Voices of American-Korean Students

By Park, Eun-Ja Kim | Adolescence, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview
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Voices of American-Korean Students

Park, Eun-Ja Kim, Adolescence


In recent years, there has been a rapid increase of Asian-American immigrants into the United States, especially in major metropolitan areas, particularly in California (California Department of Finance, 1992). According to the data obtained from the California Department of Education (1991), 54.4% of the almost five million students enrolled in the public schools were reported to be members of racial/ethnic groups other than white. Approximately 8% of these were Asians. Other statistics from the Language Census Report for California Public Schools show that the number of Limited English-Proficient (LEP) students in California jumped from 370,794 in 1981 to 861,531 in 1990, and the number of the Korean-American LEP students in California public schools grew from 9,927 in 1986 to 13,389 in 1990 - a 34.8% growth rate (California Department of Education, 1990).

Not unlike other racial/ethnic groups, Korean-American students and their families may experience some difficulties at school or home due to the language barrier or cultural differences. In order for parents or teachers to establish a more effective working relationship, it is necessary to gain an understanding of these students' thoughts and feelings about various aspects of their lives. Even though there are a large number of studies on Asian Americans (Dunn, Gemake, Jalali, & Zenhausern, 1990; Gibbons, Stiles, & Shkodriani, 1991; Hurh & Kim, 1989; Waggoner, 1987; Yao, 1985, 1988; Yu, 1980), only a limited number concerning the special needs of Korean-American students are available at the present time (Yao, 1985; Yoon & Nussenbaum, 1987; Atkinson & Gim, 1989; Seefeldt & Ahn, 1990). This paucity of information may be due to the relatively short immigration history of Korean Americans. Thus, the purposes of this study were: (1) to identify special needs of Korean-American students by asking them to express their concerns, feelings, and thoughts; and (2) to provide suggestions for intervention. More specifically, this study attempted to answer the following questions:

1. How do the Korean-American students feel about living in the Unites States?

2. How do they feel about themselves and their parents?

3. How do they feel about their schools, friends, and life opportunities?

4. What are their special concerns or needs?


Participants. The total sample of 207 Korean-American students responded to a questionnarie developed by the author. The students resided in selected California cities including Bakersfield, the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Fremont, Walnut Creek, and Sacramento. Of the participants, 102 were from Northern California and 105 were from Southern California. The students' grades ranged from Gr. 2 to freshman year at college even though the majority (85%) of the total sample were at the junior and senior high school level.

Instrument. The author prepared the questionnaire under the assumption that the students would be proficient in English. It consisted of a 30-item, three-column checklist of "Yes," "No," and "Sometimes," and 18-item incomplete sentences that are related to (1) self-image of the Korean-American students; (2) their feelings about school or school-related factors; (3) relationship with and wishes for their parents; and (4) their needs or concerns (Appendix A). The questionnaire, with a cover letter explaining the purpose of the study, was distributed to selected Korean churches on Sundays with the help of Sunday School teachers or youth leaders, and the students were invited to participate in the survey. The data from the completed questionnaires were tabulated and analyzed by the author and a research assistant.

Limitations. Since participants in the study were exclusively from church-attending families, the results could have been affected by such factors as the socioeconomic status of the participants' parents (mostly upper-middle or middle-class families), or by their religious upbringing and family value system.

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