Passion for international studies leads to choosing Mason Korea

by Son Hee-seung, reporter for ‘Naeiledu'

Passion for international studies leads to choosing Mason Korea
Min-sung Kwon

Min-sung Kwon, newly enrolled freshman at George Mason University Korea, was interviewed by ‘Naeiledu’, the nation’s leading weekly education magazine. Please see the full English translation below as well as the original Korean article here.


Passion for international studies leads to choosing a foreign university based in Korea

Min-sung’s desire to help North Korean defectors led to a passion to study international studies in depth. George Mason University Korea (GMUK) was the ideal option for him to gain knowledge and experience in his field of interest. GMUK allows students to learn directly from professors hailing from the main campus in the US. It also offers numerous opportunities for students to intern or work at international organizations in Songdo. Min-sung figured that graduating from a globally recognized university would be better for pursuing his dreams of working internationally. His eyes lit up as he told his story. He had the look of someone who knows what he wants and is convinced he made the right choice.

Reporter Son Hee-seung / Photograph by Jeon Ho-sung


Volunteer experience with North Korean defectors triggers interest in human rights

In his freshman year of high school, Min-sung read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard, which states that Europe and Asia is a chessboard in which America is competing for global primacy. This led Min-sung to think about international relations in Northeast Asia and the diplomatic capabilities of South Korea. He became interested in the power dynamics between countries and decided he wanted to become a diplomat.

“I initially thought of applying for the Conflict Analysis and Resolution major. But, before applying, I visited the school for consultation with my father and that’s when I decided to study global affairs. I was advised that it’s better to gain a broad understanding on global affairs first before exploring international conflicts in depth. So, I decided to major in global affairs.” Min-sung only applied for majors related to international studies for early admissions. He applied to the Underwood International College at Yonsei University, the international studies department at Korea University, and the global Korean studies program at Sogang University. For three consecutive years in high school, his dream was to become a diplomat.

In high school, he was actively engaged with North Korean defector programs. He volunteered to translate testimonies by North Korean defectors into English at the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. He also planned a photo exhibition at a festival for the ‘Hope for North Korean youth defectors club’ to raise awareness on the situation of North Korean youth and made North Korean food such as tofu rice to share with other students. Furthermore, he raised funds by holding a classical music concert, organizing a used book drive, and distributing ‘piggy banks of love.’ “I felt like helping North Korean youth defectors should start in high school because they’re the same age group. After being involved in various activities together, my friends from school have also gained a greater understanding on North Korean defectors and North Korean human rights. It also deepened my interest and passion for international studies.”


Same degrees and diplomas as the US campus

Min-sung’s enthusiasm for international studies was also evident in the detailed skills and specialties section of his high school transcript. In his social studies class, he presented on the territorial battle between Britain and France during the discovery of Quebec, Canada. In his Life and Ethics class, he submitted a report on the status of Korean language education abroad and ways to improve it. As for extracurricular activities, he read an article on the South Korean government driving the inter-Korean summit and wrote a report on it. In his English class, he wrote an English paper on improving human rights in North Korea through the inter-Korean summit. With all of these accomplishments, he was nominated as outstanding student and served as a mentor to younger students.

“A lot of people don’t know much about George Mason University Korea, but you can’t keep up in class if you lack academic skills. All classes are conducted in English and the reading assignments for freshmen are already at the dissertation level. Some classes have tests in every class which are also quite difficult. The school’s level of education isn’t properly recognized.”

George Mason University Korea is an extended campus of George Mason University in the US, where professors from the US campus come to Korea to teach and conduct research on a rotational basis. “There are many famous professors and the ratio of students to professors is smaller compared to Korean universities, so there’s more interaction with the professors. I live in the dorms and since there are American professors who also live on campus, it’s easier to visit them and get consultation in person.” GMUK offers the same curriculum as the US campus and awards the same degrees and diplomas. Students spend at least one year in the US campus in their junior or senior year. If they complete their eighth semester in the US, they can immediately attend graduate school in the US or get a job in the US.


Various internship opportunities allow practical experience

As a global affairs student, Min-sung believes that practical experience is key. “The reason I chose this school is because it offers many internship opportunities that align with my goals. Since the school is located in Songdo, I hope to gain a variety of experiences at international organizations in Songdo. I’ve heard of alums who interned at The United Nations Office for Sustainable Development (UNOSD) or the Association of World Election Bodies who were offered full time jobs afterwards. There are also students interning at the Global Startup Campus within the school. Once we discover our areas of interest, the school’s Career Development Center actively helps us find volunteer work, internships, and even jobs.”

GMUK’s Career Development Center helps freshmen and sophomores gain volunteer opportunities at international conferences or international events so that they can secure internships at foreign companies or international organizations in Songdo based on their experience. The Center offers customized programs to help students grow through various stages. There are many internship opportunities both within the school as well as at the on-campus Startup Center supported by the Incheon Metropolitan Government. The school emphasizes field experience in order to connect classroom learning with the real world.

George Mason University Korea does not have a long history: the business and economics majors were established in 2014, the global affairs major in 2015, the accounting and finance majors in 2016, the conflict analysis and resolution major in 2017, which saw outstanding academic performance, and the computer game design department in 2018. Although the number of graduates is not high, there are graduates working at the US headquarters of KPMG, a top consulting firm, and students who were offered jobs at the UN Center for Sustainable Development in Songdo. Other graduates have joined Edelman Korea, a foreign public relations firm, and Nexon, a local company, while yet another student is continuing his studies in Sciences Po, a political college in Paris that has produced the largest number of major political figures in France.

“If I was only considering finding jobs in Korea, I would have gone to a Korean university. However, I felt like working hard at a globally recognized university would provide more opportunities. I heard that professors also actively help students they taught in Korea settle down in the US. If you leverage these advantages, I’d say this school is better than any other domestic university.” Min-sung knew what he wanted and how to get there.


Global college life with students from 15 countries

Students at George Mason University Korea come from various schools, including domestic, foreign, and international high schools. A large number of students are also one-year exchange students from the US campus. This year saw the highest number of newly admitted students who hail from 15 countries around the world. The Incheon Global Campus is a well-established university campus with five universities including Ghent University Global Campus, The University of Utah Asia Campus, The State University of New York, and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

“Each university feels like a college. Ghent University would be the engineering college, FIT the fashion design college, and George Mason University Korea would be the liberal arts college. I have a rich college life because of the active joint university clubs, big festivals, and I work out and live in the dorms with other students. The buildings on campus and dorms are all new. I think I’ll be making good friends with foreign students because they come to Korea with open minds towards Korean culture and Korean students.”

All classes are conducted in English. “I read a lot of English novels and have continuously conversed in English, so I’m comfortable with English lectures. There are some students who are not used to writing essays in English, but the school has an Academic Resources Center (writing center) where they teach you, step by step, how to write essays and papers. Since I’ll have a lot of foreign classmates too, I think as long as I’m diligent in school, my English will naturally improve.”

The tuition fee for one semester is 10,000 USD. Additional costs include 1-1.5 million KRW for dormitory fees and 1 million KRW for university operation fees. “Fortunately, I got a $7,000 scholarship. So I only have to pay about $3,000 or 3.3 million won a semester out of pocket, which is not that different from local college tuition. I can continue receiving scholarships if I maintain at least a 3.5 GPA, so I need to work hard. The tuition for one semester at the US campus is $18,000 and apparently you can get scholarships that cover up to 70%. I’m glad I can ease the pressure on my parents.”

We asked Min-sung what his dreams are. “I want to study international conflicts in depth. I haven’t decided whether I want to continue my studies in graduate school or work at international organizations. Since Washington, D.C. is the center of diplomacy, national defense, and politics, I’d imagine that it would have top notch research and plenty of opportunities to explore relevant international organizations after graduating. I’d be fine with even a small international organization and am willing to go anywhere as long as it fits my field of study. But since I’m in school right now, my priority is to follow the school curriculum and study hard.”