Narrative Identity Negotiation of First-Generation Korean Immigrants

Open Access
Park, Amie Meeae
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 10, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Fred Michael Schied, Dissertation Advisor
  • Fred Michael Schied, Committee Chair
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
  • Esther Susana Prins, Committee Member
  • Carol A Smith, Committee Member
  • Gyunsoo Yoon, Committee Member
  • Korean immigrants
  • Acculturation
  • Identity negotiation
  • Narrative identity
  • Culturally embedded learning
ABSTRACT It has been more than a century since the first group of Korean immigrants began their lives in America. Accordingly, many studies on Korean immigrants have focused on health-related issues on senior citizens, academic achievement of children of immigrants, or identity establishment of adolescents. Although previous research studies provided remarkable understanding, there are only limited studies on how first generation Korean immigrants utilize formal or informal learning in their acculturation process. Furthermore, the shaping and reshaping of first generation Korean immigrants’ identity in new social setting are not yet fully understood. This qualitative study used narrative inquiry to investigate life history of four first generation Korean American women who came to America between their early 20s and mid-30s. The study sought specifically to understand first generation immigrants’ acculturation process, shaping and reshaping identity, practice of culturally embedded learning approach, and negotiating identity in the process of finding “place” in new social setting. Data were collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews and analyzed according to narrative analysis procedures, methods of reflection, and writing. This study revealed that participants’ acculturation process was selective, and the selection was based on retaining their pre-established self-image, identity, and social status they had possessed in Korea. As a method of adjusting to the new situation to comply with their “already set” identity, they attempted formal and informal education. The participants found informal learning was more challenging than formal learning. Informal learning comprises much more cultural elements and situational variations, which can only be understood by the member of society. The participants realized that possessing an exact equivalent social status in a foreign country is not possible. As a result, they negotiate with situation, social status, and/or identity. The participants balanced out disadvantages as an immigrant with their advantage of experiencing multi-cultural society.