Thursday, April 15, 2010

A gripe about UC Berkeley's Department of East Asian Languages and Culture

I guess it's hard for me to say anything bad about this school since considering that I screwed up so much in high school that I feel I won the lottery by being afforded another chance to come to a top notch research university (by the way, one of my pledge bro's graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy). I guess that puts things into perspective. Getting into UC Berkeley was like winning the lottery -- though I would tease him about how we're both at the same school everytime he'd start to bring out the well, over at Exeter or that one time he Google Earth'd (verb?) his school...

Anyways, during spring break, I realized the younger child of my next door neighbor is also a UC Berkeley transfer student. His mom dragged him out. I was speaking to him in Korean as I'm guessing he immigrated to the U.S. during middle school or so -- these neighbors moved in when I was in Korea, so I never really met them.

And, we got to talking and he told me he's a Political Economy major, which I believe has a two year foreign language component. He told me he's taking Advanced Korean Literature or a course that I believe is past fourth year Korean. And, there was also a similar student, who I know speaks Korean fluently that is in that class as well. And, it reminded me. I have no gripes about Korean/Korean-American students taking advanced literature courses that they can't take since, well, they're not in Korea.

But, what does bother me is that considering how this department is so short on funding -- how little they do to get rid of students that take it simply to boost their GPA. Korean language courses are almost impossible to get into -- I took Intermediate Korean for a summer, but in my whole life I've taken just that and a quarter of Introductory Korean at Yonsei University and three days at Ewha University (to obtain a student visa -- which actually is what a fairly recent paper by professors at Yale argues: that international student flows are mainly vehicle of migration -- which I disagree with and, which my UG thesis will argue against). Anyways, there are a group of students -- those two excluded -- that take these courses to improve their grade point average. I was on the waiting list for 3rd year Korean -- before my schedule consisted of just math/stats/econ courses, but I couldn't get in as:

#1: The department is heavily underfunded, so there are just a few number of classes that are offered each semester.
#2: I would say, conservatively, at least a quarter to a fifth of the students were native Korean speakers. This is not a literature course, but a third year language course. I mean in class -- as it is 3rd year Korean -- no English is spoken, so if you're a native Korean speaker, then you look like a great student. But, apparently, there are these cards that I had to fill out (how relevant is this course to my major? -- none; I'm an econ/appl. math major) and while I was there I came to be in utter shock as I saw a group of students from the class talking in the Durant Building -- to get off the waitlist -- speaking in heavily accented English (and probably with a Republic of Korea citizenship), so they could be in the class with their friends.

Now, this is outrageous -- and not in the sense of let's say how it'd outrage Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, or Lou Dobbs (by the way, what on earth happened to this guy?), but in the way it'd outrage a normal human being -- genuinely. I'd love to have graduated from UC Berkeley with native fluency in Korean and, more importantly, the ability to do research in the Korean language.

I understand there are many incentives at UC Berkeley to encourage this type of behavior -- for one, distinction/higher distinction/highest distinction (or cum laude/magna cum laude/summa cum laude) is capped at a certain proportion here unlike at some of the Ivies... [I heard] Yale gives some type of distinction to half their undergraduate students... Well, they got only 4,000 of them anyways, and by the way, I did take Latin for a semester at junior college, so summa cum laude means "with highest (or maximum) praise." But, this is too much.

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