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An International College in South Korea as a Third Space between Korean and US Models of Higher Education


Under the slogan of internationalization, Korean universities have opened international colleges that promise an educational experience on par with elite universities anywhere in the world. These colleges conduct their classes in English and hire Western faculty members as a way to create campus settings that better attract and accommodate foreign students. What is the meaning of "international" in this context? Based on 12 months of fieldwork, my dissertation offers an ethnographic study of an international college in South Korea to uncover underlying assumptions and meanings in the internationalization of higher education.

By using an international college as a point of entry, I argue that internationalization reforms equate to the adoption of Anglo-Saxon academic paradigms by which Korean universities have been modeled after in the internationalization of higher education more broadly. With international colleges in particular, the kinds of research activities that count as international are not just being adopted, but the knowledge workers themselves--"imported" faculty members from the United States and Western Europe--are brought into a Korean university setting as a way to attract as many foreign students as possible. However, the majority of students who enroll at an international college are not foreign but Korean, and thus, what these international colleges have turned into are actually domestic alternatives for Korean students who would otherwise study abroad. What is created when Anglo-Saxon academic paradigms confront a primarily Korean student body is a Third Space of hybrid pedagogical practices, languages, and social interactions that I explore and analyze. At the same time, meanings of international take on racialized and paradoxical undertones whereby Western faculty members are strategically appropriated as a commodity for an international college while the Korean students who attend struggle to integrate within the larger Korean university because their affiliation with an international college positions them as outsiders. The tensions and contradictions that a Korean university faces in its internationalization agenda speak to a broader conception of how South Korea sees its place within a multicultural landscape.

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