Sydney Law School students in Asia: (1) Korea

The Australian government is slowly following up on the agenda set out in last year’s ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper. An Implementation Plan has now been announced, along with an expanded Strategic Advisory Board, and public Submissions are sought on follow-up individual country strategies (by 31 May) for Japan, China, Indonesia, India and South Korea.
Of particular interest for Australian universities and their students, on 6 April the first round of applications opened for ‘AsiaBound’ study – with a deadline of 20 May 2013. The government had already announced on 31 October 2012, albeit in broad terms, the $37 million AsiaBound Grants Program:

AsiaBound provides funding in the form of $2000 or $5000 grants for around 3600 Australian students each year to participate in a study experience in Asia. Students are able to undertake short-term mobility for a variety of experiences including practicums, clinical placements, research trips or volunteer projects for up to 6 months. Students are also able to undertake semester based experiences for one or two semesters. In addition to study grants, AsiaBound offers grants of $1000 for preparatory Asian language study that can be undertaken prior to or concurrently with an approved mobility project.

Program Aims:
Increase the overall number of Australian students with a first-hand study experience of Asia through funding for short-term study and language grants as well as increased OS-HELP loans
Encourage more students to become Asia-literate by supporting institutions to diversify their mobility offerings in Asia
Enhance the skills and expertise of Australians through access to a variety of study opportunities in Asia
Support increased Asian language competency of Australian students together with mobility experiences
Increase collaboration and partnerships between Australian and Asian higher education and vocational institutions.

Hopefully this program will further encourage Sydney Law School student engagement with the fascinating world of law in Asia. Already they enjoy opportunities for short-term offshore courses in Japan (every February), China, Malaysia/Indonesia and Nepal. Our law students also have also competed successfully since 2005, as part of ‘Team Australia’ with ANU students, in the Intercollegiate Negotiation and Arbitration competition (INC) held in Tokyo each December. There is also growing interest in semester-length offshore exchanges to leading law schools in Asia, thanks to efforts to expand university- and faculty-level student exchange agreements (traditionally focused more on Europe and North America) as well as the growing numbers of law courses offered in English by partner institutions in the region. The government’s new ‘AsiaBound’ funding should further increase the attractiveness of these opportunities.
Already, our law students are taking the plunge. An example is Ganesh Vaheisvaran, who mooted at the INC in Tokyo (in the English-language division in 2011, and in the Japanese-language division last year). He is now spending a semester at Yonsei University in Seoul, thanks to a university-level student exchange agreement reinforced by a new faculty-level MOU. As you can read from the report below, Ganesh is obviously enjoying his Korean law and language studies – as well as some interesting extra-curricular activities!

By: Ganesh Vaheisvaran
The world’s perception of Korea has undertaken a big swing of late. Last year marked the Gangnam Style era, when Korea was all the rage. This year, the world is looking at Korea as a possible nuclear war-zone, waiting for Kim Jong-Un to give his final order – potentially the biggest barrier to my graduation from Sydney Law School! Despite Kim’s endless rhetoric, I have lived in Seoul since January this year, and have found it to be a great experience in numerous ways. I am presently attending Yonsei University in Seoul, one of the top three and most international student-friendly universities in Korea.
Yonsei has a behemoth number of exchange students – approximately 600 in a given semester. This highlights one of the key benefits of going on exchange: meeting new people from all over the world, and learning things from a different perspective. At USyd, we are surrounded by the brightest minds in the country. On exchange, depending on the host institution, you are surrounded by the brightest minds in the world. An exchange can be a truly humbling experience, teaching you how small you are compared to the world’s best.
Academically, I am taking four law courses: two courses taught at an undergraduate level for study abroad students; and two courses taught at a graduate level for local Yonsei Law School students. The undergraduate courses are not as stimulating. But the graduate courses are very similar to USyd in terms of teaching style, rigour and quality – they are highly stimulating, and I would recommend them to any law student going on exchange to Korea.
In terms of culture, my experiences don’t stop. I have joined a basketball club at Yonsei, where as the only foreigner I’m treated with both fear and reverence. That hasn’t stopped me from making plenty of friends, and enjoying my time with the basketball club immensely. I have also joined a nearby dance studio, learning K-Pop dance. This is perhaps one of my bravest decisions – I am not only the sole foreigner in the class, but also the sole male. Whilst this might classify as paradise in most Western countries, in the conservative Korea it makes it slightly harder to make friends. But try and it’s possible. All in all, by indulging in various aspects of the local culture, you’re able to appreciate exchange to the fullest.
One thing I’ve learned about Korean culture is they have a clear sentiment – work hard, play hard. In high school, Koreans study beyond belief to make it to their dream university. Once they make it, Koreans become party animals. Never before have I drunk so much alcohol in my life. Recently, I went on a ‘Membership Training’ camp, otherwise known as an ‘MT’, with the basketball club. The secret meaning of MT in Korean is ‘mashigo tohago’ – ‘drink and throw up’. It seems that a weekend playing games and drinking soju in a remote location is the chosen method of camaraderie building in Korea.
The best thing about living in Seoul are prices. Things are cheap. For example, for a bottle of water you would pay less than $1 in Seoul. Compare that to the $3 bottles we are used to in Sydney. Food is also very reasonable. An average meal will cost you less than $5 in Seoul. You would be lucky to get dinner for less than $20 in Sydney.
All in all, my experiences here have been amazing. Academically, culturally and socially, I have been able to expand my horizon to learn many new things. I would recommend an exchange to anyone (whether in Korea or not). I would further recommend Yonsei to anyone interested in Korea.
As for the threat of North Korea? ‘What threat?’ That’s the typical answer you’ll get from any native Korean living in Seoul. It seems everyone has gotten so used to the Kim dynasty’s sabre rattling that no-one cares any more. So aside from continuous worried calls and emails from my parents, my life here remains unfazed. I only hope these aren’t famous last words.

Author: Luke Nottage

Prof Luke Nottage (BCA, LLB, PhD VUW, LLM LLD Kyoto) is founding co-director of the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), Associate Director (Japan) of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS), and Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law at Sydney Law School. He specialises in international dispute resolution, foreign investment law, contract and consumer (product safety) law.