Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Cultural Negotiations of Korean Immigrant Youth

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Cultural Negotiations of Korean Immigrant Youth

Article excerpt

Korean Americans are one of the fastest growing Asian American ethnic groups (Hurh, 1998; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000) with more than 1 million (1,076,872) Korean Americans in the United States. Because the majority of Korean Americans immigrated to the United States with their families after the Immigration Act of 1965 was passed (Hurh, 1998), this community is mainly composed of first-generation immigrants and their children (known as the "1.5 generation Korean Americans") who were born in Korea and educated in the United States (Hong & Min, 1999). The major reasons for their immigration to the United States were to seek a better life, to pursue a good education for their children, and to be reunited with family members (Hurh, 1998; S. C. Kim, 1997). Because of the increasing demographics of this group and the fact that most are 1.5 generation, this study seeks to explore the cultural adjustment process for Korean immigrant youth living in the United States.

Immigration can be a difficult and painful experience for many people (Segal, 1991). Immigrants move to a new culture with ingrained values and roles from their culture of origin (Segal, 1991) that may conflict with the values of the new culture or environment on several levels, such as interpersonal relationships, language, social mores, and role expectations (Padilla, Wagatsuma, & Lindhohn, 1985). Many theorists have defined this process of adapting to a new culture as acculturation (Birman, 1994; Rogler, Cortes, & Malgady, 1991).

The process of acculturation has been closely associated with stressful life experiences such as feeling a loss of control, feeling helpless, having less self-confidence (Torbiorn, 1982), experiencing role conflicts (Naditch & Morissey, 1976), verbal and nonverbal communication barriers (Dyal & Dyal, 1981), emotional difficulties due to personality types (Padilla et al., 1985), and encountering unfamiliar behavioral norms. Moreover, intergenerational problems and other adjustment difficulties have been found within families when two sets of value systems coexist (M. Chiu, Feldman, & Rosenthal, 1992; Sam, 2000). Discrepancies in role expectations between the two social systems may create conflict, and, as a result, immigrants may feel pressure to choose one set of norms.

Previous research on acculturation has been based on the experiences of adults, and much of this research does not take into account the experience of children or adolescents (Sam, 2000). The problems of self-concept, identity conflicts, and generational conflicts with parents are typical issues confronting adolescents, and relocation seems to exacerbate these normal developmental conflicts (Ho, 1992).

Despite wide-ranging research on acculturation, there is limited research specifically on Asian immigrants due to the "model minority" stereotype, which leads to the perception that Asian immigrants have no or few emotional or adaptive problems (Y.-W. Chiu & Ring, 1998). However, studies with Asian immigrant samples have revealed that this population has serious developmental, social, and emotional difficulties (E. Lee, 1996; S. Sue, Sue, Sue, & Takeuchi, 1995). The model minority stereotype is also criticized because it is based on the incorrect assumption that Asians are a homogenous group (Y.-W. Chiu & Ring, 1998; A. B. Kim & Yeh, 2002). On the contrary, Asians are a diverse group and differ in their origin, language, culture, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, and immigrant experience (Y.-W. Chiu & Ring, 1998; Ho, 1992).

Specifically, Alvarez, Kohatsu, Liu, and Yeh (1996) suggested that race and ethnicity play important parts in the identity development and acculturation process of Asian Americans. Although in the past there has been extensive research done and many theories proposed on ethnic identity development, later theorists have suggested that earlier theories did not present a true picture of the malleable and dynamic nature of ethnic identity (Yeh & Hwang, 2000). …

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