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Korean-Based MSW Program

한국어 기반 MSW 프로그램

Click here to open the Korean version of the programThe MSW program in Korea is celebrating 20 years of success! Watch the CoSW anniversary wishes here.

The Master of Social Work program in Seoul, Korea, was developed in response to a request from Korean social workers who desired a master's degree, but whose life circumstances precluded their coming to the United States to study. Non-traditional working students are able to receive MSW degrees that would otherwise be unavailable to them from schools in the US. In addition, enrolling in the program in Korea is much less expensive for students.

Several Korean universities partner with the College of Social work to offer this degree program, including Kangnam University, Hallym University, Sookmyung Women’s University, Sungkyunkwan University, Namseoul University, and Korea Christian University.

The Korea-based program has consistently been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education as part of the reaffirmation process of the College’s regular MSW degree program. The Korea-based program is also evaluated by the Southern Association of Colleges (SACS) as part of its accreditation of the University of South Carolina. From 1992 to the present, there have been five required independent evaluations of the program as well as two on-site visits from the CSWE’s former Director of the Division of Standards and Accreditation.

This assessment process has included review of self-study documents and outcome data specific to the Korea-based program. The purpose of reaffirmation and reaccreditation is to ensure that students in the Korea-based program have parallel course content, similar resources and learning opportunities (libraries, equipment, field placements), and a program of equivalent quality to the Columbia-based MSW. Accommodations are made to allow for the need for translation and for differences in national and cultural contexts (e.g., different social welfare policies in South Korea, limited racial diversity).  Applicants to the Korea-based program must meet the same standards as those applying for the Columbia MSW program, with the exception of the TOEFL requirement. The Deans of the College have gone to Korea, as well as former Provost Jerry Odom, to talk with students, view classroom facilities and field agencies, and meet with community and other university representatives.

Program Graduates
Among the alumni are mid- and upper-level social work managers in South Korea and the United States, American active-duty military personnel, and PhD social work educators at Korean and American universities. A large number of graduates have been promoted within their organizations, and some have assumed leadership positions in other organizations. Several of the alumni have entered doctoral social work education programs in Korea and in the United States.

Structure of the Program
The Korean program is structured on the framework of the part-time MSW program.

Faculty from the University of South Carolina travel to Korea to teach courses on-site during the summer and in specially arranged schedules during the fall and spring semesters. Courses are taught during evenings and weekends in order to accommodate the needs of working students.

In addition to the regular classroom teacher, a Korean interpreter participates in each class. These interpreters, who hold master's and doctoral degrees in social work from United States schools, help ensure the correct meaning, cultural relevance, and appropriate application of the course content.

Field instruction is offered through the College's block placement format. Students are supervised by qualified instructors who hold the MSW degree from Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)–accredited programs. The College's director of field instruction makes several visits to the field agencies to oversee the field instruction.

Several faculty from both countries have engaged in joint research projects, which have resulted in scholarly publications and papers presented at national and international conferences.

Contact information
Gil Choi
Program Director
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USC’s Groundbreaking Korea-based Master of Social Work Program Turns 20

About 30 students and family flew nearly 8500 miles from Korea to Columbia in December as part of a hooding ceremony for new master’s degrees being awarded on the 20th anniversary of USC’s groundbreaking graduate program based in Korea.

The University of South Carolina was the first U.S. educational institution to offer a full master’s program in social work in Korea. Its success—despite economic challenges—is testimony to the quality of the program and the value Koreans place in university degrees from the United States, said Dr. Gil Choi, a USC professor of social work and the program’s director.

The Korean MSW program has 175 graduates, including this year’s cohort of 25 students. Fourteen of the graduates and 22 family members flew to the United States, arriving in Columbia December 12, four days before USC’s graduation ceremonies. Each traveler spent about $3,500 and about 45 hours traveling to and from Columbia for their five-day visit.

The Korea program operates with the same curriculum that is used in South Carolina classrooms. The one difference is that translations are provided for the Korean students. Written handouts have one paragraph in English followed by one in Korean. Dr. Choi acts as translator for visiting U.S. professors, and he edits written translations by graduate assistants.

Students enrolling in USC’s Korea-based program are typically older and less likely to be proficient in English than students who travel from Korea to attend schools in the United States.

“Some prospective students are hesitant to come to our program because of their fear of language, even though we tell them everything will be translated,” Dr. Choi said. But once in the classroom, and with the assistance of the translations, they “are able to grasp the course content very well.”

Dr. Choi has been with the program since 1994, and became director in early 2008 just before the U.S. economy collapsed into recession, which hurt Korea’s economy significantly. For the first time since the program was started in 1993, USC was unable to recruit enough students to form a new cohort of graduates. It resumed after only a year’s delay.

Dr. Dennis Poole, who was CoSW dean from 2005 to 2011, said the program survived in part because of Dr. Choi’s leadership, the students’ tenacity, and support from the program’s alumni network. “If it weren’t for them and us working together as a team, we might not even have a program right now,” Poole said. “I’m very proud of that program, and the bright light that shines there.”

In a traditional Korean university, students’ success would depend on how closely they listened to their professors’ lectures and how well they memorized their notes. In USC’s program, their success depends more on how well they learn to analyze complex issues through critical thinking, applying theory, and problem solving.

“We emphasize critical thinking,” Dr. Choi said. “The USC program requires students to be more active learners by participating in activities such as presentations and role playing.” Graduates emerge better equipped to help Koreans cope with growing social problems, including a widening income gap, rising homelessness, and a high suicide rate among the elderly stemming from social isolation.

Mr. Kee Yoon, a social worker who runs facilities for youth and for older adults in both Korea and Japan, and whose daughter received her MSW through our program, talked about his views: “Your program has infused a different way of thinking about social work into the country. Your program doesn’t just provide lecture, you teach critical thinking, you encourage discussion, you require demonstrating practice skills. It is excellent.”



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