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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
  • " it is possible for anyone who is not affiliated with the institution to walk into a classroom and learn for free." - this is news to me. Never had someone walk into class while I was attending university in the US. – Burhan Khalid Jul 30 '17 at 7:31
  • Beware that, at least in Japan, it is likely that the language of the class won't be english. In fact, the instructor might not even know English. – camel Jul 30 '17 at 9:07
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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 '14 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 '14 at 6:48
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In Japan, it depends highly on universities. Some universities ask everyone trying to get into the campus to show ID cards but other universities are open to strangers. I feel there are more universities that let you enter the campus than not.

However, the class is usually for students. You could enter the class that has more capacity, a kind of classes that accommodate 200+ students, but in smaller class (less than 40) you likely can't (or more likely "shouldn't", as these classes tend to be that teachers force students to answer questions on materials, which you don't have).

Universities usually have a cafeteria but some universities only accept its students, professors, and staffs, so you can't buy food or drinks without its IDs (or at least you can't get a discount).

South Korea is more open to strangers as far as I know. You can enter the campus in most cases but I'm not sure if you could enter the class (probably could, but not sure if they are tolerant). Many Chinese travelers enter the campus and take a photo, especially at the Ehwa Women University, the top female university in South Korea.

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