Won sets back South Koreans' overseas education plans

Sun Nov 9, 2008 10:00pm EST
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By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - The global credit crunch has caused investment banks to crumble, stock markets to plunge and South Korean parents to wonder if they can still afford to be the world's largest exporter of foreign students to U.S. schools.

The South Korean won has been one of the worst performing currencies in Asia, losing a third of its value in two months, and raising the cost of tuition for education courses in the United States by tens of thousands of dollars.

"It is not what my parents had expected," said Lim Jun-beom, 27, who was planning to enroll in February but is now rethinking his plans. "The mood at home is not that great. Maybe I'll wait until August at least."

For many South Korean parents, overseas education is a way to give their children a leg up in a highly competitive school system at home, or to escape it entirely.

They spend about $5 billion a year to send their children to schools abroad, a sum equivalent to about 20 percent of government spending on education.

South Korea is the biggest supplier of foreign students to education institutions in English-speaking countries such as the United States and Australia.

For children as young as seven, to adults seeking post-graduate degrees, spending years away from home to get an education in English has become a way of life in South Korea.

This has spawned a new class of parent called "wild geese fathers" who send their families abroad while they live in South Korea in spartan style to help pay for the overseas education.   Continued...

<p>Yang Young-ju (R), a university student, listens to a counsellor in a consultation room at education consulting agency Uhak.com in Seoul November 7, 2008. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak</p>