Korean College Students in United States: Perceptions of Professors and Students

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to identify the perceptions of professors and students on the cultural/learning and linguistic characteristics contributing to the academic difficulties of Korean college students in the United States. The participants in this study consisted of 25 college professors and 19 Korean college students from a liberal arts college. Data were gathered by means of questionnaires and interviews. Because the sample was small, intact and limited to one college, the findings cannot be generalized beyond this selected group. Analysis of data indicated that both groups (professors and students) listed and commented on factors or variables that are unique to this population. The participating professors identified the following Korean college students characteristics: (a) lack of class participation, (b) view professors role as absolute authority (c) difficulties in openly expressing critical thinking (d) avoidance of eye contact during conversations (e) lack of understanding of "ownership of knowledge" (f) difficulties with the structure of the English language, (g) inability to properly answer negative questions, and (h) preference of speaking Korean over English. The participating Korean students' responses mentioned: (a) view professors as having absolute control/authority of class (b) comfortable with large group classes (c) perceived academic knowledge as public domain, (d) preference of lectures over other teaching styles and (e) difficulties with English oral communication and grammar. These findings are in agreement with studies conducted by Oak (2003), Regan (1998), Robinson (2003), and Suh (1999), which identify a linkage between culture, language, and learning. The responses of college professors and Korean students showed that there are cultural/learning and linguistic factors that are specific to this population and which may influence these students academic achievement in colleges in United States. These finding points out the importance of college professors to become knowledgeable about cultural diversity and multicultural education practices in their teaching.


With technological advances in the 20th century, the world has literally become a smaller place, more accessible to all people. This is particularly true in the United States, where different nationalities have congregated to live alongside each other in a "global village." The Korean War in the 1950s, the Cuban crisis in the 1960s, the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and the Algerian and the African crises in the 1980s as well as the 1990s Bosnian crisis, brought large numbers of immigrants to the United States, including those from South Korea. According to Yu and Choe (2003), the Korean population in the United States is over one million, with Korean students comprising a significant number, which is likely to increase in the near future. For this reason, it has become imperative for American educators to identify the cultural differences of East and West and to try to understand the important role these differences play in both, students' learning environments and educational achievement.

It has been said that knowledge of traditions and cultures that differ from our own, draws us closer to the global unit that we all are a part of (Gay, 1995; Lee, 1987; Shuter, 2000). Although educators have investigated teachers' attitudes toward cultural/ethnic groups, there are few studies on Korean students, especially at the college level. For example, a significant number of multicultural education studies have focused on students and teachers in K-12 settings (Banks & Banks, 2001; Bennett, 1997; Gay, 1995). As of the year 2000, there has been an estimated 51,519 Korean students studying in colleges and universities within the United States (Institute of International Education, 2003), therefore, there is compelling evidence to take a closer look at Korean college students' cultural and linguistic characteristics. …