By Park Ju-won
Global student reporter
ALABAMA _ One public school teacher in Fairfax County, California, gets alarmed whenever she sees the mob of “black-haired” students. She still remembers the incident from a few weeks ago when she had to call several Korean students out of class to tell them that “bowing” to each other in the school is not permitted.
The number of Korean students studying abroad in the U.S. has reached almost 70,000 and many of them reside in four states: California, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia according to U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey (ACS). Students who attend schools in those states sometimes encounter more Koreans than other foreign students. Furthermore, the number of Korean students outside of these four states is rapidly growing. For example, some prestigious private boarding schools already divide foreign students’ applications into “Koreans” and “non-Koreans.”
Typically, Korean students in American high schools are classified into two groups: “Twinkies” or “FOBs.” ‘Twinkies’ refers to the snack that has a yellow outside, but white cream inside. The term represents Korean students who were born in the U.S. or raised there.
“FOB” means “Fresh-Off the-Boat.” In many cases, they are Korean-born students who have just arrived in the United States. Unfamiliar with the new culture and foreign language, they reach out to a familiar group of people: fellow Koreans. They speak Korean at school, emphasize the importance of age-hierarchy, and form a sense of kinship.
At one private boarding school, Korean students were called out in front of other students. The dorm master, suppressing his anger, tried to calmly explain how Korean students should not bow to each other in the hallway and should try to immerse themselves in American culture. A few Korean students objected saying that bowing is traditional culture that can’t be abandoned just because they’re in a different country. The dorm master concluded the lecture with the quote when in Rome, do as the Romans do. However, not being coursed in American culture or failing to learn English is a minor problem.
The problems involving the Korean students are beginning to be noticed by school administrators all over the country. For example, with the continued tradition of emphasizing the age-rank between Korean students, conflicts can quickly arise. One Korean student was expelled a few weeks before his graduation for allegedly choking a fellow Korean student. In one boarding school, two girls were called outside of their dorm in the early evening and were verbally harassed by several older Korean girls from their school for “talking rudely” and “not bowing often enough.” Moreover, a Korean boy from another private boarding school was brutally beaten by fellow Korean students for supposedly “acting disrespectfully” toward older Korean students. Severely wounded and shocked, he transferred a few weeks later.
Kim, who went to a private boarding school, is accustomed to these problems. “There is so much drama between Koreans. They often talk behind each other’s backs. If I try to hang out with more Americans, they simply abandon me or talk about how un-Korean I am. Also, they make me bow whenever I see them. Once, I was engaged in a conversation with this American boy and one older Korean boy passed by. I thought he went away but he was next to me waiting for me to bow to him. I was very embarrassed.”
Many Korean students bring a motivation to succeed when they first enter the United States. However, exhausted by culture shock and embarrassed by their English skills, the majority give up and look for fellow Koreans to rely on. By forming an air-tight circle, Korean students surround themselves with tedious rules and exaggerated traditions. However, Mr. Jung, a U.S. high school graduate, sees hope. “Do not classify yourself as a ‘FOB’. Balance yourself between Americans and Koreans. Make a wide circle and blend in. Don’t be embarrassed. Be yourself.”