A broad definition of a multicultural family is one that includes men and women of different nationalities, races, or cultures. In this article, the term multicultural family refers to households that are made up of Koreans and foreigners living in Korea. One source of multicultural families in Korea is older men who have not married and live in rural areas. Men who fall into this demographic sometimes seek to marry women from underdeveloped countries who hope to escape poverty. There are many older bachelors in rural areas. However, most Korean women are reluctant to marry rural bachelors. Therefore, international marriages in small country towns have increased through matchmaking companies. The number of multicultural families in Korea reached a total of approximately 182,000 and the number of children from multicultural backgrounds rose to over 120,000 in 2010. The number of school age children in multicultural families in Korea was 38,890 in 2011 an increase of 92.8% compared to 2008. If the number of foreigners increases by 100,000 every year, it is logical to assume the number of children will increase too. Specifically, international marriages between Korean men and foreign women have increased more so than Korean women and foreign men. Among the total number of marriages, the number of married immigrants was only 1% in 1990. However, international marriages have increased every year by more than 25% since 2000. Therefore, among the total number of marriages in Korea, the number of international marriages has maintained at approximately 11%.
Problems being faced by multicultural families
As the number of multicultural families has increased, so have the problems they face. The biggest problems come from a lack of awareness and social prejudices. Multicultural families have been referred to as “mixed families” or “mixed race” for a long time. The reason for this designation is that Korea has been a single race country for most of its history. Statistics show three of ten children of foreign workers are bullied at school. The main reasons given for this are, “they are foreigners” (46.7%) and “no particular reason” (40.4%). Married immigrants are also often discriminated against. The primary reasons for this discrimination have been identified as social prejudice (58.5%) and differences in appearance (27.3%). There are other problems facing children of multicultural families.
A quarter of school age children are not enrolled in school, and the percentage of high school enrollment is falling. The primary school enrollment rate of multicultural children is 85%, junior high 82.2%, but the high school rate is 60.9%. In contrast, the enrollment rate of general Korean students is 92.4%. In addition, multicultural children cannot keep up with student progress compared to general Korean children. Multicultural children have few opportunities in school or for after-school learning. The mothers in these families also often lack language development and language skills due to a lack of educational opportunities. There are also marital problems in many of these families. Some of the most serious problems deal with immigration and the purchasing of brides from poor families in poor countries. These brides are obligated to their Korean spouses and are often treated like property. There are also many foreign women who have to leave Korea when their husbands die before receiving permanent residency. The reason is the government will not extend their visas. The number of divorce cases from international marriages has increased gradually since 2003 from 3.2% in 2005, 7.0% in 2007, and 9.4% in 2009, and these cases accounted for 9.4% of all divorces in Korea. Within this 9.4%, divorce cases dealing with Korean men married to foreign women totaled 71.4% overall. However, if a foreign woman files for divorce and wins the case she is forced to leave the country. Most international marriages in Korea are arranged through matchmaking companies. This has led to questionable human rights practices because many of these women are practically being purchased. One example of how these arrangements are made is that a Korean man will travel to a country designated by the matchmaking company and he will be presented with several candidates. The man will then select a woman he wants to marry. Clearly there is something wrong with this system, which is indicated by the fact that the divorce rate for this kind of arranged marriage is three times higher than the regular divorce rate.
Government policy for multicultural families in 2012
What is the Korean government doing for multicultural families? The government has created a mentoring service for multicultural families, and it has also opened the International Dasom School to help with the educational needs of these families. The International Dasom School is an alternative school for teaching subjects that will help immigrants adjust to life in Korea such as Korean language, culture, technical training and job training. The purpose of this school is to help the children of multicultural families to be self-sufficient in Korean society. Therefore, the Seoul Dasom School will open this March, and the Chung-Buk branch will open soon after that. The name “Dasom” is derived from the Korean word for “Love.” Courses are offered regularly that allow students to participate with their parents after school and learn about many things such as Korean culture and Korean language. Moreover, this school will focus on helping participants to find jobs in fields such as electronics, mechanics, design, and computers. The Korean government has included a student mentoring system as part of this program. These programs help children from multicultural families adapt to school life. The goals of this program are to help underachieving students, promote awareness about multicultural families and motivate volunteer work. The Korean Small Business Innovation Research Program awarded state scholarships totaling 5 billion won to nearly 700 student mentors from 40 universities last year. Unlike 2010, the mentoring policy in 2011 states any student who could not attend middle school was eligible to receive mentoring and not just those from farming and fishing villages. Another change was that all university students were eligible to be mentors regardless of their major.
Ineffective multicultural education policy of the Korean government
Regular students in Korean households need “attitude training” in order to change perceptions about multicultural families. However, only 10% of the current curriculum deals with issues of multiculturalism. This lack of education is likely to be one of the reasons why average Koreans are unable to change their perceptions about these families.
Welfare policy for multicultural families in Daegu
Recently, the number of multicultural families in Daegu reached nearly 4,000 with a significant increase in recent years. Moreover, there are nearly 3,900 children in these Daegu families. The Daegu City government as well as the governments of neighboring towns and villages has enforced a welfare policy for children of multicultural families. In 2010, the Daegu department of education invested a billion won for multicultural families. In addition, each educational district operates a multicultural center. Each district also has diverse programs which are attended by multicultural children. For example: Korean Education for the Family, Counseling, Korean Culture Experience, Social Adaptation programs, Guide Training for Korean Education, the Spelling System of Hangeul and Family Counseling Services. There are also various community outreach programs in nearly all of the districts in Daegu. In Donggu a restaurant owner runs classes to help get a driver's license. In Seogu there are Korean language classes. In Namgu there is a class that teaches how to make hanboks (Korean traditional clothes) and provides nail art education. In Dalseogu there are Korean language teaching classes. In Dalseonggun there are children’s story-telling programs, and classes to help immigrants to earn a cooking license in Korean cuisine. The Daegu office of education will provide up to 170 million won for these programs. The office of education will also offer volunteers for study and programs that fit customized needs. Moreover, for the first time foreign members of multicultural families will have the opportunity to become government employees after a special recruitment drive.
Gyeongbuk multicultural mentoring system
The Gyeongbuk multicultural mentoring system is providing programs at the Multicultural Education & Research Institute at Yeungnam University in order to help children from multicultural families adapt to and thrive in Korea through contact with university student mentors. One of the programs they have developed is the “e-learning system” which provides one to one contact with university students with hopes of making up for shortcomings in their educations. There are also programs to promote bilingualism as well as awareness of their native cultures in order to build self-respect and dignity. The mentoring program at YU can act as a bridge between the regular Korean community in the Daegu/Gyeongbuk area and these multicultural families.
Mentor Su-Min and her mentee online
If you are interested, this is how to apply:
(1) Visit the Multicultural Education & Research Institute homepage at http://meri.yu.ac.kr
(2) Visit Daegu online mentoring or Gyeongbuk multicultural mentoring home page
(3) Online mentoring guide → recruit mentor write → application and letter of self-introduction
Qualifications for applying to the mentoring system
(1) Students must be currently enrolled at Yeungnam University (students on a leave of absence and postgraduate students cannot apply)/ there are no restrictions regarding year or major
(2) Duplicate applications for work scholarship students cannot be accepted in the same semester
(3) You cannot apply if your GPA is 2.0 or less in the previous semester (inclusion F)
Mentors are given qualifications for online and offline work. Online mentoring deals with e-learning and life consultations. Offline mentoring deals with emotional support for children and can include home visits, camps, and field trips. Mentors are paid 8,000 won an hour through a scholarship and they can receive a certificate of recognition for their work. Mentors are required to work at least 40 hours per semester.
Q) Why did you decide to participate in the online-mentoring system?
A) I participated in the mentoring system because an upperclassman in my major recommended it to me.
Q) What activities did you participate in while working as a mentor?
A) First, we visited the homes of multicultural families. I learned about their living conditions and daily lives through these home visits. I was a mentor to a third grade student, and I came to realize she was mostly worried about fitting in and not as much about academics.
Q) Did you feel like there was a significant difference between your mentee and general Korean children?
A) I did not notice a difference at all. Like other third graders, she was bright and lovely.
Q) How has your thinking about multicultural families changed after your mentoring?
A) I thought children from multicultural families were different from most Koreans at first. However, my mentoring experience changed my mind. Multicultural families have happy home lives like us. I found multicultural families just as normal as any Korean family; the only difference is that the parents of these families come from different places.
Q) What do you want to say to university students who are not interested in multicultural families?
A) University students who are not interested in the condition of multicultural families are not necessarily bad people. However, I think the future of children from multicultural families can be very promising if we understand and respect them. I ask for other students’ interest and help for these children.
If current trends continue, one in five children in Korea will come from multicultural families by 2020. This means Korea will no longer be a homogeneous country but a truly multicultural nation, which means there need to be more policies to promote self-sufficiency for these families in the near future. The Korean government must adjust Korean society to be more open to multicultural families. We must start thinking of them as Koreans.
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