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In California and most other states in the USA, at public universities (and sometimes private universities), it is possible for anyone who is not affiliated with the institution to walk into a classroom and learn for free. In small classes, it is polite to show up 5 minutes early and ask the class instructor if your presence is welcome (the answer is almost always yes); in large lectures no such introduction is necessary.

Is it similar in Japan and S. Korea? If I want to visit a class at the university, what sort of introduction should I make to whom, and how do I know which classes are more 'open' to the public in this sense and which ones are more private?

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Not enough for an answer, but a vast majority of the universities I have visited in Japan are private and do not allow anyone to come and go willy-nilly as you may in many US/European universities. However, most of them will let you in if you ask nice. I'd suggest contacting the universities you'd be interested beforehand and ask. Or just show up and invite yourself in and see if they stop you. If they do, you can always play the, "Boy, I was foreign, and I had no idea" card which works like a charm far too often. –  jmac Mar 26 '13 at 8:45
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I have been studying in Korea for two years have have never seen a case like that, so the answer may be no :) Koreans fought very hard to enter universities and admission is kind of a privilege you have to earn, and class sizes are generally small enough for the instructor to remember everyone's name. You can freely roam most campuses and enjoy the landscape design though

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Most of case, it's not quite difficult to hanging around in a campus under weekdays on working hour. However, it's not familiar culture that joining other class if you are not part of that institute.

But don't hesitate to do that. If you really want to see how South Korean studies in a university, try some classes with pay a little more time to ask any student who is not seems quite busy. Most of case, you can get a hint for an appropriate classes for your request.

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I am not sure I understood what you mean. Are you suggesting talking to students or just attending lectures that you would like to do and it will be permitted? –  Karlson Mar 18 at 15:13
    
@Karlson I'm suggesting talking to students. And if you're lucky, you may get a chance to join his/her class - but that's kind of rare case. –  bandoche Apr 6 at 6:48
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