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South Korean 'Goose Dads' Feel Pinch of Crisis-Driven Currency Swing

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South Korea's currency, the won, fell to its lowest exchange value in 10 years against the dollar, this week.  Panicked investors are taking shelter in the dollar, amid global financial uncertainties, driving its value up.  Some of the immediate victims of the currency swing are a bunch of lonely South Korean men known as "Goose Dads."  VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin explains.

Kim Heung-kuk is reasonably well-known in South Korea.  He is a member of that hard-working, mid-level group of celebrities that make a decent income, but are not considered super-rich.  He had a hit song a long time ago, appears in the occasional commercial and does a radio talk show in Seoul.

Kim belongs to a second group as well:  he is one of South Korea's "kiroggi aboji", or "goose fathers."

Kim's wife lives in Hawaii with the family's two children, who both attend school.  Their tuition, food, housing and other expenses has to be paid in American dollars.

The term "goose father" derives from the Korean view of the goose as a traditional symbol of family loyalty.  Like many other Korean men with family members in the United States, Kim stays behind in South Korea, working hard - and getting paid in Korean won.

About a year ago, it took a little more than 900 won to buy one dollar.  This week, it takes about 1,400 won.  That means Kim has to earn about 50 percent more, just to meet the same expenses.

In the past, he says, the dollar was not so expensive.  Now, he says, the dollar has shot up and it is getting very hard for him and the other goose fathers to bear.

Kim has taken on more broadcasting work to increase his income.  And he acknowledges, the financial crisis has led to some changes of habit.

He says he keeps watching the news every day, hoping the situation gets better.  His family travels and eats out less than they used to.  He says he also drinks less.

There are no exact figures on how many "goose fathers" there are in South Korea, but estimates are in the high tens of thousands.  Up to now, most "goose dads" have seen the sacrifice as worth it, because their children become fluent in English and get a education in problem-solving skills rather than Asian-style rote memorization.

He says other "goose fathers" are thinking of bringing their children back for a year or so.  However, because one of his children is close to graduation, he says he and his wife will try to endure.

In the meantime, Kim plans to keep showing up for work, heading home alone and hoping the dollar comes back down to earth.



 

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