On today’s edition, I talked to Kim Joo Hwan, student of International Relations at the National University of Mongolia. He first came to Mongolia in 2006 and wants to contribute to the expansion of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and South Korea. Currently, he works in the Department of Foreign Relations of Khan-Uul District Council. I talked to him about Mongolia and the Mongolian education system.
What was the reason you came to Mongolia for the first time?
I first came to Mongolia in 2006. My father was appointed as the head of the Mongolian branch of the “International Youth of Korea” NGO, so I came and settled in Mongolia with my family.
How did you imagine Mongolia before coming here? What was your impression then when you came to Mongolia?
When I was a child, I was very happy to visit for the first time. I was very excited to tell my friends that I get on the plane. When I first got off at the Chinggis Khaan Airport from Incheon Airport and took a taxi, I was surprised to see that there were no high-rise buildings, ger area, and poor development. The thing that surprised me the most when I first came was that there were horses and camels on the road. Also, at that time, I could not eat Mongolian food, so it was very difficult to eat. Now I like Mongolian food, Tsuivan, khuushuur, buuz, etc.
You studied in South Korea until elementary school, right?
In elementary school, I studied mathematics, the Korean language, physical education, and visual arts according to the South Korea education system. Classes started at 8 a.m. and ended at 3 or 4 p.m. In a South Korean family, the parents let boys take taekwondo lessons and girls to take piano lessons. So, after school, I would go home, have lunch, and then go to my taekwondo club. Back then, there were no student clubs in elementary school, only middle and high school had after-school clubs, so I didn’t participate in after-school activities.
What was it like when you first came to Mongolia and went to school? What problems did you face?
I didn’t go to school for the first year because I didn’t know the Mongolian language. Then I studied at a South Korea school in the 3rd khoroolol, but most of the children were foreign and the lessons were mostly in Korean and English, so my Mongolian language did not improve. Then I told my father that I wanted to go to school in a Mongolian school and joined the “Erdmiin Undraa” complex school. Since it was a morning class at that time, classes started at 8 a.m. and ended at noon. Mongolian schools had very little study time, so learning Mongolian seemed very easy. Also, because I didn’t learn Mongolian well at that time, the teacher of my class only drew pictures for me to draw in class. I was the only foreigner in my school, so the kids took a lot of interest in me and bullied me, as well. Maybe they did that because I couldn’t express myself well. Then, to expand my circle and make friends, I took part in a music club at school.
What do you think is the difference between South Korea’s school education system and Mongolia’s school education system?
South Korean students study hard. On the other hand, these are children who are struggling to survive. Even good friends prepare individually when they study and prepare. Because, for example, if you and I repeated the lessons together and got the same 96 grade on the exam, you can rank above me on the grade list depending on your relationship with the teachers and how much they like you. In South Korean schools, students are always ranked by grades. But Mongolian school students were different. Children help each other a lot. When I first entered Mongolian school, I was very bad at Mongolian script. It’s like drawing a picture. Even though it was difficult to learn the Mongolian language, I was very confused in the Mongolian script class. But at that time, my classmates always helped me with exams. Mongolian high school students studied in the same class for years with the same teacher until graduation, which probably gave the children the opportunity to get close to each other, make friends, and help each other. Since high school in South Korea changed classes and teachers every year, I felt an atmosphere and warmth that I had never experienced before when studying in Mongolia. I had been studying together with my classmates since 5th grade and when I graduated in 11th grade, I felt like I was going to get separated from my family.
How do you see the education system in South Korea?
This practice of competitive ranking is not a policy issued by the South Korean Ministry of Education. Something that has been created in time itself. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you can focus more on your studies and gain more knowledge. The disadvantage is that parents in South Korea put a lot of pressure on their children, or the children themselves. In life, South Korean people have a competitive mentality and start comparing their work lives with others.
Why did you decide to study at the National University of Mongolia (NUM)? Are you able to get quality education at NUM?
After finishing high school in 2014, I entered the Department of International Relations at the NUM. After passing the general entrance exam, I was admitted to the university, so I paid Mongolian student fees. The quality of the course depends a lot on the teacher. To be honest, some teachers teach some subjects poorly. In the seminar class, the teachers give the students a topic to talk about, while in the lecture class, they just make a presentation of the information we can get from the Internet and then end up talking. It is good if the teacher mentions many sources in the lecture, provides academic knowledge, assigns homework on interesting topics, divides the children into groups and debates in an interesting way at the seminar. But it seems that some teachers in our university teach in this way. I think that if NUM invites the students of the majors once a week or once a month to talk on certain topics with high-ranking professors and lecturers from foreign universities, it will increase students’ desire to learn and love their majors.
Tell me about the fact that you went to South Korea as an exchange student in 2015?
I studied the Mongolian language at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. At that time, I learned that it was the right decision to get an education at NUM. In Hankuk University, the level of the Mongolian language was poor among the students who were studying the Mongolian language. It is probably the right choice to study the Mongolian language and culture in Mongolia.
Recently, Mongolian youth have become very willing to go abroad to study, live, and settle down. How do you see it?
I asked my friends in Mongolia, “What are you going to do after graduating from university? Will you do something that will contribute to the development of Mongolia?” Most of them just say, “I’m going to live abroad.” Living in Mongolia has problems such as infrastructure, politics, corruption, and traffic, but if the Mongolian youth do not develop Mongolia by living in another country, who else will? First, Mongolians should think about how to live well in Mongolia. There were times when South Korea was going through difficult times. There was a time when it was even poorer than Mongolia. First, we were under the Japanese colonism. Then there was the North-South Korean War. But there was faith in the hearts of the people that the country would develop the country. Translated into Mongolian, there is a word called “Touching the Heart” or “Maeumui gamdong” in South Korean. Because South Koreans had this awareness, they took initiative in their country, and the beginning of today’s South Korea was created. It’s difficult to work in Mongolia now, but I want to believe in the future. I also want to contribute to diplomatic relations between Mongolia and South Korea after graduating from university, so I should try.
Have you ever been proud of living in Mongolia?
Military service in South Korea is for three years and served mandatorily, so in 2018, I served in South Korea in the “66th Infantry Division”. At that time, I could not speak South Korean because I had lived in Mongolia for many years. The elders were surprised and asked where I came from, and everyone was surprised when I told them that I came from Mongolia. I was known as “Mongolian Kim” in my military unit. Even generals came to me and asked, “What kind of country is Mongolia? What is the language and culture? How is the economic development?” They asked a lot of questions. Since I was the only person who came from Mongolia and was related to Mongolia, I talked about the good things and beautiful things about Mongolia. That’s when I thought that Mongolia is my second country.