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A home for the countryless

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  • Sunny Jo
    A home for the countryless March 09, 2006 ? ? From left to right: Zima, 9, from Kazakhstan, Seong-hun, 13, and Young-gang, 7, in Kosian House, Ansan. These
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 2, 2006
      A home for the countryless

      March 09, 2006 ?
      ? From left to right: Zima, 9, from Kazakhstan, Seong-hun, 13, and
      Young-gang, 7, in Kosian House, Ansan. These childred were born to
      Korean and Asian parents or migrant workers from other parts of Asia. By
      Kim Hyeon-dong

      ANSAN, Gyeonggi ? Seong-hun, 12, wears glasses, but the first thing his
      classmates see is that the boy is tan. Dark, actually, with big eyes and
      a pointy nose. He inherited the features from his father, a native of
      Sri Lanka, but he goes to school in Korea, the homeland of his mother.
      School is where the trouble started.
      He may have been born in Korea, but to his classmates Seong-hun is
      "Ali," a foreigner, an object of ridicule. He endures taunts and jibes
      every day, until school ends and he arrives here, at Kosian House.
      The house is a place of refuge for mixed-nationality children or for the
      sons and daughters of foreign workers in Korea. The center, which was
      established in 2000, gets its name from the term for children who have
      one Korean and another Asian parent: "Kosian." It now serves more than
      25 kids, a dozen of which are younger than three.
      In the center, Seong-hun plays with children like Bilge, 14, and Hisige,
      13, whose parents are from Mongolia, and watches over Sehel, a toddler
      who is half Pakistani and half Korean, or Batika, a two-year-old who is
      half Thai.
      "Most of the time, their parents come to Korea first and then bring over
      their children when they get a little older," said Kim Yang-ae, 38, a
      nurse at Kosian House. "I try to feed them as well as they are fed at
      home. I want them to feel secure and give them the love that their
      mothers might not be there to give."
      Many of those mothers work long hours in factories, creating leather or
      metal goods, textiles or shoes. They drop their children off at the
      center as early as 7:30 a.m.; they pick them up as late as 9 p.m.
      The immigrant children have their work cut out for them: Most of their
      time at the center is used studying Korean so they can go to school. The
      schools decide where to place the children according to how they score
      in Korean proficiency tests ? most of them will enroll two or three
      grades behind Korean children their age.
      "To adapt to living in Korea, they need to learn how to speak Korean
      quickly," Ms. Kim said. Older children must receive particularly
      intensive training, she added.
      The good news is that Korean children of mixed ethnicity are more
      welcomed than ever in schools, Ms. Kim said. "Before they weren't
      enthusiastic. [Then] Hines Ward became famous, and that seems to have
      had an effect on the schools."
      Ward is a half-African American, half-Korean football player for the
      Pittsburg Steelers who was named the Superbowl's Most Valuable Player in
      February. His success made him an instant hero in Korea, where people
      had previously had as much interest in biracial children as they had in
      American football: little to none.
      Korea's sudden acceptance of all things biracial has been reflected in
      school officials, who Ms. Kim said had previously refused to include
      foreign or biracial students in their regular rosters and who did not
      grant the children diplomas. School officials in Gyeonggi province deny
      that they have refused foreign children or hid them from the rosters.
      "The schools were afraid that they would have to take responsibility for
      the children if anything happened," Ms. Kim said. She cited one example
      in which an Indonesian girl was caught fighting with his classmates,
      then stopped going to school.
      The girl was interviewed by a television reporter; in the edited clip of
      the interview, the girl appeared to be saying that she stopped going to
      school because he was beaten by classmates. School officials allegedly
      thought the program was biased, but Ms. Kim said they grew wary of
      accepting more immigrant children.
      Ms. Kim said the program did have a bias and that the reporters
      manipulated the girl, but that the discrimination against bi-ethnic and
      foreign children in the schools is real.
      "It wasn't because she was being taunted," said Lee Hong-ryang, the vice
      principal of Wongok Elementary School, "It was because she had problems
      adjusting to Korean culture."
      Adding to the problem is the fact that most migrant workers have little
      to no time to help their children study, and even if they did, few would
      speak Korean well enough to be able to help. Teachers find it difficult
      to communicate with the parents ? and with the children ? and cultural
      differences can make it difficult for the children to adjust to the
      school environment.
      Mr. Lee said the school has always welcomed foreign children. "The
      Gyeonggi provincial office of education two years ago sent memoranda to
      schools recommending that they accept foreign children who can prove
      they live in the district," he said.
      Though schools are increasingly tolerant, the law is far less flexible.
      Many of the migrant workers and even some bi-ethnic native Koreans are
      here illegally; the possibility that they might suddenly be deported
      deprives them of any sense of permanence.
      Being Mongolian, Bilge and Hisige appear similar to Koreans. Currently
      in fifth grade, they came to Korea about two years ago and speak broken
      Korean. They say their classmates often make fun of their names.
      "It's hard for me because I can't get along with other kids," Hisige
      said. Despite those difficulties, she said, "I still want to go to
      school. I've always wanted to go."
      Hisige said that she is now catching up in most of her school subjects,
      with the important exception of Korean writing. She added that the
      teachers treat her fairly.
      Jeong Jin-seong, Seong-hun's mother, said her son had a hard time at
      school when they lived in Seoul. Kids teased him about his complexion.
      "Seong-hun used to asked me why he was called a foreigner or even
      African even though he was born in Korea," Ms. Jeong said. "He said he
      couldn't understand."
      Ms. Jeong said Seong-hun was often isolated and lonely, and became more
      introverted. "The things the children would spit out hurt his feelings,"
      she said. She tried to comfort him by telling him that other children
      were simply jealous of his good looks.
      Things got much better, however, when Seong-hun enrolled in Wongok
      Elementary, in Ansan. His mother said he brings friends home from time
      to time or goes over to his friends' houses to play.
      But even those who learn to speak Korean fluently and fully adjust to
      Korean life have serious problems. The more a child adapts to Korea, the
      more they lose touch with their home country or the culture of their
      non-Korean parent. They become strangers in the other country.
      One example is Ha Young-gang, 6, whose Sri Lankan name is Minomin.
      Though he was born in Korea, Young-gang is a citizen of neither country.
      His parents immigrated to Korea illegally; his birth here was not
      registered. They sent him to a nursery when he was five months old, and
      Young-gang has grown up speaking Korean. He cannot communicate in his
      parents' language (he did not say whether his parents spoke Sinhalese or
      "When I try to speak in Sri Lankan with his father or try to speak Sri
      Lankan to him," said Hasinth, Young-gang's mother, "he runs away. He
      thinks it's noisy. He said he was born in Korea and doesn't want to go
      back to Sri Lanka. He doesn't even know where it is."
      Young-gang is not the only child who is staying illegally in Korea
      because he was born to parents who illegally immigrated. Due to their
      illegal status, they are always in danger of deportation.
      Since Aug. 17, 2004, the government has clamped down on illegal
      immigrants by issuing work permits to legal aliens while hunting down
      and deporting illegal immigrants.
      Although most people are unaware of the crackdown on illegal migrant
      workers, its effects are felt stongly in Ansan, which is home to a large
      number of migrant workers. A few weeks ago, Bilge and her mother were
      caught by the police and locked up. Kosian House workers and church
      officials persuaded the immigration office to release them before their
      "The economic difficulties are always there, though it's not like they
      need much money to be happy," Ms. Kim said. "But it's heartbreaking to
      see the children off so suddenly."
      Bilge said she had no chance to say goodbye to her friends. "I have
      friends here. I like it here better [even though some classmates make
      fun of me]," Bilge said.
      Bilge said her fondest memory of Korea was the time she went to Lotte
      World, a theme park, with her classmates. Bilge and her mother boarded a
      plane back to Mongolia last Friday.

      by Limb Jae-un <jbiz91@...>

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