Family’s deaths illustrate the high costs for gireogi

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Family’s deaths illustrate the high costs for gireogi

The high toll taken on gireogi, or “wild goose” families who live apart to give their children better educational chances, was tragically demonstrated last week when all four members of a Korean family apparently committed suicide.

The shocking development shook the small New Zealand town in which the mother and two daughters lived, and illustrated the emotional cost of this type of separation.

Forty-four-year-old Baek Young-jin was found dead in the Christchurch suburb of Avonhead, New Zealand, on Sunday morning, according to the local police.

The authorities confirmed that Baek was the husband of Cho Sung-eun, 43, and father of Baek Yeon-jae, 17, and Baek Yeon-sue, 13. Cho and the Baek girls were found dead last Wednesday at their home.

The senior Baek had arrived in New Zealand last Friday, along with his sister and brother-in-law, to prepare funeral arrangements for his wife and daughters.

Fathers like Baek, who live apart from the rest of their family while the children study abroad, are called gireogi fathers in Korea.

In some cases, the financial strain of supporting two homes on one income leads fathers to commit suicide, but the stresses can lead to other problems, including infidelity, divorce and legal battles over money.

Korea’s pressure-packed secondary education system has been blamed for the wild goose phenomenon, as parents go to extremes to give young students the chance to study in a less exhausting environment.

To address the problem, some have called for the education market here to be opened up to institutions from other advanced countries, which could help meet the demand for overseas studies.

Police in New Zealand have not sought anyone in connection with the deaths, and they declined to comment on the circumstances of the tragedies because the cases are now before the coroner.

One of Cho’s neighbors told the New Zealand media that Cho’s home in Avonhead was sold for about $100,000 below the asking price of $657,000. Korean community leaders in the Christchurch area, however, have said they didn’t think Cho and her daughters were suffering from financial strain.

“But they have been isolated for so long,” said Kevin Park, president of the Christchurch Korean Society. “It’s a very isolated situation for some families. Some Korean families come [here] to educate their children and have trouble if they don’t have contact with people or they don’t have good neighbors.

“It’s sometimes hard to manage for a mother looking after children,” Park added.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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