Newsweek Korea/Global Citizen
"KOREANS SHOULD HAVE NO FEAR OF THE NEW COMPUTER-BASED TOEFL"
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"Korea has an extremely interesting, fascinating and passionate culture." This was Jim Larson's initial impression of Korea when he first set foot on Korean soil in February 1971 at the age of 24 as a member of the Peace Corps. When he left Korea in November of the following year after having worked as an English lecturer at Kangwon National University, he felt something tugging at his heart. "I thought then that I would be returning to Korea someday," he said. His premonition turned out to be true.
Thirteen years later he returned to Korea as an exchange professor to teach in the Department of Journalism and Broadcasting at Yonsei University. He was there for a one-year stint starting in the summer of 1985 as part of the Fulbright Program, formally known as the Korean-American Educational Commission (KAEC). He subsequently visited Korea dozens of times. Starting in 1997 he began working with the KAEC as its Associate Director.
He has a deep affection for Korea. He was born in rural South Dakota in 1947. Upon graduating from St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 1969 he put in some time at the Voice of America. His deep ties with Korea began with his volunteering for the Peace Corps.
He majored in psychology while at the university and also obtained a doctoral degree in communication from Stanford University (1974-1978) by studying international news broadcasting by American TV networks during the 1970's. When he returned to Korea in the mid-eighties as an exchange professor it was natural that he should have a great interest in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the role of TV in the games. The result of this interest was the publication of his book, Global TV and the Politics of the Seoul Olympics, which analyzed the influence of global TV media on Korea since the Seoul Olympics. His persistent interest in Korea also led to the publication of several other books on Korea, including The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea.
Commenting on the recent trend of Korean parents sending elementary
school children overseas for study, he said-while stressing it was strictly
his personal opinion-that "it is extremely dangerous to send elementary
school children overseas for study if they have no relatives in the
foreign country." He also said that "if good conditions for
learning English are established in Korea, there would be no need to
send such young children to foreign countries by themselves."
He believes that genuine efforts toward globalization in Korea should first take place in the education sector. "First of all, there is an absolute shortage of outstanding foreign professors at Korean universities, a problem that should be remedied immediately." He added that in the United States, people who become professors are subject to thorough and ongoing evaluation for about 6 to 8 years, including their thesis results and the quality of the classes they teach. "Although the situation in Korean universities has changed a great deal, there is still much room for further improvement," he stated. He is particularly frustrated with the reality that persists in Korea of a cramming style of education centered on college entrance exams. This is in marked contrast to advanced countries where the focus of education lies in creativity.
He also worked as a professor at the National University of Singapore from 1992 to 1994 and at the University of Colorado from 1994 to 1996. He says the Fulbright program is the world's largest and oldest bi-national educational program in both historical and financial terms. "KAEC celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. While it is a huge international organization, it has a particular affection for Korea because a person like Horace Underwood, with deep ties to Korea, is serving as the Executive Director.
Aside from grant programs and operating a consulting center for overseas study, the KAEC oversees the administration of Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) in Korea. It is also hastening to adopt the Computer Based Testing (CBT) system to keep pace with the sharp rise in the number of test applicants and the information age. The computer-based GMAT has been administered in Korea since 1997 and the GRE since 1998. TOEFL will switch to the CBT system beginning October 2 of this year.
Last month about 10,000 applicants crowded into test application sites and spent the entire night standing in lines so that they could sit for the test before it switches to the CBT system, fearing a drop in their scores. Jim Larson stressed, however, that they have absolutely nothing to worry about. Many Korean students have already taken the TOEFL CBT overseas and there were no differences between the results of paper and pencil exams and the CBT. Also, few Koreans will have problems, as the rate of computer propagation is extremely high in the nation.
When the CBT system is adopted the tests can be taken anytime during the week and in special cases on Saturdays as well. He emphasized, "American universities plan to switch all their tests to the CBT system in the future, so Koreans should not fear the new type of tests." The only difference is that an English essay is an option in the paper and pencil test, but mandatory for CBT.
Jim Larson is quite fond of Korea's indigenous liquor soju and kimchi stew. "However, my favorite thing about Korea is the passionate Koreans." He said that he clenched his fists in joy when Korea won the soccer match against Japan last month. It seems he has already become as passionate as the Koreans are. You mean, "Is he as hot as kimchi?" You bet.