. 

Sometimes, we might think only of the differences we have with our classmates, but in the end, there is one focus: to become successful artists and designers who will impact the world for it is our turn to influence the world around us through our creations.

April Kim
Sean Hong
Chanwook Park


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