U.S. Student Program
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program in Korea offers awards in four different categories to support international educational and cultural exchange through study, research, and teaching. These four award categories are the:
- Korean Studies Graduate Degree Program
- Open Study/Research Program
- English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program – Elementary
- English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program – Secondary
Approximately 95 awards are offered across these four categories each year, including up to three graduate degree awards, 15 student research awards, 20 Elementary ETA awards, and 60 Secondary ETA awards. Awards vary in length from 10 months for student researchers to up to three years for Elementary and Secondary ETAs (if approved for grant renewal).
The Fulbright Program in Korea seeks to build mutual understanding and to share knowledge across communities while enhancing the lives of grantees. As part of the United States Government’s flagship international exchange program, Fulbright grantees join a global network striving to promote a more peaceful world. In the process, grantees enrich educations, advance careers, and make meaningful contributions to the communities, and the world, in which they live.
Early Beginnings Interrupted by War
The start of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program in Korea can be traced back to April 28, 1950. On this day, a unified Korea became one of the first twenty countries in the world to establish a Fulbright agreement for the financing of educational exchange with the United States. It would be another ten years, however, before the Fulbright Program could be implemented in Korea due to the eruption of war on the Korean peninsula only about two months after the signing of the initial agreement. The effect of the Korean War, and its aftermath, cannot be understated as the armistice which ended the Korean War in mid-1953 continues to this day. It is out of this aftermath that Korea and the Fulbright Program in Korea grew, with development in one paralleling and interacting with development in the other.
Educational Exchange in Korea
Although the eruption of the Korean War essentially put the Fulbright Program in Korea on pause for a decade, intercultural and educational exchange between Korea and the United States did not wholly cease during the period between the signing of the original Fulbright agreement in 1950 and its subsequent reenactment in 1960. An estimated 36 to 47 American students, teachers, professors, and specialists visited Korea through U.S. government sponsorship between 1949 and 1961.
With the reenactment of the Fulbright agreement in 1960, the first Fulbright Students to Korea soon arrived. The first of these students was Marshall Pihl, who was a Fulbright grantee from 1962 through 1965 at Seoul National University. A Harvard graduate in Far Eastern Languages, Pihl had begun learning Korean while attending the U.S. Army Language School. Completing a master’s degree in Korean Language and Literature at Seoul National University in 1965, Pihl earned the distinction of being the first “Westerner” to receive a graduate degree at a Korean university. He then returned to Harvard to earn a PhD, spending one more year as a Fulbright grantee in Korea in 1970-1971, before receiving his doctorate in 1974. Prior to his death in 1995, Pihl was a pioneer and prominent scholar in the field of Korean Literature.
At the time of Marshall Pihl’s arrival in 1962, few Korean professors held doctorates and graduate education was almost nonexistent. Thus, a key part of the Fulbright Program’s purpose was to help rebuild Korea’s intellectual human resources and enhance its national development.
Americans also learned much from their experiences living and studying in Korea, a country about which many knew little in the 1960s, outside of the United States’ involvement in the war. Senator Fulbright speaking to the U.S. Senate on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Fulbright Act in 1971, noted that:
“No visitor or traveler can gain as much appreciation of the way and thought of living of foreigners as students can who actually live in the foreign country while they learn. We all know that no country is far away in the age of airplanes. The necessity for increasing our understanding of others and their understanding of us has an urgency that it has never had in the past.”
Senator Fulbright undoubtedly took a broad view of who “students” are, encompassing individuals from a diversity of demographics and experiences.
The close attention given to matters of national development by the Fulbright Program in Korea extended into the 1970s, but as the economic situation transformed in Korea, the program transformed with it, remaining responsive to the needs and trends in Korea more broadly as it underwent rapid industrialization to become an “economic miracle,” as it is frequently styled. Accordingly, the program modified its thematic emphasis from national development to “problems unique to man in a rapidly industrializing society” in the mid-1970s.
The 1970s also saw modification in the binational agreement between the United States and Korea as, in 1972, the Fulbright commission changed its name from the United States Educational Commission in Korea (USEC/K) to its present name, the Korean-American Educational Commission (KAEC). This was done to recognize the truly binational nature of the commission and of the Fulbright Program in Korea, which was increasingly supported financially by the Korean Government.
By the 1980s, Korea had left behind its status as a developing country, and the Fulbright Program once again shifted focus, responding to strides in computing, information technology and communications that would also characterize the 1990s and would play a key role in the country’s advancement. In addition to communications and education, international finance and trade emerged as programmatic interests in the 1980s, with Korea recognized as a significant trading partner of the United States. Broader recognition of Korea’s place on the world economic stage was firmly established when it became part of the OECD in 1996.
Throughout this time, the Fulbright Program in Korea maintained, as it does to this day, the wider purpose of building mutual understanding and sharing knowledge across communities through the strengthening of Korean Studies in the United States and American Studies in Korea. Toward this end, Fulbright Korea has expanded the award programs it offers over the years, developing the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program in 1992 and launching the Korean Studies Graduate Degree Award (previously only available to master’s students) in 2013.
Promotion of Korean Studies
The expansion of Korean Studies as a field over the course of Fulbright’s history in Korea has been noteworthy. Dr. Carter Eckert, who is now the Yoon Se Young Professor of Korean History at Harvard University, was the recipient of a Fulbright student research award in 1981. Recalling the early days of the field on the occasion of Fulbright Korea’s 60th anniversary in 2010, Dr. Eckert wrote:
“Today’s young scholars of Korean studies can look forward to a bright future. Interest in the field is high, more and more universities have added or are adding Korean studies positions to their faculty, and many of the larger institutions like Harvard have established Korean studies centers within the university community to support students and faculty in the field. Indeed, funding for undergraduate, graduate, and faculty study, research, and publication has never been more abundant, thanks in no small part to the emergence of organizations in South Korea such as the Korea Foundation that have made it their strategic purpose to assist in the development of Korean studies programs abroad.
Such was not always the case. When Ed Wagner began his career in the late 1950s, or even when I started graduate work in Korean history about 20 years later, the interest and infrastructure described above scarcely existed. There were few if any jobs on the horizon, and even if one gritted one’s teeth and determined to forge on in the blind hope that somehow, somewhere, a job opportunity would eventually appear if one could get through the eight or so years of graduate study, there was little in the way of public encouragement and financial support to help one actually to get to that point.
But there was Fulbright Korea. And what a difference it made. … Particularly in those early days of Korean studies, it is impossible to underestimate the significance of Fulbright Korea not only in keeping the field alive but also in laying the basis for the thriving field we see today.”
Fulbright’s Global Network
Today, U.S. Fulbright student researchers, graduate students, and ETAs to Korea become part of a global network of nearly 400,000 Fulbright exchange participants who have made meaningful contributions to the building of cooperation and peace over the program’s history. In today’s complex and changing world, the continued place of international educational and cultural exchange in creating lasting connections and mutual understanding has never been more apparent and never more needed. The Fulbright Program in Korea is honored to continue its legacy of supporting U.S. Students for the betterment of the United States, Korea, and the world.
To apply for the U.S. Student Program, visit us.fulbrightonline.org
To learn more about the Fulbright Program’s history in Korea, read Fulbright in Korea’s Future.
Korean Studies Graduate Degree Program
Korean Studies Graduate Degree Awards provide up to two years of financial support to academically mature students pursuing a graduate degree (Master’s or PhD) in Korean Studies at a Korean university. The objective of the award is to promote the growth of Korean Studies as a field in the United States. As such, awards support individuals who intend to pursue Korean Studies as an aspect of their career and thus wish to complete an advanced degree focused primarily on Korea. Graduate students in Korea are expected to study and conduct research on a full-time basis, while maintaining satisfactory academic progress.
Individuals interested in the Korean Studies graduate degree award must gain admission to a Korean university independently, with their intended program/focus indicated in their grant application. Depending on the program intended, admission requirements may vary in regard to Korean language proficiency. Award candidates must demonstrate at least an intermediate level of proficiency in Korean.
Upon successful admission to a Korean university, graduate student grantees will receive an initial grant for one academic year (12 months). Renewal of grant support for a second academic year (10 months) is contingent upon the achievement of academic success (above a 3.0/4.0 GPA or equivalent) during the initial grant period. Graduate student grantees are anticipated to maintain such academic success during the renewal grant period.
Graduate students are provided full tuition coverage and a monthly stipend (in Korean won). Additional grant benefits include round-trip airfare and allowances for excess baggage, housing, and incidental expenses. Health benefits are provided through the U.S. Department of State’s ASPE plan. Dependent support is available.
To apply for the Korean Studies Graduate Degree Program, visit us.fulbrightonline.org
About Higher Education in Korea
Often referred to as an “educational powerhouse,” Korea places a distinct value on education linked to early recognition of its importance in economic mobility and development throughout Korea’s history, and particularly its history since the Korean War in the early 1950s. As with the rest of the country, Korea’s higher education system has seen rapid growth since the end of the Korean War. Today, Korea boasts over 400 higher education institutions, primarily categorized as junior/community colleges (2-3 years), universities (4 years), and graduate schools.
A high percentage of Korean professors have earned PhDs from U.S. institutions, with over half of all professors on a nationwide basis, and an even higher percentage of professors at top universities, holding U.S. degrees. Relatedly, course offerings in English have also increased, with around 30% of courses at Korean colleges and universities now taught in English. Some colleges and universities may also include departments or programs in which all courses are taught in English. In keeping with globalization and Korea’s current status as an advanced economy, such programs have ambitious international goals. (For more information on higher education in Korea, visit the Korean Ministry of Education’s Study in Korea website.)
According to the 2021 Open Doors report, published by the Institute for International Education (IIE), during the 2019-2020 academic year, South Korea ranked 17th among the top 25 destinations of U.S. study abroad students. The U.S. also remains a popular study abroad destination of Korean students, with Korea consistently ranking as the third-largest origin of international students after China and India (a fact particularly significant considering the difference in population size between Korea and these two countries). Thus, the Korean higher education system is uniquely placed to influence the future of international education, while fostering educational and cultural exchange between the United States and Korea. This emphasis on strong academics is matched by a strong interest in research and development (R&D) as, per the OECD, Korea has one of the world’s highest levels of R&D expenditure.
Open Study/Research Program
Since the 1960s, the Fulbright Program has played an active role in supporting and promoting the work of American students in Korea, which support continues to this day through the Open Study/Research Program. As its name implies, the Open Study/Research Program provides the opportunity for academically mature students to complete independent research projects in Korea through 10 months of grant support. Student researchers are sought in all academic fields and from all degree levels (bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral), with the broad requirement that student researchers must pursue a distinctive research project relevant to Korea that can be reasonably accomplished within the open study/research grant’s 10-month time frame.
Individuals proposing a project for completion through an open study/research grant should clearly articulate their future plans and express a compelling reason for coming to Korea, as opposed to any other country. The wider impact of the proposed project, as well as its role in enhancing the relationship between Korea and the United States, should also be clearly specified.
Although all research projects must be undertaken in conjunction with a host institution in Korea, and thus under the direction of a host supervisor, oversight of independent research projects by host institutions tends to be hands off, making personal and academic initiative a must for the successful completion of any project. Considering the high degree of independence student researchers are likely to have, individuals proposing research projects must have the academic maturity, rigor, and depth of knowledge to conduct research without close supervision. Individuals whose research projects illustrate a specific knowledge of Korean and/or East Asian history, politics, culture, or religions, for example, will have a better grasp of research possibilities.
Additionally, individuals possessing previous cross-cultural experience and appropriate language facility will find their research more effectively accomplished and their Fulbright experience enhanced. Projects should be appropriate to a student researcher’s level of Korean language proficiency, with at least intermediate proficiency in Korean recommended. The use of translators to conduct research under Fulbright is discouraged, so a higher level of proficiency may be needed depending on the proposed project.
Individuals interested in the open study/research grant must initiate contact with an appropriate host institution for their proposed project, such as a college, university, research center, or cultural institute, and obtain a formal letter of affiliation from the host institution for inclusion in their grant application. Although, as stated, open study/research grantees must be able to conduct independent research without close supervision, it is still important that grantees have strong project support from their host institution and supervisor. Open study/research grantees should maintain consistent, close communications with their host supervisor. As some research preparations may need to be done with the affiliate prior to a grantee’s arrival in Korea, communications with the host supervisor should begin well in advance.
In particular, for all levels and types of projects, if a grantee’s proposed research project entails “human subject” issues, the grantee should be aware that gaining Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval after arrival in Korea is difficult, time consuming, and, in some cases, not possible. As such, grantees should discuss this issue with their host supervisor well in advance of their arrival in Korea and explore obtaining IRB approval from their current university, if possible
Although not required, if affiliated with a higher education institution, grantees are also encouraged to discuss with their host supervisor the possibility of auditing courses for the purpose of enhancing their Fulbright experience and research.
Example host institutions of past open study/research grantees include:
- Chosun University
- Chung-Ang University
- Dankook University
- Dongguk University
- Ewha Womans University
- Hanbok Advancement Center
- Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
- Hanyang University
- Hongik University
- Hoseo University
- Jeju International University
- Jeju National University
- Kangwon National University
- Kookmin University
- Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
- Korea Aerospace University
- Korea Environment Institute
- Korea Human Rights Foundation
- Korea Institute for National Unification
- Korea Institute of Ocean Sciences and Technology
- Korea National University of the Arts
- Korea National University of Cultural Heritage
- Korea University
- Kyujanggak Institute of Korean Studies
- Kyung Hee University
- Kyungnam University
- Kyungpook National University
- Kyungsung University
- M.A.C.K Foundation
- National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
- Pukyong National University
- Samsung Medical Center at Sungkyunkwan University
- Seoul Institute of the Arts
- Seoul National University
- Seoul National University Hospital
- Severance Hospital at Yonsei University
- Sogang University
- Sungkyunkwan University
- University of North Korean Studies
- University of Seoul
- Yonsei University
Open study/research grantees are provided a monthly stipend (in Korean won). Additional grant benefits include round-trip airfare and allowances for excess baggage, housing, and incidental expenses. Health benefits are provided through the U.S. Department of State’s ASPE plan. Dependent support is available.
To apply for the Open Study/Research Program, visit us.fulbrightonline.org
Applications for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program must be submitted through us.fulbrightonline.org. This website is administered by the Institute for International Education (IIE).
The national application deadline for the 2023-2024 academic/program year is October 11, 2022. For a timeline of the award application and review process, visit us.fulbrightonline.org
If applying through a U.S. higher education institution, the institution may also have internal deadlines for Fulbright applicants. Please reach out to the Fulbright Program Advisor at your institution to discuss internal deadlines. You can search for a Fulbright Program Advisor at us.fulbrightonline.org
Applicants must be citizens or nationals of the United States of America at the time of application. Permanent residents are not eligible. Applicants must have a conferred bachelor’s degree or equivalent before the start of the award.
Applicants holding Korean citizenship/nationality at the time of award acceptance are not eligible for U.S. Fulbright awards to Korea. Please see the U.S. Program Applicant Advisory for more information.
No, all U.S. Fulbright Program grantees to Korea must obtain an A-3 visa and enter the country on a U.S. passport. No other visa status will be accepted. Please see the U.S. Program Applicant Advisory for more information.
Applicants who have not resided or studied in the country to which they are applying for more than six months, not counting undergraduate study abroad, are preferred. Duty abroad in the Armed Forces of the United States is not considered disqualifying within the meaning of this section. For most programs, applicants who have had extensive, recent previous foreign experience in the host country are at a competitive disadvantage but are still eligible to apply.
Individuals who have resided abroad for five or more consecutive years in the six-year period preceding the national application deadline are ineligible for award consideration.
Individuals residing in Korea or who will be residing in Korea for more than three (3) months during the year preceding their award start are ineligible for award consideration. Undergraduate study abroad is not considered “residing” within the meaning of this section.
Preference will be given to those who have not previously held a Fulbright award.
No, awards cannot be deferred to a subsequent program/academic year.
All scholarships, fellowships, or grants from other sources, in dollars or foreign currency, received concurrently with a Fulbright award must be reported to KAEC. Adjustments in the Fulbright award may be made if such funds duplicate benefits provided under the terms of the Fulbright award.
In principle, Open Study/Research awards of 10 months are not extendable/renewable. Graduate Degree awards are initially for an award period of 12 months, with renewal contingent upon academic success. ETA awards may be renewed up to two times, for a total award length of three years. Renewal is contingent upon satisfactory cultural adjustment and teaching performance as well as the availability of host schools.
Please see the program page for the Open Study/Research Program for a list of example host institutions which have supported students in the past. More information about Korea’s robust higher education system and institutions can also be found at studyinkorea.go.kr or www.moe.go.kr The www.studyinkore.go.kr webpage also includes a search function for finding universities which offer specific programs, such as Korean Studies programs.
Applicants for Open Study/Research awards must include a letter of affiliation/invitation in their Fulbright award application. More than one institution may serve as the host for a Fulbright project.
Applicants for Korean Studies Graduate Degree awards should indicate their intended graduate degree program/focus in their Fulbright award application. Although applicants must procure admission to a Korean higher education institution independently to officially receive their award, a letter of admission is not required at the time of application.
Korean language requirements vary for Fulbright U.S. Student awards based on the specific program to which an applicant is applying. Applicants in some instances may be asked to provide supporting documentation within their application indicating their level of Korean language proficiency. For example, for the Korean Studies Graduate Degree Program, applicants must show evidence of Korean language ability by providing transcripts or test results indicating the required level of proficiency. For more information regarding the language and documentation requirements for each program, visit us.fulbrightonline.org
Fulbright Students are allowed a total of 14 days of personal leave to travel internationally during the award period. Professional, grant-related absences are, in theory, unlimited. However, as the purpose of the Student award to Korea is to participate in international cultural and educational exchange within Korea, extensive professional absences outside of Korea will not be allowed during the award period.
For Korean Studies and ETA grantees, during the regular semester, personal absences outside of South Korea are not allowed. International travel should be reserved for during the summer and/or winter vacation between terms.
A typical Fulbright U.S. Student award includes a monthly maintenance allowance and a monthly housing allowance (if housing is not provided by the Korean host institution), as well as round-trip airfare, a baggage allowance, and a settling-in allowance. Health benefits are provided through a group plan arranged through the U.S. Department of State.
Additionally, an incidental allowance is provided to Open Study/Research grantees and Korean Studies grantees for miscellaneous research and study expenses.
Limited dependent support is also available through the Open Study/Research Program and Korean Studies Graduate Degree Program.