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Monday, August 6th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 28; August 8, 2012


Summer in America. Int’l students snag thousands of jobs.


K-Pop props up student interest.


Dramatic reform urged for Australian university policy.


Travelling smart with your credit card.


1) THE PLAYING FIELD – Summer in America. Int’l students snag thousands of jobs.

Take a walk along New Jersey’s infamous Garden State boardwalk this summer, and chances are you’ll run into any number of international students – not just visiting the area, but actually working inside the booths and attractions.

Each year, New Jersey is flooded with international students who travel to the U.S. through a special federal visa program. Attracted by the chance to experience America while at the same time earning some cash and practicing their English, these students are in many cases warmly welcomed by states such as New Jersey, who experience a heavy influx of tourists each summer. In fact, in areas such as the Boardwalk, businesses depend on such workers to help prop up the summer tourism industry.

“It’s good for the kids that come here in that the American dollar is often worth a heck of a lot more than where they come from,” explains Ron Furman, chief operating officer of Mahwah-based American Camp And Work Experience, which helps place students in jobs around the American northeast. “There’s a very, very urgent need for young people in the summer months, and the fact is, you just can’t find people locally to do these jobs even in this type of economy.”

Last year, more than 306,000 people came to the United States through this United States visa program, which includes the federal Summer Work Travel Program. Created in 1961, the program’s aim was to bolster diplomatic ties with other countries by way of cultural exchange. Today, participants continue to take advantage of the opportunity, travelling to the U.S. not only to work in the service industry, but also in such capacities as au pairs, doctors, researchers, and teachers – each completing three-to-four month stints in locations across the country.

Yet in recent years, the program has come under intense criticism – especially after a heavily publicized incident last August, in which hundreds of Summer Work Travel participants walked out of a Hershey Chocolate packing plant in protest. Joining forces with local unions and advocacy groups, the group complained that they were being overworked and underpaid at the expense of local workers in the region.

The incident fuelled allegations already held by critics of the program, many of whom view it as a source of cheap labor for employers – many of whom are attracted by the facts that foreign workers will often accept lower pay than their local counterparts, and federal taxes are not paid on their wages. In the end, the State Department decided to enact a series of new regulations to attempt to curb potential abuses within the program.
Even so, those involved in the visa sponsor industry say fraud continues to pose constant threats to the program, particularly when it comes to dealing with foreign recruitment agencies. Since most would-be participants often gain access to the program through dealing with such agencies – who then act as a middleman to help set them up with visa “sponsors” – the chances of the students being fleeced at some point during the application process are substantial. While the average student pays around $2,000 US for travel costs and recruitment fees, others are charged far more.

“With recruiters, you don’t know how much they might be charging,” explains Allan Smith, chief executive officer at American Camp And Work Experience, the sole New Jersey-based Summer Work Travel sponsor. In one case, he says, “we found someone who was charging $10,000″ per student.

According to many young participants, however, the experience is still worth the expense.
“For me, I wanted to learn to become a native speaker,” explains 21-year-old Ratruthai Pansawang, who travelled from his native Thailand to work as a ride operator for three months in New Jersey. Although he paid in excess of $2,000 to participate in the program, he says he wouldn’t trade his experience – which included trips to New York, Atlantic City, and Niagara Falls – for anything.

Source: “How international students snag boardwalk jobs, bolster the N.J. beach season”., June 18, 2012.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – K-Pop props up student interest.

In this year’s summer school arena, a new contender is quickly gaining momentum. Showing off its prowess by attracting more foreign students than ever before, what is this destination? … Why, South Korea!

South Korean universities have worked hard to ramp up their summer school offerings in recent years, and this season has seen an impressive boom in the number of international scholars actually deciding to make the journey.

At Korea University’s “International Summer Campus”, for example, the number of international students has reached 1,040 this year – up from only 250 when the program began in 2004. Yonsei University, meanwhile, has signed up 1,274 summer-course scholars this year, and Sungkyunkwan University is hosting another 760.

So why the sudden jump in popularity? Apparently, the answer is simple – ‘K-pop’.

According to Jang Dong-hyun, program manager of Korea University’s International Summer Camp, the opportunity to gain hands-on experience of Korean popular culture (including its food and pop music) is one of the key factors prompting foreign students to register for summer schools in Seoul. The number of summer students coming from Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, is particularly on the rise, reflecting the enormous popularity which Korean pop culture enjoys in its two Asian neighbours. And according to Jang, the number of French students his also grown by 30% since last summer – notable, as France is one of the major European countries where Korean musicians have recently held concerts.

Touting culture-oriented classes including Korean language and cooking, as well as regular outings to such tourist hot-spots as the royal palaces (located in downtown Seoul), the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone, and the increasingly popular Boryeong Mud Festival, summer programs at Korean universities offer foreign students an interesting opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Korea, its culture, and history.
“This is about striking a balance between experience and education,” explains Kwon So-young of the Office of Global Affairs at Ewha Womans University.
This unique approach to summer school, combined with high quality faculty (including visiting professors from such prestigious institutions as Johns Hopkins University, the University of Cambridge, and Nanyang Technological University) is effectively working to set the country’s summer schools apart. In some cases, South Korean universities have even developed partnerships with foreign universities, such as the University of Southern California, in order to expand student enrollment and bolster the quality even more.

Sources: “Korea becomes hot summer-school destination”. The Jakarta Post, July 30, 2012.
& “Korean Pop Culture Drawing More Students to International Summer School?” Open Equal Free, July 31, 2012.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Dramatic reform urged for Australian university policy.

Australian media went into a frenzy late last month, after prominent university leader Fred Hilmer declared the nation’s universities to be “sitting on a precipice”, describing them as underfunded and smothered by regulation.

As University of New South Wales vice-chancellor and chairman for the Group of Eight consortium (which consists of the country’s top research universities), Professor Hilmer is highly regarded among Australia’s academic community. And during his recent address to the National Press Club, he made his opinion on the state of the nation’s universities very clear. Unless the government steps in immediately with urgent and dramatic policy change, he warned, the nation’s universities are headed for a steep decline.

At present, Australian universities are only allowed to set their prices for international students and Australian students in postgraduate courses, while all fee levels for local students in undergraduate courses are set by the Commonwealth. This, he says, needs to be changed.

Describing the government’s current higher education policies as “a mix of rose-coloured aspirations, oppressive regulation and Scrooge-like funding”, Hilmer urged the university sector to take a more aggressive approach to dealing with public policy.

”We’re getting close to a time when we’ve got to do pretty much what the mining industry did,” he explained. “Just say no, take out ads, and be absolutely vocal.”

Even though about 20 of the nation’s universities rank in the global top 400, he says they are still treated “as if they were fly-by-night ventures rather than respected colleagues of the best universities worldwide”, forced to submit to a “dysfunctional, smothering array of regulation.”

“I don’t think we use the strength of our reputations sufficiently,” Hilmer says, “and I think we’re going to have to, because we’ve got to get this environment changed.”

If universities were allowed to set their own fees for Australian bachelor-level students, Hilmer believes the schools could lower staff-student ratios at little to no cost to the Commonwealth budget. By charging slightly more for such courses as law, business, engineering and medicine, for example, he says the universities could hire far more faculty, and effectively offer “high private benefit” to the students who complete such degrees. Yet, under current regulations, he says it is impossible to make such changes.

Sources: “Aust universities sit on a ‘precipice’”. Canberra Times, July 26, 2012.

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Travelling smart with your credit card.

Planning ahead when you travel overseas is always a good idea – particularly when it comes to finances. While credit and debit cards have made it extremely easy to go overseas without worrying too much about exchange rates or carrying large amounts of cash, you still want to be extra careful… as anyone who has ever had a card cancelled (or stolen) while overseas can attest. In order to minimize the chance of mishaps next time you head abroad, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Contact your bank or credit card provider well before your travel date. Be sure to tell them exactly where (and when) you’ll be going, and check upcoming expiry dates to see if you’ll need any replacement cards before you leave.

2. Try to organize a chip credit card, as they come with extra security features.

3. Make sure you have a PIN for your credit card, as many countries will only accept transactions confirmed with a PIN.

4. Bring a debit or other form of pre-paid card with you as well, as there may be cases where you are unable to pull out cash using your credit card. Cirrus and/or Maestro compatible cards are two of the most widely accepted types of debit cards.

5. Even if you have a credit and/or debit card, it is a good idea to carry a small amount of local currency and/or widely accepted foreign currency (such as USD or GBP) when you first arrive, just in case you need to exchange or pay anything by cash right away. Also be sure not to carry all your funds in the same place – split them up between your bags and on your person.

6. Set yourself up for internet banking before you leave home. This will make checking transactions and/or transferring any needed funds far easier.

7. Consider setting up regular credit card payments to avoid any late fees while you’re away.

8. Leave a photo copy of your cards along with bank contact numbers at home with a person you trust, just in case they need to help out in case of an emergency. Also carry photo copies of your cards and passport with you, and/or keep a copy of them (along with emergency contact numbers) in an email account you can access while abroad.

9. Never let your credit card out of your sight. Try to be at the terminal to pay your bills (particularly in restaurants), and check that the merchant only swipes the card once. If you suspect any foul play, contact your card provider immediately.

10. If you lose or misplace your credit card, call your provider and put a stop on the card immediately to prevent it being used by someone else. A replacement card will be arranged.

11. Keep all receipts until you’ve had a chance to check your credit card statement.

12. For any big purchases, use your credit card – this way, if anything is lost or stolen, you have proof of payment and price right on your credit card statement.

13. In an emergency you may be able to get a higher credit limit. Make enquiries about how to do this before you leave home.

Sources: “22 Credit Card Tips And Other Travelling Tips For Your Travel Abroad”. Credit Card Finder, November 12, 2009.
& “Traveling with your Visa card, Travel Tips”.


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