Interview with President Ms. Kleinsy Bonilla of AEEGUC
Foreign students strong asset for good
relations between Korea, their country
The number of foreign residents in Korea is rapidly increasing, including students. They are a great asset in the promotion of relations between Korea and their homelands, and this is especially so in the case of the foreign students studying in Korea.
Against this backdrop, The Korea Post is expanding its coverage of the foreign resident and student organizations in Korea in a series of installments. Here is an interview with Ms. Kleinsy Bonilla, president of the Association of Guatemalan Students and Alumni from Korean Universities, whom The Korea Post contacted through the good offices of His Excellency Ambassador Gustavo Lopez of the Republic of Guatemala in Seoul.
Question: How many Guatemalan students are in Korea? How many Guate- malans live in Korea?
Answer: AEEGUC has 132 members, 73 alumni already graduated from Korean Universities and 59 currently enrolled in regular academic programs (bachelor, master and doctoral courses).
Q: How do the Guatemalan students find their Korean counterparts and the Korean people in general?
A: Guatemalan students have been received warmly by their classmates, professors and Korean society in general. Social interaction is rather different in terms of affection expression and closeness. For example it is customed in Guatemala to greet with a gentle kiss in the right cheek, but in Korea we rapidly adjust to bowing. Rarely we face misunderstanding, which are normal. For example when we are ordered in public transportation by Korean citizens to lower our voice as we tend to laugh and speak louder than the average Korean.
Q: How do the Guatemalan students find the cost of living in Korea compared with that in other countries?
A: Living expenses are definitely higher in Korea compared to Guatemala. Specially fresh fruit and vegetables which are really cheap in Guatemala, are really expensive for us. Transportation, price of meals, services in general, and every single aspect of living cost are a challenge for Guatemalan students in Korea.
Q: Every country will have room for improvement in connection with the educational and other conditions and environment for the foreign students. Are there any suggestions that the Guatemalan students would wish to make to the Korean government and the Korean people in general?
A: We are very grateful for the generosity of the Korean universities, their staffs and faculty. Probably one aspect that we could be addressed is the use of English according to the programs that are offered to be conducted entirely in this language, but rather frequently students are sent information regarding course registration, graduation process, health insurance, and others using only Korean language.
Q: What, if any, are the common problems that Guatemalan students (and other foreign students, for that matter) in Korea? What solutions do you think can be found?
A: As mentioned before, information in universities is in occasions only offered in Korean language. We do believe that it is our responsibility (and privilege) to learn Korean language: however, due to the academic and research duties, time is not enough to register in intensive Korean language courses. Outside university the language barrier is even more acute, immigration procedures are informed only in Korean language, and regular services such as mobile phone contracts are very restrictive for D-2 visa holders (regular students). As Korea has become a major economy, a member of OECD and a leading country not only regionally but globally, the desire for more foreigners to study or reside here will continue growing. Addressing this issue will allow us all to avoid bigger problems.
Q: Are there any Korean business corporations helping the Guatemalan students in Korea, say for instance, in scholarships and/or in other ways?
A: Traditionally Guatemalan students have received scholarships from the Korean Government, mainly through the Korea International Cooperation Agency KOICA and later by the Ministry of Education through the Korea Government Scholarship Program KGSP. However, since 2009, universities such as Kyung Hee University, Ewha Women's University, The Korea Development Institute, Chonbuk National University, and others have awarded scholarships for Guatemalan students.
Q: What do most Guatemalan students wish to do after their completion of studies in Korea?
A: They are great assets to both Korea and Guatemala and could greatly contribute to the promotion of cooperation and friendship between the two countries. Definitely. The successful performance and academic achievements of Guatemalan students have widely opened different doors for them back home, in Korea and in the world. Some examples of such opportunities are the graduates from KOICA programs. Many of them serve back in Guatemala as public officers, influencing positively to strengthen the relationship between Korea and Guatemala. Some of them are working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like Mr. Oswaldo Cabrera, graduate from Seoul National University. Ms. Marconi Mendez, graduate from Ajou University, became professor of the National University of San Carlos of Guatemala. Ms. Claudia de Leon, graduate from Korea University is Commercial Attache of Guatemala in the Netherlands. Other graduates are working for private Korean companies in Guatemala, like Ms. Jessica Galan, graduate from Ewha Women's university, who works for Samsung Engineering Guatemala, or Ms. Sara Cuevas, graduate from Ajou University, who works for LG Guatemala. In the case of the Science and Technology Program of Kyung Hee University, the first doctoral graduates were immediately offered a job position as professors in universities of Chile, and there are many more examples of Guatemalan graduates working in different sectors of the economy back home in Guatemala, as well as in Korea and other countries of the world.
Q: Finally do the Guatemalan students in Korea have a secret towards their success?
A: Yes, we have a solid and very successful community that keeps strengthening our networking among current students and alumni. It is our belief that once we become part of AEEGUC we take both a privileged membership that benefits us in different ways, but also an important commitment toward our country Guatemala, as well as toward Korea. One of the main mechanism we use to grow is that every member is called to share his/her Korean dream with other Guatemalan, that is how we are adding members faster than many other Latin American countries. Thanks to the constant support of our Embassy, we hope to be contributing to the already strong friendship between Korea and Guatemala. k