On Moving to Korea

They say that failure is the mother of success (실패는 성공의 어머니다). Who are they? Some of them are those annoying people who are trying their not-so-hardest to console you that your future will not slowly dissolve into utter mediocrity. Others, however, are telling you the honest truth and hope that you’ll absorb some lesson of perseverance from their indisputably cliché adage.

All of us go through that period at some point – that seemingly unchanging trajectory of consecutive failure. While walking down that road, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine a better outcome. One can become gravid with frustration while trying to prove to oneself that perseverance fueled with passion will eventually, magically, change one’s compass to point to a brighter and more successful destination just over that ridge, there.

Yet, I must admit success is sometimes a much more fickle creature than her mother.

I have been trying since the fall of 2008 to get back to Korea and continue to study the country and language. I’ve done my research and composed list upon list of opportunities and applied to a great number of them (including the NSEP Boren Scholarship, the Critical Language Scholarship, the Blakemore, the Korean Government Scholarship Program, and the Foreign Service). Most of them I’ve applied to more than once, each time receiving a varying degree of rejection – the email that begins with “unfortunately”, the deceptive status of “alternate”, and the blatant disapprobation of silence.

This was certainly demoralizing in addition to frustrating. I tried desperately to heed the advice of others to “stick to it” but, veritas lux mea, I should admit that I often flirted with the idea of abandoning anything and everything related to Korea and begging my cousin to allow me to tag along to Togo with him and his Learn Africa Project.

Eventually, however, perseverance won out and now – in a span of time that seems quite curt – I am supposed to be ready to move to Korea for three years starting this September. Am I? While I would love to say “yes”, I’m honestly not really sure if I am. Can anyone ever be “ready” for that? What does that even mean?

Why am I moving to Korea? I am going to Seoul National University to study a master’s in International Relations (정치외교학). Upon my second application, I received a scholarship to go there through the Korean Government Scholarship Program, or KGSP, which includes 1 year of intensive language training in addition to 2 years of coursework.

I have no idea how this will affect my life and I don’t think there’s a way of knowing. Guesses can be made but how many people can determine how they will feel about what they want to do with their lives in three years? Yeah, good interview question. But in real life, it doesn’t mean anything. Will I want to live in Korea? Will I be so sick of it by the end of the first year that I’ll be yearning to return to the States? Who knows?

I guess I will just have to wait and see. Since there was never any need to know what I was going to do three years from any other point in my life, why would this move all of a sudden require me to become clairvoyant? It doesn’t, right?

Having succeeded at one thing – in this case the KGSP opportunity and getting myself back to Korea – doesn’t really mean that the path I’m walking on will become any less befogged. Success doesn’t reset the coordinates on my compass and passing this one ridge won’t have landed me in a Great Valley of any sort. Those grand ideas that we often associate with life after a single point of success are no more than a motivational device that we employ to propel ourselves forward.

The only way to escape the resulting confusion is to recognize that assessing ourselves through the lens of success, while helpful, can also impede us from seeing how important it is to live the quotidian pursuit of another goal – happiness. We only realize this when all of a sudden we find ourselves confronted with yet another season of obsession with perseverance.

The question thus becomes, will I be happy beyond this ridge?

The Great Valley from the 1988 Universal Studios animated film "The Land Before Time"


Scholarships Abroad Abound

The truth about continuing one’s education is that it is expensive – particularly here in the United States. As tuition skyrockets and the economy continues to lag, competition for good jobs increases and pushes the expectations for education to ever higher standards. You will hear a recent college graduate argue with his or her parents about the future. The youth will say that they cannot get a job without a higher degree and the parent will defer to experience and assert that a college degree is enough to find serious pay.  For some industries, this argument is entirely moot, for market has already decided for both parties that a BA will earn significantly less than an advanced or professional degree and confine one to the lower few rungs of the ladder. The question, thus, becomes – are you ready for the debt?

Debt? Is there another option available? Here’s an idea from left field (just one of many viable left-field ideas) – how about a foreign government scholarship? Hm? Wouldn’t you like an MA, MS, MPP, PhD, LLM, or MBA that’s fully paid for? How about a stipend? And a plane ticket? Free housing! No debt! No catch! Sound like a scam? If this were a television commercial with an 800 number it would be but, thankfully, it’s not.

There are plenty of foreign governments that provide a range scholarships (including full-boat ones!) to Americans.  A former colleague of mine had lunch with Ambassador Hamid from Brunei last year. Ambassador Hamid indicated that Brunei’s government gives away about 5 scholarships per year for Americans who want to obtain a master’s degree, covering multiple different fields. PhD options and BA options are also available. He also indicated that in the application cycle for the year of 2010, the Embassy of Brunei Darussalam did not receive even one single application.

While some countries that offer government scholarships to Americans, like Germany, tend to have significantly more competitive applicant pools, Ambassador Hamid’s comments prove that there are valuable, enriching opportunities waiting to be seized. It’s just a matter of whether or not you are willing to seek them out and take hold of them.

Below, I have made a list of some of the government scholarship programs I have heard of through my exposure to various diplomatic missions here in Washington. I’m sure that this list is in no way comprehensive. There are bound to be more. If there is a particular country to which you are interested in going that is not listed below, I highly advise that you contact their Embassy and ask to speak with the officer who covers education (you can find some contact info here or just do a Google search). There will be someone at the mission who is charged with the duty of explaining to curious Americans whether or not such opportunities exist in their country. Sometimes, finding this kind of information takes a bit of digging. However, if you are willing, it could very well pay off in the end – especially if you’re finding information that others have not found.

Perhaps you’re skeptical. Perhaps, you think that most people already know about these opportunities. The fact is that even at the University of Chicago the Career Advice and Planning Services advisers and the individual faculty advisers (even those who focus on international studies, scholarships, and study abroad programs) are not entirely aware of these opportunities. When I was there, not one individual even suggested that they might exist. Fortunately, they do. Here are just a few of them:

Austria: The Oesterreichischer Austauschdienst (OEAD) offers research grants and scholarships for studying various fields in Austrian Universities.

Brunei: Most likely, you will need to contact the Embassy directly for information about the scholarship and an application form for the current cycle.

China, People’s Republic of: Information about Chinese government scholarships are available through the China Scholarship Council’s website.

China (Taiwan), Republic of: Taiwan also has its own set of scholarships that cover both degree programs (BA, MA, PhD) and language enhancement programs. You can read about them here.

Germany: Offering many programs through the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (or DAAD), German government scholarships can even sponsor you to study in other European countries in addition to Germany (depending on the degree program and field of study). Read all about it on the DAAD website.

Indonesia: While I’m unaware of Indonesian government scholarships, there is a great organization called USINDO that offers some grants and fellowships for study in Indonesia. These vary from year to year.

Japan: There are an array of scholarships for study in Japan. These can be extremely competitive. The most comprehensive scholarship program the Japanese government offers is the Monbukagakusho Scholarship (offered by the Ministry of Education). You can read about the Japanese government study programs on the Study in Japan website.

Korea, Republic of: South Korea offers a great scholarship program for Americans to study in Korea. BA, MA, PhD, and professional degree programs are available. The scholarship also covers a year of language study. You can read about the Korean Government Scholarship Program on the National Institute for International Education website.

Switzerland:  The Swiss government offers scholarships for foreign students to attend universities, arts, and music schools. Check out their website here.

There are some websites that try to post these types of opportunities. One such website that I find to be fairly informative and relatively easily navigable is Scholarships Online. They also tweet as they go @ScholarshipsDB.

Many scholarships are also offered by Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Singapore, and so forth. For the sake of space I have not listed them all here. While some are general and can be applied to multiple disciplines, many are also specific to certain fields of study – such as computer science, engineering, biotechnology, robotics, etc. As in some of the examples above, some countries also offer grants for language acquisition, like Italy.