Exchange Program in Spotlight After Korean Student’s Death in Brisbane

Source: The Wall street Journal 


Every year, around 50,000 young South Koreans go abroad as part of a popular government-sponsored exchange program—but the program is finding itself under the spotlight after a 22-year-old Korean student was killed in Brisbane, Australia.

Ban Eun-ji, a university student from southern port city of Busan, died Sunday after sustaining severe head injuries in an attack on her way to work as a cleaner at a hotel in Queensland state’s capital, according to media reports. Police have taken a 19-year-old man who they suspect of killing Ms. Ban into custody.

Ms. Ban had been in Australia for six weeks as part of the Working Holiday program, which the government promotes as an opportunity to work and travel at the same time. Nearly three-quarters of all Korean participants in the program choose Australia, partly because it is the only country among 16 that have signed agreements with South Korea that doesn’t limit participation.

“The program is mostly known in Korea as a good opportunity to make money and learn English at the same time,” says Kang Tae-ho, a writer and former Working Holiday participant. “In reality, however, you won’t be able to learn the language because jobs available out there for a non-English speaker are mostly manual jobs like cleaning.”

The number of participants in Working Holiday peaked at 52,956 in 2009, nearly 75% of whom were bound for Australia. Last year 48,500 students participated in the program.

Other English-speaking countries that have signed deals with South Korea include Canada, which limits the number of South Korean participants to 4,000 and the United Kingdom, which allows 1,000 South Koreans to visit.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, around 100 cases of accidents or crimes are reported a year related to the program, and violent crimes are extremely rare.

Compared with Peace Corps, perhaps the best-known program that sends youth overseas, even the incidence rate of nonviolent crimes is low. The U.S. program, which dispatches volunteers to developing nations, says on its website that its 9,095 volunteers reported 1,700 crimes in 2011. That’s an incidence rate of nearly 20%—but then Peace Corps volunteers are expecting relatively rough conditions while abroad, while Working Holiday participants are traveling to developed countries and are likely expecting a more benign reception.

Some critics say participants in the South Korean program should be more cautious and well-prepared before embarking on their working holidays.

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