Project #7: South Korean Undergraduate International Students’ Experiences

By Soo Kyoung Lee, Alisa Eland, and Drew Smith
This study explores Korean students’ motivation, experiences, challenges and support-finding patterns in order to identify and address sub-group international students’ unique needs.

Key Findings

1. Motivations to study at the University of Minnesota

  • Korean students knew about the University of Minnesota through ‘family’ (25%), ‘exchange program’ (24%), ‘high school’ (15%), ‘friends’ (14%), ‘agency’ (14%) and ‘other’ (8%),  such as the internet 
  • Students chose the University of Minnesota because of its ‘high ranking’, ‘reasonable tuition and cost of living’, ‘degree program’ and for their ‘family or friends’ who knew well about the University.

2. What Korean students like the most about the University of Minnesota

  • Many students stated that they enjoy the ‘educational atmosphere’, such as ‘high quality of classes’ and ‘research opportunities for undergraduate students’.
  • Students enjoy University facilities, such as ‘recreational center’, ‘libraries’, ‘access to laboratories’ and ‘shuttle bus system’ as well as the ‘urban environment’ and ‘Korean community’ at the University.

3. Transnational Korean students

  • 38% of the survey participants were transnational meaning they graduated from high schools in the U.S. (23%) or other international high schools outside of Korea and the U.S. (15%).
    • Strengths of transnational students – higher English language proficiency and cultural adaptation
    • Challenges of transnational students – feeling alone, identity issues, and keeping up with two languages

4. Challenges

  • Specific challenges for Korean students are 1) Building meaningful cross-cultural friendships and 2) Having to complete military services for male students
  • Other challenges include:

“American English”, “work load and time management”, “feeling alienated” in class, “classroom discussion”, and “group work”


“Homesickness”, “loneliness”, “cross-cultural friendships” and “anxiety for future”


High concerns yet low utilization of the career services: did not know about the services (80%) , did not think it would be helpful, or was not ready to use the services

Mandatory Military Service

For male students, the related challenges are “Deciding when to go to serve military service”, and “readjustment to the University” after the service


4. Support

  • Korean students heavily rely on their friends more than the university student service staff.
    • For academic support - ‘Friends’ (40%), ‘Professors /TAs’ (32%), ‘Classmates’ (19%), ‘University’ (4%), such as adviser or counselor, “Parents /Tutors” (2%), and ‘Other’ (5%), such as the internet or myself
    • For non-academic support – ‘Friends’ (69%), ‘Church’ (13%), ‘Parents’ (12%), ‘University’ (0%), and ‘Other’ (6%), such as none or myself 

What Findings Suggest For Our Campus:

  • It is important to learn about the diverse needs of international students depending on their backgrounds, such as their nationality and their experiences prior to coming to the university.
  • Student support from friends for challenges is very important, however, it may exacerbate the students’ disengagement on campus and deprive them of the opportunities to build cross-cultural friendship.
  • Outreach to students and explanation of available resources and how to use them should be on-going.