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Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008

Exchange rate woes putting foreign students in a bind

Staff writer

The strong yen and tumbling South Korean won are making life difficult for people whose income depends on the two currency's exchange rates.

Jyo Jae Woong, a 21-year-old economics student at Senshu University in Tokyo, said he has been working at a fast-food restaurant ever since the won began falling in October.

"I can't afford to pay my tuition," he said, adding that most South Korean students he knows are encountering similar difficulties and many have begun working part time to cover the loss.

"My life in Japan is based on the scholarship I receive, the money I get sent from my family, and the money I earn working part time" Jyo said, adding that although he receives roughly 2 million won every three months from his family, the value has dropped significantly since June.

"It used to be equivalent to about ¥200,000, but now it's half that amount," he said.

Jyo added that in light of the situation, he has heard some universities are delaying the deadline for foreign students to pay tuition.

Tokyo's Waseda University said it was giving foreign students a 90-day extension in tuition payments as a special measure amid the economic downturn.

Keio University in Tokyo said that although it was not official university policy, it did give extensions on an individual basis to those unable to pay their rent for the university's foreign student dormitories.

Kim Jin Hee, a senior majoring in social welfare at a university in Tokyo, said that although she receives monetary support from her brother and sister in Seoul, she does not want to further financially trouble her siblings, who are also struggling amid the economic slump.

"It would have been a different story if my family was rich, but that's not the case," said Kim, adding that in the near future she hopes to become completely self-sufficient.

"I can borrow money for now, and work to pay it off later. On days I don't have to attend classes, I work night shifts at welfare facilities for the disabled. I'm just worried about what to do with my graduate studies. The tuition is so expensive," she said.

Pauline Choi, a first-generation South Korean immigrant to Canada and a first-year student at Tokyo's Bunka Fashion College, said the amount of money her father sends to her from Seoul for living expenses has been reduced in the past few months to the minimum necessary to get by.

On Dec. 24, the day she was interviewed by The Japan Times, she was virtually broke with a few days left to go before her next allowance.

"I can't complain, since my father also has to support my mother and brother in Canada. But I do feel a bit ripped off, since the rate was something like 740 won for ¥100 when I first came to live here a few years back," she said, jokingly adding that the won's plunge played a part in ending her previous relationship.

"My boyfriend couldn't afford visiting me from South Korea, and I just got too lonely," she said.

Naoki Suzuki, who owns a cafe in Seoul and who used to employ Jyo, the economics student, said he has trouble stocking up on goods such as chocolate, cheese, tomato paste and English tea — foreign imports he depends on.

Suzuki explained that small-scale import businesses are going bankrupt with the rise in food prices, and he is worried about what the experts are predicting on news programs — that in three years, two-thirds of restaurants may go out of business.

His greatest shock, however, is in regard to his salary.

"I'm appalled by the fact that I was making twice the amount of money in yen two to three years before," he said, adding it was with his recent return to Japan and experiencing the drop in value that he has felt the real impact of the won's depreciation.

"I felt poor," he said.

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