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Korean Americans Embrace Their Asian Culture - 2002-04-19

English Feature #7-34602 Broadcast March 12, 2001

Washington, D.C. and its suburbs are home to over 100,000 immigrants from South Korea. The area has over 300 Korean churches of various denominations, and there are dozens of Korean-owned businesses, restaurants, and professional offices. There are also about 60 Saturday or Sunday schools that teach American-born Korean children the language, culture and traditions of their immigrant parents or grandparents. Today on New American Voices you'll meet parents, teachers and students at one of these schools.

The kindergarten class of the United Korean School of Washington is reciting the Korean alphabet. The fifteen bright-eyed six-year-olds learning the rudiments of the Korean language are part of a student body of some 250 young people ages five to eighteen who attend the school each Saturday. Dr. Kyung Kim, a psychologist and professional family counselor during the week, is the principal of the school.

"Our goal is to teach the Korean language to our Korean second and third generation, second is to teach Korean culture and history, to form an American-Korean identity."

In addition to classes in language, history and culture, the Korean School offers its students activities like Tae Kwan Do - the Korean martial arts form, art, folk dancing, oil painting and singing.

Mrs. Kay Kim says that the United Korean School has made a tremendous difference in her 12-year-old daughter's attitude toward her Korean heritage.

"It is surprising. She is only attending three to four hours of Korean school per week for the last three or four years. The progression that I've seen in her attitude regarding speaking Korean...She is now able to converse. For instance, when Korean people call, telephone, she can readily answer in Korean, converse back in Korean. Before attending Korean school she was very reluctant to say anything in Korean, although she knew somewhat. She was very reluctant. That's gone. She's very willing to speak in Korean when spoken to in Korean."

Another mother, Angelina Shamway, who is married to an American, says she hopes the school will give her four children a better understanding of who they are.

"I want them to have a self-image as a Korean American. I want them to have a strong identity as a Korean American, not just another person born in the United States that have a different color skin, without knowing their root. I want them to know what their root is, and have a strong sense of pride in them as a Korean-American."

Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Hall has been attending the Korean school for as long as he can remember. Initially, his mother made him go.

"Because I used to be fluent in Korean and then I just forgot it, because in kindergarten they wanted me to speak English, so my mom made me watch American TV and stuff like that, and I forgot all my Korean. So my mom wanted me to learn my Korean again."

Now Jonathan attends the Korean school willingly enough, since he has friends there - and besides, he says, he's got nothing better to do on Saturdays. Although he is still not quite fluent in Korean, he definitely wants Korean culture to have a role in his life when he grows up.

"I want it to affect me a lot. I want to be a Korean-American and have, you know, the Korean culture inside of me but yet living in American society so I can raise my kids in the Korean culture with the American culture mixed together."

Both Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Shamway came to the United States from South Korea as teenagers. Next week they share their experiences of growing up Asian in America.