|Orange trees in Jeju-do|
The back drop for this ambitious education experiment is Jeju Island, also known as the Hawaii of Korea. Blanketed with mandarin orange groves, golf courses and volcanic peaks, the tropical island is better known to honeymooners and hikers than to scholars. But it's a 30-minute flight from Seoul and within a two-hour radius of 750 million people across Asia, where the education market is booming.
|The construction site of North|
London Collegiate, Oct. 2010
The campus will eventually host a dozen big-name private schools. The first, North London Collegiate School, plans to open in Sept 2011. Also considering the move are Branksome Hall in Canada and Washington DC's own St. Albans School, the alma mater of one-time vice presidential candidate Al Gore and Washington Post chairman Donald Graham.
Many American universities have already set up branch campuses or programs abroad. Doha, Qatar has its own Education City, hosting departmetns from six American universities, including the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and Virginia Commonwealth University's School of the Arts. And John Hopkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Chicago are among the schools that are making Singapore an education hub in Southeast Asia.
The idea is newer among primary and secondary schools, but gaining traction. The Chadwick School from California opened near Seoul's Incheon airport this year, near the site of another planned global campus for universities.
For many Koreans, the prospect of study abroad without the intense family strain is appealing. An early December information session in Seoul about the North London Collegiate School was packed with hundreds of Korean parents.
Hee Jeong Kim said many parents are tired of the Korean education system, with its stiff competition and constantly changing policies. "Even if we study very hard, it's very hard to get a job," she said. "We have to look outside Korea for schools," she said. But she doesn't want to be separated from her son, who's now eight years old, she said. If he were to attend school in Jeju one day, she would move down to be closed to him, she said. For now, she's more interested in applying to international schools closer to Seoul.
Woo Yeon Kim, another Seoul mother, said she moved to the United States to study when she was young, first at a boarding school in Maryland and later for college at the University of Pennsylvania. "I was really homesick," she recalled. "But I couldn't go home because it was too far away." For her own daughter, whose now three-years old, she said, "I want to keep her by my side." Even Jeju seems too far away. Still, she thinks it's important to have international exposure and a global mindset. So she's exploring her options for the future.