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Study at Ewha GSIS as a GKS Recipient

Hello everyone! My name is Sara Fisher and I am almost a month into my first semester as a Ph.D. student focusing on International Relations in the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Womans University.

I first became aware of the Global Korea Scholarship in 2019 when it was still referred to as the Korean Government Scholarship Program or KGSP. I heard about it at an orientation for teaching English in Korea under the Fulbright Program from a returning Fulbright grantee who was applying for GKS. I hadn’t even started teaching English at the time, so I just tucked this knowledge in my back pocket for another time. After returning to the U.S. earlier than expected when COVID-19 broke out in Korea, I decided to apply for the 2021 GKS cycle. I was fortunate enough to be granted the scholarship, so below I will share some details about my application process and my experience with the program so far!

Application Process

Once you decide to apply for GKS, one of the first things you need to determine is whether you will apply embassy track or university track (if your home country has both options), and to which school(s) you will apply. Having a general idea of what I wanted to study, I first went through the list of universities and programs that participate in GKS to see what my options were. Then I went digging through the faculty pages on the websites of several universities’ graduate schools of international studies. I took note of the professors who shared my research interests in order to ascertain whether I would have potential advisors at each university. I was able to eliminate some options simply because there were no professors who shared my research interests.

After that, I contacted all the professors who shared my research interests to introduce myself as a GKS applicant who was interested in working with them, in order to gauge their responses and see if I might be a good fit for the GSIS at that university. Based on the responses from professors, I was able to narrow down my options to two programs. I strongly recommend this process of contacting professors, especially if you are applying for a Ph.D. program. Doing this makes it more likely your name will be recognized when your application comes in. If you are a Ph.D. applicant, ideally, you should already know going into your program that there is a professor willing to advise you.

While I was going through this process of contacting professors, I looked at a lot of blog posts from previous GKS scholars to get some hints on how to prepare a strong application. If your home country has both embassy and university options, I suggest you look up blog posts that discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both options. I chose to pursue the university track. I was considering only two study programs, and they were different enough that it would have been impossible to write a single plan of study that suited both programs. In the end, I decided Ewha’s program was a better fit for me and pursued my application with Ewha. The embassy track also has its advantages, but pursuing the university track allows you to tailor your application essays to one specific program, which may make you a stronger candidate, as it shows a dedicated interest. Your choice depends on your individual situation.

It will also strengthen your application if you have a compelling reason for studying in Korea as opposed to somewhere else—what can you gain from studying in Korea that you cannot gain in your home country?

My last tip for the application process is to put a considerable amount of effort into your essays. I had several friends and family members read my essays and give me feedback, and I revised them numerous times. The essays are your chance to set yourself apart from other applicants and to mention anything you want the reviewers to know that does not fit into the other parts of the application. Be as specific as possible about what you want to study, how you plan to achieve your goals, and how your existing academic and professional background will assist you in achieving those goals. Identify the new skills you will need to acquire in order to achieve your academic and research goals and how you will acquire them as a GKS student. If you are applying university track, you can name specific courses and professors that can help you achieve your research objectives. (Ideally, it would be best to contact those professors before mentioning them in your essay.) It will also strengthen your application if you have a compelling reason for studying in Korea as opposed to somewhere else—what can you gain from studying in Korea that you cannot gain in your home country?

The GKS Program

Photo Provided by: Sara Fisher

I scored high enough on the TOPIK exam after one semester to finish early, so I attended the language institute for only six months. I enjoy studying Korean and I made some very close friends at my language institute, so those six months were a great experience for me! Of course, when you are studying, not every moment can be thrilling, but it was an exciting opportunity to study Korean intensively for an extended period, something I had never done before. Classes were Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 1 PM. In the afternoons after class, I did assignments and studied. While it was a challenge, I was able to succeed thanks to my lovely teachers and classmates, from whom I learned a lot. I especially felt my vocabulary expand and my reading and writing skills improve dramatically during the language program.

There’s something special about learning about the culture, daily life, politics, economies, and customs of faraway places directly through the memories and experiences shared with you by a young citizen of that country.

Not only did I learn about the Korean language and culture in class, but I also had the opportunity to learn more about the diverse home countries of my fellow students. There’s something special about learning about the culture, daily life, politics, economies, and customs of faraway places directly through the memories and experiences shared with you by a young citizen of that country. On top of the development in my Korean skills, I could sense my worldview broadening as I learned from my friends and classmates.

Photo Provided by: Sara Fisher

While the language year requires intensive study, I think many students will find they have more free time during the language year than during their degree program. I thus encourage language-year students to explore their city, as well as to get out and visit other places in Korea when possible. An important part of the GKS scholarship is the cultural experience, so take advantage of opportunities to explore Korea and try new things. I was able to travel to Daegu, Damyang, and Seoul on the weekends and vacation time and I had some unforgettable experiences.

Photo Provided by: Sara Fisher

The language institute also arranged cultural events and activities for the students: they took us on a trip to Jeonju and also coordinated traditional games and kimchi-making activities.

Photo Provided by: Sara Fisher

I came into the program with an intermediate-advanced level of Korean, so while I studied hard, I was under less pressure to score well on the TOPIK exam. For students who are entering the program with little to no knowledge of Korean, it is certainly doable, but you will need to study rigorously. Form study groups with your classmates and use your time wisely. You can do it!

Attending a graduate program is never easy and being an international student adds unique hoops to jump through. However, the knowledge and experience I am gaining at Korea’s top GSIS make the challenges worthwhile. Furthermore, receiving the GKS scholarship is a wonderful opportunity, and I am extremely grateful to be receiving support from this program. I am afforded more freedom than many other students because I do not have to worry about how I am going to afford to live and get through school each semester. Ewha’s GKS coordinator Sunghee Oh (Fall 2020) is very accommodating and helpful; she responds to questions quickly and facilitates a GKS mentorship program that helps GKS students get to know their seniors and adjust to life at Ewha. I am only in my first semester, but so far I have felt very supported by Ewha’s GKS program, the GSIS faculty and staff, and my fellow students. I am looking forward to the next several years of making new memories at Ewha!

Photo Provided by: Sara Fisher
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