Searching for a Better Way to ProsperThere are two topics in Korea that are talked about everywhere. The first is employers and the second the cost of private lessons for children. The conversation invariably leads to complaints about Korea's educational system and bitter observations that Korean corporations exploit their workers. Invariably, "educational immigration" is suggested as a solution to these problems. At this point it is not unusual for the conversation to turn to a former colleague who was once a high-tech worker, but is now spreading mustard in a Canadian sandwich shop.
Emigration is again rising among Koreans, and this time the target is Canada. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 6,783 South Koreans out of a total of 15,307 emigrants in 1999 moved to Canada. That number grew to 9,295 in the year 2000. This is a dramatic shift from the same survey done 10 years ago, when emigration was exclusively focused on the United States.
There are reasons behind the shift toward Canadian immigration. The various schemes for immigration and the accommodating conditions offered by the Canadian government are fundamental reasons. But for most Koreans, it's the country's relaxed social environment and benefits such as a practical education system, generous welfare plans for minorities and environmental factors that attract.
"We just wanted to find a better way of life," says Kim Joo-won, a 36-year-old business man and father of two sons, who recently applied to immigrate to Canada. He is currently a member of "Kangnam Hoi," a group of Koreans living in southern Seoul who are considering making Canada there new home. They meet once a month to exchange information about sources related to Canada and guide each other through procedures from filling out applications to tips for the interview with emigration officers.
"It's absurd that I have to pay 400,000 won for private English lessons for my eldest son who entered elementary school this year. Even if I could afford to support them, my wife and I choose not raise our children in this kind of an environment. Perhaps we can find a better system in Canada," he said.
A a sales manager at a foreign corporation, Mr. Kim says that almost every current member of the group is leaving the country not because of financial difficulties but to escape the hectic life in Korea. "I want to be able to spend time with my children and be a real father to them. I am sick of coming home drunk at 2 o' clock in the morning and staring at them sleeping," he says.
Lim So-young, a former member of the group, expresses a similar disillusionment as a parent in Korea.
"Almost every parent in the school our children attended were sending their kids to English training schools overseas during the summer. We couldn't afford to, and it came to a point where my husband and I started feeling like incompetent parents," says the 32-year-old housewife, who says she feels both hope and ambivalence about moving to a different culture. Currently she is taking classes at a beauty school in hope of finding a job at a hair salon in Vancouver, where she and her family are moving next month.
This idea of moving to find a better way of life continues the emigration trend in Korea during the 1990s. As Korea becomes more competitive and offers more prosperous economic conditions, perceptions of work and leisure shared by Koreans have changed, and the basic reasons for moving to another country are changing as well. This separates the recent wave of emigrants from their predecessors who moved to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s with little cash and were largely concerned with earning money in an economically advanced country.
"The notion of the migrant's dream has changed over the years," Mr. Kim says. "Our predecessors labored sixteen hours a day at gas stations to send their sons to the best schools, but the new emigrants, who are mostly of my generation, hold a different view. We just want our children to have a fair chance and live in a practical learning atmosphere," he says, emphasizing that the focus of recent immigrants to Canada is to find an alterative rather than an escape, which many Koreans still view as the motivation for moving abroad.
However, there are setbacks. With a production scale that is much lower than the United States, Canada is often unable to provide jobs, especially to newcomers. As a result, Koreans who move there usually end up running self-employed businesses like laundries and convenient stores. And there are the frequently heard stories about communication failure between parents and children and family disputes resulting from the hard work and long hours that make people like Mr. Kim even more vulnerable.
"I think men find it especially difficult adjusting, because they think their authority has been taken away suddenly," he says.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reports that the number of Korean emigrants has been on the rise again since last year, and is estimated to grow even more. But does Canada offer an environment with social conditions that help newcomers from different cultural backgrowns prosper? On this there are mixed opinions. However, this generation of emigrants seem to understand that wherever they go they can not escape the challenges of the new arrivals.
by Park Soo-mee