Yoonsang Bae ’15 is a first-year international student from Seoul, South Korea. When Bae stepped on the Williams campus in late August for First Days, he had never visited Williams before, and had spent only one week in the United States during his senior year of high school. In fact, Williams was his first organized school experience for almost four years; while he had gone to a Korean school for his freshman year of high school, he had been home schooled for the remainder of his high school career.
When asked why he decided to come to the United States for college, Bae cited his discomfort with the intense Korean school system. “In Korea, the focus of school is entirely on grades and test results,” he said. “For example, forty high school seniors recently committed suicide after the yearly college entrance exams. That made me so sad.” He also mentioned an experience that he had had during his freshman year of high school when he asked his teachers to help him find a summer internship in Korea. “They wouldn’t help me because they told me that’s not what education is for,” Bae said.
Bae described his transition to the U.S. and the American school system as relatively smooth. He struggled for a while getting accustomed to his more discussion-based classes, but he is feeling increasingly comfortable with speaking and hearing English, he said.
Bae especially appreciates the small-college atmosphere here in the Purple Bubble. “Seoul is a big city, and people tend to do their own thing,” he said. “But at Williams, people say hello to you a thousand times a day.” The entry system was particularly helpful in adjusting him to Williams life. “My entrymates really care about me. They even stop to explain jokes to me beforehand so that I don’t feel alienated,” he said. In class, he loves the amount of discussion that he has seen; in Korea, he often felt uncomfortable raising his hand and stopping the class even just to ask a question. The professors at Williams, on the other hand, are always open to helping the student out, he said, and classes are discussion-focused rather than grade-focused.
Particularly helpful in bringing him in contact with other international students were the First Days International Student Orientation and the Williams International Student Club. In fact, he is now the first-year representative to the International Club, and helps to organize events such as the International Street Food Fair in November.
Bae plans to major in Economics, with a concentration in Asian studies. He wants to continue graduate school in America at some point after college, perhaps earning an MBA or a law degree.