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Sending Korean Children Abroad

From Our Mailbag:

Dr Kim,

I know that this has nothing to do with health, but since you seem to enjoy writing about Korean culture, I thought I would ask...why is it that so many young children from Korea have attended our elementary school in the past 3 years? I have a cousin who is a teacher in Los Angeles and she tells me that the same thing is happening there.

Wendy Griffin
Vancouver, British Columbia


Thank you for your question, Wendy. This is actually a topic that I had intended to write about, so it was a pleasant surprise to receive your question.

Nowadays, a small but significant percentage of families in Korea send their children - usually between 8-12 years of age - to Canada or the United States to live with English speaking families for 1-2 years.

These young Korean students live with families that have children who are about the same age, attend an English speaking school, and experience everyday life in the western world.

The goal is simple: to have these Korean children learn how to speak English fluently and without an accent.


As a country, Korea doesn't have enough natural resources or industrial and exporting strength to support its population, which reached about 47.5 million people at the end of 2005.

Many people in Korea believe that in order to remain a fully functioning, modern, first world nation, they must be able to communicate as effectively as possible with the western world.

Like Japan, China, and Taiwan, Korea has countless English language academies and mandatory English classes throughout elementary, junior high, and high school.

Many English language academies in Korea recruit University and college graduates from Canada and the States to teach conversational English skills to their students.

But over time, many Korean parents have realized that taking even several hours worth of English language classes per week over many years is not enough to make their children fluent and accent-free.

And they've also realized that sending their children to live and study in the United States or Canada for a year when they are in University is also ineffective, as most of us dramatically lose our ability to accurately pronounce phonics of languages that are not native to us once we get into our mid to late teenage years and beyond.

So you can see how it has come to be that some Korean families are now sending their children to live and study in the western world when they are quite young.

You may think that this practice is crazy and cold-hearted. I know that I could never do this with my own child, not for any reward that this world could offer.

But I have to believe that the Korean parents who send their children away at such a young age love their children as much as I love mine. So their mindset must be such that they truly believe that they are doing what is best for their childrens' futures.

In learning about this practice, it occurred to me that I must never take for granted the ability to earn an honest living and to take care of my family's basic needs for survival and good health.

This is certainly a reality of life that I plan on having my children understand when they reach an appropriate age.

If you would like to share any comments on this question and answer about Korea, you can do so in the comments section below. Please be sure to leave your full first and last name so that others can respond to your comment if they wish.

Thank you.


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