In the 2011 Anthropology and Education Quarterly article entitled, “I Needed to Get Out of My Korean Bubble”: An Ethnographic Account of Korean American Collegians Juggling Diversity in a Religious Context, the author, Julie J. Park, outlines the purposes, methods, and findings of her qualitative research project on the clash between the desire to engage in monoethnic activities and the spiritually-driven goal to engage with multiracial groups among Korean university students, particularly at California University.
In conducting the study, the author aims to probe this issue and, perhaps, find workable solutions that may reconcile the interpersonal struggles Korean university students face in the United States. The methods chosen to conduct the study involve minimally-invasive observations of a group of Korean students, in particular, four chosen subjects, by the author as the students engage in Christian fellowship activities at their university.
The author contrasts the activities and responses of students engaged in two separate fellowships: one specifically geared toward an exclusively Korean membership and one focused on multicultural membership. The conclusions drawn from the investigation were that Korean students struggled to engage in multicultural social activities while living and studying in the United States for a variety of reasons—the comfort of socializing with fellow Koreans, discomfort due to a history of racial tensions in the United States, specifically the ’92 L.A. riots, and a general sense of alienation felt by Koreans living in the United States.
After reading the article, several questions and issues resonated in my mind. For instance, the author focuses on the use of Christian churches and fellowships as a means of solidifying ethnic identity among Koreans living in the United States. However, it would have been beneficial for the author to step outside of the scope of this focus and examine momentarily the non-Christians living in the United States and how they find means of communion amongst each other. A contrast between the life of Christian and non-Christian Koreans grappling with the issues of race and diversity in the United States may have shed light on issues that go deeper than religious beliefs and, perhaps, penetrated the core of the struggles Asian immigrants face in America on a more universal level.
In addition, it is interesting to be made aware of the extent to which Koreans living in America struggle with fitting in here. The article suggests there is a strong sense of guilt among many Koreans for isolating themselves within their communities. However, in contrast, American citizens of various racial and ethnic backgrounds seem to have very few issues with their own sense of isolationism. The author makes several attempts to delve into this issue from the viewpoint of other racial groups on the California University campus but was unsuccessful in obtaining permission to conduct her research on these groups.
As the author points out, a significant number of churches in the United States are racially segregated yet, more than likely, very few ministers and congregation members of these churches probably engage in any sort of debate on this issue. It would, perhaps, be psychologically beneficial for Koreans to look beyond their own racial boundaries and observe the sea of racial divide that surrounds them as they live in the United States. Also, it is important to point out that, as stated by the author, there has only been a significant influx of Koreans migrating to the United States since the early 1990s. Koreans living in America should take note that black and white Americans have been living side by side for more than two centuries yet, still face many issues regarding race and segregation. In time, over the next few generations ideally, Koreans may find it easier to assimilate and find their role and identity within American culture.
It is interesting to note as well that, according to the author’s findings, certain Koreans socially interact with one another despite harboring negative feelings for each other. In my experiences, this is what seemingly happens when groups of people divide themselves along superficial lines such as race and ethnicity. If people, generally, delved more deeply into the personalities of others, ignoring race and ethnicity, they may find themselves socializing with others for a different set of criteria, namely mutual interests and general personality compatibility. For instance, in the article, one of the students profiled by the author expresses his deep enthusiasm to engage in multicultural activities in light of the fact that he has an adventurous and open spirit. Millions of people around the world share in that same sense of open-mindedness, a personality trait that has nothing to do with race. Perhaps, this student would be happier bonding with other adventurous spirits outside if his race.
For my concluding thoughts on this article, I would like to focus on what I believe to be the deeper issues at play that were not considered in this article by the author. Although some Koreans may have been living in the United States for two or three generations, many of them may not be fully engaged in the experience of living in the United States, bringing an isolated piece of Korea with them, so to speak. For example, many Koreans living here may spend little time experiencing American pop culture, a significant source of conversational topics for most Americans, such as American pop music, TV shows, movies, etc. And, most importantly, they may not spend much time getting to know American sports, a hot issue on many American university campuses. Although Koreans may be living in the United States, many of them may only be enjoying Korean pop culture in their spare time. If this new generation of Korean Americans hopes to be the first to crack through the racial divide on a significant scale, perhaps they should consider becoming more intimately knowledgeable about American culture.