Qualitative Data

qualitativeThis section of Korean American Data Bank includes more humanistic, less statistically-oriented qualitative information about Korean-American experiences. It includes (1) biographical essays by Korean-American politicians, administrators, advocates, and judges, (2) essays written by individuals who have promoted the Korean language, particularly in the New York-New Jersey area, (3) prize-winning essays written by undergraduate and graduate students (from the 2013 RCKC Essay Contest on Korean Culture), and (4) poems by Chungmi Kim, a Korean-American poet and playwright. In the future, we plan to add more qualitative information and narratives to this section, including oral histories, audio-visual tapes of old-timer Korean immigrants, and stories of different overseas Korean communities based on ethnographic research. In the past, this section included personal narratives on ethnic and racial identity written by 1.5- and second-generation Korean Americans, which were subsequently published in an edited book titled Younger-Generation Korean Experiences in the United States: Personal Narratives on Ethnic and Racial Identities (Lexington Books, 2014).

This moving and eloquently-written Korean-language essay was written by Dr. Geun Soon Kim Lee, one of the founders and heads of The Korean Language Center of New York and The Korean Heritage School for Adoptees. The essay, which is written in Korean, is titled "한국어와 나 (The Korean Language and I)," and will be featured in a forthcoming edited book that RCKC has been working on about individuals who have worked hard to promote the Korean language and Korean-language education in the United States.

Dr. Geun Soon Kim Lee has a long history with Korean language education. She received a BA in Library Sciences at Yonsei University in Seoul, where she went on to become a lecturer in the Korean Language Institute. She earned a doctorate (Litt. D) in Library Sciences from Ankara University in Turkey in 1975. In 1978, with her husband, Dr. Sungun Lee (who is another extremely important figure in Korean language education), she started teaching Korean in the United States. In 1984, she became Principal of the New York Broadway Korean School, which has since changed its name to the Manhattan Korean School, where she highlighted the importance of conversational Korean. While she was the Principal, the school became very well-known for its outstanding faculty and emphasis on teaching methods and pedagogy. She and her husband, Dr. Sungun Lee, are the founders and heads of The Korean Language Center of New York and The Korean Heritage School for Adoptees. Additionally, she is President of the Northeast Chapter of the National Association for Korean Schools, Vice President of the National Association for Korean Schools, and is a former instructor of East Asian Studies at New York University.

Below is a short excerpt from her essay:

새 학기를 시작하는 첫날 7명의 학생들이 둘러 앉아 인사를 나누며 자기 소개를 한다. 이 교육원은 뉴욕 맨해튼 32 Korea Town에 있다. 한국어를 처음 배우는 학생들이어서 아래의 대화는 물론 영어로 오고 간 말이다. “제임스 씨는 왜 한국어를 배우려고 해요?” 키가 아주 크고 머리가 노란 30대의 백인 남성이 “ 저는 미국사람인데 제 약혼녀가 한국사람이에요. 한 달 후에 결혼식을 해요. 약혼녀의 부모님이 한국에서 오시는데 영어를 못 하세요. 그래서 제가 한국어를 배워서 대화를 하려고 합니다.” 자기는 회사원이라고 한다. 또 다른 여학생에게 “아끼 씨는 왜 한국말을 배워요?” 라고 하니까, 자기는 일본인 작가이며 한국친구도 많고 한국 드라마를 아주 좋아한단다.


We have posted a Korean-language essay by Dr. Sun Gun Lee, the Director of the Korean Language Center of New York (which is affiliated with the Korean Culture Research, Inc.). He is also the Executive Director of the Korean Language Association, and the former President of the National Association for Korean Schools, Northeast Chapter. He received his B.A. and M.A. in Korean literature at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, and he received his Ph.D. in linguistics from Ankara University in Turkey in 1973.

After he came to the United States in 1975, Dr. Lee has worked tirelessly to teach the Korean language to U.S.-born Korean Americans and to non-Korean Americans. In particular, he has taught Korean language and customs to many Korean adoptees and U.S.-born Korean adults who have faced discrimination from fellow Koreans because of their lack of mother-tongue fluency. He has been able to do this with little monetary compensation for nearly forty years because of his strong love and affinity towards the Korean language. Among his many contributions to Korean language education, he has worked hard to promote the Korean language in American high schools and has participated in making Korean textbooks. In 2004, he also established the Korean Heritage School of Adoptees. As the name of the school suggests, it focuses on expanding Korean language and cultural education for young Korean adoptees. In this essay, Dr. Lee describes these experiences as a Korean language teacher in great detail.

Below is a short excerpt from Dr. Sun Gun Lee's essay:

"한국어반이 개설되고 3년 후, 두 학교로부터 한국어반이 성공적으로 운영되고 있다는 기쁜 소식을 전해 들었다. 첫 학기에 26명이었던 팰리사이드 파크 고등학교의 한국어반 수강생은 2년 후 115명으로 증가하였고, 릿지필드 메모리얼 고등학교의 한국어반 수강생은 첫 학기 36명에서 2년 후 80명으로 늘어났고 초등학교 4,5학년 전 학생 240명도 1주일에 한 시간씩 한국어 수업을 받고 있었다. 이는 기적과 같은 놀라운 발전이었다. 동포들의 도움으로 한국어정규과목채택 추진회가 후원금을 모금하고, 한국정부에서도 지원금을 보내준 결과, 우리 한인 2세들뿐만 아니라 미국 학생들도 한국어를 배울 수 있게 된 것이다." 

This essay, written by Jiwoon Kristine Choi, is the first-prize-winning essay in the Research Center for Korean Community's Essay Contest on Korea and Korean Culture. Choi, a sophomore at Amherst College, is a 1.5-generation Korean, and has lived most of her life in South Korea. Her essay, titled "How to Embrace a Country—and find yourself in the process," discusses her multiple struggles and identity crises as a 1.5-generation Korean, and how her view of Korea has developed over the years. Starting with her increasing guilt for not knowing enough about her background, she analyzes her turbulent relationship with Korea from two perspectives: (1) the times that she felt patriotic, and (2) the times that she became a critical observer. In the end, she realizes that Korea's jeong, its achievements and challenges (both good and bad), are all reasons to celebrate and embrace being a proud Korean citizen. Below is a short excerpt from her essay:

"Perhaps one defining characteristic of Korea is the concept of jeong. Many people have different definitions for what jeong means—I wouldn’t be able to describe it in words. My high school English teacher described jeong as Chocopie (I’m still not entirely sure what he meant by this), that he could feel jeong in this national favorite snack, which was often given in the form of donations, a friendly gesture, or a consolation treat for the Korean army undergoing training. In his book, Daniel Tudor describes jeong as an “invisible hug” that bonds the Korean people together. I would say that this is a pretty adequate description, considering the fact that it is like an unseen bond that keeps Koreans looking out for each other, whether or not they have personally interacted on an individual level. There are various accounts of foreign businessmen feeling “cheated” out of a deal because of the strong jeong shared by Koreans."

This essay was written by Laura Becker, a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois. Becker, who majored in Sociology, won third prize in the Research Center for Korean Community's Essay Contest on Korea and Korean Culture. Her essay, titled "Jeong Has Permeated: A Journey from Academic Knowledge to Intimate Attachment," focuses on the Korean concept of jeong, which refers to the invisible bond that is said to exist among all Koreans. Becker spent a semester studying abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, and became well-acquainted with jeong as well as other Korean cultural concepts such as the strict age hierarchy and Korean group mentality (woori/uri). Through poignant insights and a clear, articulate, and organized writing style, Becker shares her experiences with Korea and Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective, which is an underrepresented vantage point in Korean- and Asian-American Studies.

Below is a short excerpt from Laura Becker's essay:

"As my senior year approached, I knew that it was important for me to travel to Korea and experience the culture and society that I had studied and experienced secondhand through my peers. I filled out stacks of paperwork and worked jobs and internships to earn money for my airline ticket and tuition in Seoul; finally, after more than a year of preparation, I boarded a plane for Korea. During my semester at Yonsei University, I went from standing in awe of Korea’s top figure skater to studying Korea’s economic and cultural influence to becoming intimately familiar with Korean relational concepts. One that grew particularly close to my heart was the idea of jeong, the connection and compassion that I had sensed from my Korean friends but not been able to articulate in words.

Eager to build relationships with Koreans like the ones I had at home, I joined a campus student organization early in the semester. Although the club was ostensibly for practicing English language, the first three meetings all involved drinking heavily. I did not drink much because my Christian faith warns against loss of control under the influence of alcohol. One of the meetings was a sporting event between our university and its biggest rival; because I was tired and sick, I only participated in the cheering activities about forty percent of the time. I found I was unable to fully participate in the subsequent drinking games because of my lack of Korean language skills and because I did not want to drink heavily."


이정혜는 현재 플러싱에 위치한 동서국제학학교의 한국어 교사로 재직 중이며뉴욕한인교사회 8대 회장, 12대 공동회장을 지낸 바 있다.

이 이세이에는 그녀가 1982년 처음 미국에 이민 와 어려운 시기를 거쳐 공립학교 교사로 근무하게 되기까지의 과정과 비한국계 학생들을 대상으로 교사생활을 하며 겪어온 그녀의 다양항 경험이 담겨있다. 아래는 에세이의 내용 중 일부이다.

Jounghye Rhi currently teaches Korean language classes at the East-West School of International Studies (EWSIS) in Flushing. EWSIS offers three Asian languages—Chinese, Japanese, and Korean—as options for foreign-language courses for high school and middle school students. The school is composed mostly of non-Asian students. Since the school has only a few Korean students, the Korean language program had difficulty in attracting enough students. However, Korean community leaders, as well as Rhi's efforts to encourage students to participate in Korean cultural activities, helped keep the program alive. Rhi served as the 8th President and the 12th Co-President of the Korean American Teachers Association of New York (KATANY).

In her essay, she describes how she became a public school teacher after she experienced difficulties after immigrating to the U.S. in 1982. She also shares her experiences of teaching Korean to non-Korean students. Below is a short excerpt from her essay:

"... 학교에서 가끔씩 돌발적인 행동을 하던 학생이라 염려도 되었다. 그러나 캠프를 통해 한국 문화의 영향을 받아서인지 미국에 돌아온 후에는 점잖아지고또 학교도 착실히 나오기 시작했다그런  그 학생을 지켜본 교장 선생님이 미세스 리무엇을 어떻게 했기에 그 아이가 이렇게 변한 거죠?” 라고 물은 것은 한국 문화와 그것을 가르치는 한국어 교사에 대한 간접적 고마움의 표시였으리라." 

We have posted two poems by Chungmi Kim, a Korean-American poet and playwright. She is the author of the poetry books Glacier Lily (2004, Red Hen Press) and Chungmi—Selected Poems (1982, Korean Pioneer Press). Her poetry has been included in numerous anthologies and has been featured on Garrison Keillor's National Public Radio Program The Writer's Almanac (January 2010) and in Poetry Society of America's "Poetry in Motion" program in Los Angeles (1998). Her play, Comfort Women, was produced at Urban Stages in New York and was subsequently published in New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2005 by Smith and Kraus. She has also written an award-winning screenplay titled The Dandelion.

The poems are titled "AMERICA! ('92 L.A. RIOTS)" and "SOME OF US ARE STILL WANDERERS." Both poems are from Glacier Lily, a collection of poems by Kim. "AMERICA!" expresses feelings of helplessness, frustration, and anger over the targeting of Koreans and Korean businesses during the 1992 L.A. Riots/Unrest after the announcing of the Rodney King verdict. "SOME OF US ARE STILL WANDERERS" describes the emotional ups and downs of the lives of immigrants residing in foreign countries. Both poems convey a sense of han, which is a deep-rooted sense of sadness that all Koreans are said to possess.

On February 26, 2014, Chungmi Kim performed excerpts from her play Comfort Womenwhich focuses on the women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II, at a colloquium at Queens College's Rosenthal Library.  

This is the first time that we have ever posted poetry on our Data Bank. In the future. we would like to post more poetry as well as literary fiction and non-fiction on our website. We hope that you enjoy these poems.



황현주는 현재 뉴저지패터슨 르네상스 제일 공립학교에서 4학년 담임지한국학교 교장직을 맡고 있으며, 이 외에도 재미한국학교 동북부협의회 부회장 그리고 재미한국학교 협의회 이사로 활동 중이다.

그녀는 이 에세이를 통해 16세에 미국으로 이민 와 정체성의 변화를 겪고 공립학교의 교사가 되기까지의 과정, 그리고 뉴저지한국학교에 몸담으며 2세 한국어 교육에 힘을 기울여온 그녀의 경험담을 들려준다. 이 밖에도 주말한국학교의 발전을 위해 앞으로 한국정부가 염두해두어야 할 부분에 대한 그녀의 생각도 담겨있다.

Hyunjoo Hwang Kim currently teaches at Renaissance One School for Humanities in Patterson, New Jersey and she is the Principal of the Korean School of New Jersey, a weekend Korean school (Korean-language school). She is also the Vice President of the National Association of Korean Schools, Northeast Chapter, and also a board member of the broader National Association of Korean Schools (NAKS).

In this essay, she decribes coming to the United States at the age of sixteen and how she became a public school teacher. She recounts her difficulties adjusting to life in the United States as a Korean immigrant, and she also recounts her experiences working at a New Jersey Korean school and how she put a lot of time and effort into the education of second-generation Korean Americans. Additionally, she shares her thoughts about how the Korean government should consider weekend Korean schools in the United States in their policy-making. 



This essay was written by Hae Joo Kim, a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Her essay earned second prize in the Research Center for Korean Community's Essay Contest on Korea and Korean Culture. Kim's essay, titled "Hanryu: A Means of Participating in Koreanness," discusses the rise in popularity and visibilty of Korean popular culture. In discussing hanryu (the Korean wave, which refers to the global popularity of Korean culture), Kim examines the Korean spirit of participation, unity, and collectivity via the concepts of jeong (the invisible bond that exists among Koreans) and uri (the Korean word for "our" or "us"). She gives concrete examples of jeong and uri in pungmulnori (a genre of percussion music that flourished as a form of ritual and entertainment in the village-based agrarian society of Korea before modernization) and in contemporary Korean pop music a.k.a. K-pop. Below is a short excerpt from her essay:

"Negotiating the Western value of individualism with the importance placed on collectivity in Korean culture has been a rich (and lifelong) process. That is not to suggest, of course, that lines between the two are solid or exclusive; obviously, independent identity and mobilizing as a group are an important part of both societies. But the aspect of Korean culture that has been the most meaningful and special to me, from my perspective as a citizen of both cultures, is the importance of interpersonal relationships and the value of community, expressed in terms such as jeong (attachment, affection) and uri (“us” or “our”). The bond that a person establishes with another is an important foundation on which community is built; it is a positive base for accountability and understanding. Indeed, no matter how brilliant or successful an individual might be, the need to belong still remains one of her/his most basic human needs, as psychologists and sociologists have shown. It is this dimension of Korean culture—the notion of community—that has spoken to me as a second-generation Korean American."

This essay was written by Tamar Herman, a senior East Asian Studies major at Queens College, Macaulay Honors College. Her essay earned third prize in the Research Center for Korean Community's Essay Contest on Korea and Korean Culture. In this essay, titled "More Than a Wave," Tamar Herman recounts her initial interest in Korea and Korean culture via Hanryu (which translates to "Korean wave," referring to the increasing global popularity of Korean culture, including K-pop, K-dramas, Korean cuisine, Korean electronics, etc.). Using the extended metaphor of water droplets amassing size and momentum until it culminates in a deluge, Tamar Herman's narrative describes one woman's path to another culture. Below is an excerpt from her essay:

"When applied to cultural phenomena, the word “wave” usually implies a large impact that will eventually die down. The Korean Wave, hanryu, was deemed by media to be such an occurrence, and it may very well die out in a few years. But for me, hanryu was never a wave. It was a trickle that began with a song, which led to a singer, which led to a drama, which led to researching, which led to an interest in Korea that eventually led to me learning Korean, and declaring an East Asian Studies major. The initial drop, or interest, that I had in hanryu has led me down a path towards a much larger entity than just a simple wave that crashes and dissipates back into the ocean. Instead, I now have a new and ever-changing understanding of Korea, its history, culture, politics, and society." 

Pearl Kim currently works as an Assistant District Attorney in the Office of the District Attorney, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, in the Special Victims and Domestic Violence Division. As a special victims unit prosecutor, Ms. Kim handles Protection From Abuse matters, child physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape, and Internet Crimes Against Children cases. In an effort to more effectively reach out to underrepresented communities, she was designated the Asian Outreach Liaison.

Ms. Kim was appointed to serve on the Joint State Government Commission's Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking and to report back to the Pennsylvania Senate any recommendations for changes in state law, policies, and procedures. She is a member of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania and the American Bar Association. Ms. Kim serves on the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Affairs, the Board of Directors for the Pearl S. Buck International, and is on the leadership board for the Villanova Law Minority Alumni Society.

Pearl Kim obtained her J.D. from Villanova University School of Law, where she was the recipient of the Villanova Achievement Scholarship, and received her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College. Ms. Kim has recently been recognized as one of the 2012 Women of the year, the 2011 Diverse Attorneys of the Year, and the 2011 Lawyer on the Fast Track by the Legal Intelligencer.

Below is an excerpt from Pearl Kim's biographical essay, which will be featured in an edited book that will be published by Bookorea Publishing Company in 2014:

 "Look around you. Conservative estimates report that one out of every eight women will be raped in their lifetime; the FBI reports the reality of rape is much closer to one in three. These numbers are not inclusive of the sexual violence where women are coerced, forced, or manipulated into other forms of unwanted sexual activity. And what may be more unsettling than these figures is that the majority of rapists are not deviant sexual offenders, but our friends, family members, coworkers, and members of our church congregations. The myth that rapists are strangers waiting in bushes to attack is purely a societal ploy to deflect responsibility of these heinous crimes to “others” rather than the more numerous perpetrators who surround us.The Department of Justice reports that “Asians were the least likely to experience serious violence,” but we all know that can’t be true. It appears that their sources of data are not correctly reflecting the harm committed upon Asians within our own community." 

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