South Korea Facing Multicultural Challenges

South Korea is considered a rich and prospering nation, economically and politically mirroring its American friend and ally.  The ROK (Republic of Korea) is making advances in science and technology, and it seems as if every inch of usable land in the surrounding rural areas are under construction, from new roads and bridges to towering apartment complexes and community parks.  Socially, however, Koreans are not quite as progressive when it comes to diversity.  Though South Korea has over a million foreigners living as residents throughout it’s towns and cities, the country is only now coming to terms with the long-term impact of merging cultures.  Multicultural families seem to be the biggest challenge yet. 

The Center for Multicultural Korea estimates that the number of immigrants or members of multicultural families in South Korea will reach 21 percent by the year 2050.  The Education Ministry reports that the number of multicultural children was 6,121 in 2005.  By 2007, that number more than doubled to 13,445.  Two years later, the number of multicultural children rose to 28,000 according to the Ministry’s 2009 estimates.  The table below shows the ethnicity of most multicultural parents are of from neighboring countries and include China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan. 

This double doubling has created a troubling bubble in which multicultural families are often left to fend for themselves, isolated in a culture that is rather homogeneous.  South Korea will have to catch up quickly to relieve the pressure faced by multicultural families.  Social and cultural accommodations are much needed, as noted by researchers at Yeungnam University’s Multicultural Education & Research Center (MERC) of Yeungnam University in Daegu.  The center was established in November 2009 and works to reach out to multicultural families.  Educational support is another primary area that seems to be sorely lacking. 

The Center for Multicultural Korea reports that 70 percent of multicultural children either do not advance to high school or drop out.  A central issue most likely responsible for this alarming number includes economics. Most multicultural families fall in lower income brackets as the parents are usually immigrant workers.  A second concern is insensitivity within the schools. Bi-racial students are subject to being ostracized and teased.  In a society that prizes respect and honor, the results of being shunned hits these students especially hard.

These considerations are difficult to manage for a healthy, functional multi-cultural family.  When a multi-cultural family is broken, however, these problems can be heartbreaking.  There is an increasing number of divorces in multi-cultural families. In 2008, multicultural families accounted for 9.7 percent of the divorces in South Korea.   As is most cases of divorce, the children suffer the most. 

Sangrok Orphanage is located in Namhyeon-dong, Gwanajk-gu, Seoul.  At the beginning for this year, there were 63 residents described as “Kosian,” mixed-race children with one Korean parent and one parent from another Asian country.  These children were sent to the orphanage for a variety of reasons including poverty and violence in the home.  Most disheartening is the lack of extended family support. 

Familial love and care traditionally expected in Korean culture is cut short when it comes to bi-racial family members.  These children are often viewed with disdain and shame by the older generation of Koreans, typically the grandparents who would step in and take care of their grandchildren.  Xenophopia and racism are at the root of their disturbing attitude. With new initiatives such as MERC, and a more global perspective, perhaps the culture of fear and ignorance will be replaced by love and acceptance.


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