More than 72,000 South Korean students were enrolled in American universities and colleges in 2009-2010, down from about 75,000 the year before, according to the latest numbers from the Washington DC-based Institute of International Education. Only the giants of India and China sent more students American schools of higher education.
The number of Korean college students going overseas has grown dramatically over the past 20 years, from 24,000 in 1985 to 218,000 in 2007, according to government data. The largest share went to the United States, with China a close second. Japan, England, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are also popular.
The high rate of study abroad is evident in almost any government office, university, or corporation here in Seoul, where you can almost count on finding an English answer to your question.
More and more frequently, students are studying abroad at younger ages for short-term intensive language programs. Korea's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology reports that the number of primary or secondary students studying abroad to learn English grew from about 1,500 in 1998 to more than 27,000 in 2008.
Some students go for longer term stays with relatives or host families so they can become fluent in English and hopefully get on track for entrance to foreign universities.
American public schools are legally closed to "parachute kids," as they are sometimes called. But boarding schools have long admitted international students, and private day schools are increasingly opening their doors to them, partly as a way to balance their budgets. I wrote a story about this trend last year.
Intensive English programs in other countries are also popular with younger students. The Philippines is a common place to go study English over the holiday vacation. So is China, where programs teach English in the first half of the day and Mandarin in the second.