Investigating Ways to Reform International Education in Confucian Contexts: A Case Study of South Korean Higher Education

  •  Andrew Schenck    
  •  Ramy E. A. Mottalib    
  •  Matthew Baldwin    


The purpose of this study was to explore issues of international education within a Confucian context. Fifteen international learners were purposively sampled from a Korean university; these participants were then given an extensive open-ended interview to elicit information about educational experiences. Data analysis revealed five main issues: a dichotomy between Korean and international learners, a dichotomy between Chinese and other international students, a “sink-or-swim” philosophy toward international education, cultural/behavioral differences, and a lack of cultural understanding. Review of the issues revealed an underlying conflict between Confucian and other diverse philosophical perspectives. Although international learners from Confucian backgrounds understood and followed the existing hierarchical social system, other international learners appeared to have difficulty adjusting, which left them isolated from their peers. The data suggests that new forms of pedagogy and extracurricular activities are needed to promote intercultural communication. Because efforts to increase communication may be hampered by strict hierarchical relationships and an emphasis on harmony mandated by the Confucian philosophy, a tripartite system of behavioral training is needed for professors, Confucian learners, and other diverse learners. Such reform may significantly increase the effectiveness of international education within Asian countries that embrace a Confucian philosophical paradigm.

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