Words by Peter Gallo
Photo by Lorryn Smit
“All in all, I think it is a wonderful program. It teaches you everything you need to know to be able to live here comfortably and enough language to have conversations with.”
— Lorryn Smit, Gwangju News Volunteer and KIIP program graduate
If you are interested in getting some Korean language skills through the GIC, then you have probably gotten yourself onto an email list and have been getting messages about free classes offered through KIIP (Korean Immigration and Integration Program). Just to be clear, these classes are separate from the regular courses offered by GIC that are also offered simultaneously.
KIIP is still relatively new at GIC, so a WordPress website called gickoblog.wordpress.com has been set up to explain the details of the program and address some of the challenges with the application process. Chosun University, along with several other organizations with locations all over the Gwangju area, have been hosting KIIP classes since the program became available locally. KIIP was originally created to serve the needs of family members of immigrants, but it is basically open to all documented immigrants in Korea, and the GIC training site is open to all, not just GIC members.
Gwangju News’ own photo editor, Lorryn Smit, recently completed the KIIP program that she started about two years ago and provides some encouragement and advice for the KIIP curious. Her participation preceded GIC’s involvement, and she stresses that with GIC hosting KIIP courses, “Not only will the quality of teaching be better, but just getting information about the next level [will be] so helpful.” Her goal was to achieve enough points for the desirable F-2 residency visa. According to korea4expats.com, “Completing KIIP is the only way to do this.” The website goes on to explain that “in 2010, the Korean Government introduced a point system that allowed certain professionals who have resided in Korea for one year or longer [to] be eligible to get an F-2 visa. Points are given in different categories including: age, academic credentials, income, social integration, and Korean language ability.” One of several advantages stated in the article is that “F-2 visa holders are exempted from having to bring 100 million won (equivalence in foreign currency) into Korea in order to start a business.” In Lorryn’s case, after completing the KIIP program in November of 2016, she acquired enough points for her F-2 visa and is now able to legally operate a photography business here in Gwangju.
One of the main challenges with the KIIP program is the application process. It is all online at www.socinet.go.kr but only in Korean until you register. Once registered, you can choose your language option specific to the information on your page. In order to sign up for KIIP programs, you must then join the website and set up a profile using your ARC (alien registration card) number and agreeing to the terms.
There are a few other websites such as Korea4expats.com and Keytokorean.com that refer to the KIIP program and offer some strategies for navigating the process, but slideshow.net has an article with step-by-step instructions called “How to register for the free KIIP Korean class.” GIC’s blog is the most thorough, however. It is also current and interactive. If you get stuck, you can contact GIC staff for assistance. Park Yang-Im’s email is [email protected] The phone number for GIC is 062-226-2733.
According to the GIC blog, “The pre-test is exempted if you choose Level 0 [Foundation].” This means that while applying you must also choose if you want to take the pre-test to qualify for a higher-level starting point. In other words, taking the pre-test is optional; otherwise, you will have to start at the beginning, Level 0. Lorryn shared some of her experience with the pretest or level test. “[It] was in the format of a level 2 or 3 TOPIK test. Questions start out simple and easy, and work their way up. After the 50-minute multiple-choice test, there is a small interview. Three or four people at a time went in together, we had to read a piece, and they tested our comprehension and listening skills.” Lorryn ended up starting at level 2 and began taking classes at Yangsan-dong Multi-cultural Family Center.
This environment was a lot different than what she imagined Chosun University classes would have been like: “I studied with many of the marriage-migrants, which was interesting for me being able to learn more about this issue, but it could also be a bother as many of them have no choice but to bring their kids with them (those too young for kindergarten or school).” For Lorryn, a lot depends on the teacher: “I had a great teacher right through to level 4, so once I got the hang of it, I really learned a lot, and my Korean improved tremendously.”
After completing a required number of hours recorded by the instructor, you are then eligible to advance to the next level, but first you must pass the midterm exam. “After level 4, there is a language exam, testing what you have learned over the course. It was not easy, and looking back, I really was not at a proficiency level at that time to be able to pass.” Lorryn explains that she failed the first time but “passed with flying colors” after retaking it.
There appears to be some confusion about the certificates because the GIC blog currently states that after completing the midterm, a “Korean Language and Culture Test [KLCT] qualification certificate will be issued.” This seems to imply that there are separate certificates: one after the midterm, and one after the final. However, “After completing the entire KIIP course and passing the final exam, the Korea Immigration and Naturalization Aptitude Test [KINAT] qualification certificate will be issued.” Lorryn asked her teacher about the two separate certificates, and “she said you only get one after completing the whole course.”
The final portion of the program content is instruction regarding mainly cultural elements of Korean society and appears to require a much higher level of commitment. Lorryn even started working closely with a tutor at that point to ensure that her efforts would not be wasted and that she would pass the test. “I do not believe anybody can pass the first time if they did not devote three months of their lives to this.”
Lorryn’s experience was that to achieve certification towards Korean citizenship, you must log in an additional 20 hours in the classroom, beyond a “highly skilled profession” candidate that is seeking points toward long-term residency. “The last level of the KIIP program is separate since last year. If you want residency, you must study 50 hours, and if you want citizenship (naturalization), you have to study 70 hours. The last level is double the work to study, but you have half the time to study it in.” On the GIC blog, there is a breakdown of many possible benefits to completing the program, in which you would eventually receive a certificate. Whatever your status, your position in Korean society, is sure to improve with the completion of this program. The best part is that the program is completely free to attend. However, you may be required to purchase a textbook (4,000 won for Level “0” at the GIC).