University of Washington
Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity
Korean Culture, Immigration, and Healthby Eunjung Kim, Associate Professor, School of Nursing
The study abroad program, Korean Culture, Immigration, and Health, provided opportunities for University of Washington (UW) students to study factors influencing the behavior and health of ethnic minority populations using comparative experiences of Koreans and Korean Americans as an example. It was offered as an Exploration Seminar for three weeks in August-September 2008, through the School of Nursing and the College of Arts & Sciences. The program presented a broad and diversified look at cultural ideologies of heritage and mainstream cultures, immigration and the acculturation process, social and health behaviors, family issues such as intergenerational cultural conflict, and health disparities. The seminar used the perspectives of nursing, psychology, sociology, and anthropology to help students understand the complexities of caring for ethnic minority populations.
Korean Culture, Immigration, and Health Participants
There were 15 student participants in the program and one advisor whose participation was financed by an award from the UW. There were 12 women, 13 students of color, and two first generation college students. Two students were members of a sorority, and one was a member of a fraternity. Their ages ranged from 18 to 56, and their status ranged from freshman to a matriculated student who was preparing for a graduate school. Thirteen different major areas of study were represented. One student had completed two previous study abroad programs. I am a first generation Korean American female professor in the School of Nursing.
Korean Culture, Immigration, and Health Curriculum
The program consisted of two components: a pre-departure online learning course during summer quarter 2008 and an in-country experience between summer and fall quarters.
Pre-departure—Online Learning: During the pre-departure online learning course, I assigned articles and book chapters that addressed the course learning goals and concepts. I required students to make two postings a week after reading the assignments: one, a response to the article, and two, a response to one or more of their colleagues' comments. After the online learning course, students developed a research plan with three parts: (1) a description of a social or health issue in the United States, (2) a description of the same issue in Korea, and (3) a list of 5 to 10 questions that they would like to explore while in Korea.
In-Country Experience: During the in-country experience, we visited two major hospitals, a clinic offering Korean oriental medicine, a free clinic operated by medical and nursing students at the Catholic University of Korea, and a pharmaceutical company. Students paired up with Korean students who attended the College of Nursing at the Catholic University of Korea. We heard five lectures from Korean scholars and care givers on the Korean health care system, care-giving, parenting, and depression and dementia management. I presented on Korean culture and the health of Korean immigrants. In addition, we learned about Korean cooking, folk art, and crafts.
The students lived together in a traditional Korean house. We had frequent and intensive interactions among ourselves throughout the stay due to the living arrangements. In addition, we held two to three reflection sessions per week to debrief about the lectures, program experiences, and group dynamics. Every student helped lead a group reflection focusing on relaxation and meditation, community-building and get-to-know-you exercises, and on sharing experiences of places and activities.
Bringing the Work Home: In their final presentation, I asked students to discuss what they learned from the literature they read pre-departure and from three weeks of living experiences in Korea. Students’ presentations also addressed how they would apply this new knowledge to interactions with the Korean immigrant population in the U.S.
Major Challenges: Diversity and Safety
The major challenges that I confronted as group leader were raised by the diverse composition of the group and the conduct of individual members, I also worked to tie the lessons that students learned through their reading and experience abroad to the Korean immigrant population in the United States. Some of the challenges and the actions that I took to resolve them are listed below.
Response to These Challenges
I began the process of building a sense of community during the pre-departure online learning phase of the program and continued with community-building strategies for the duration of the in-country experience. The strategies that I employed included exercises and meetings to facilitate students getting to know one another, a flexible approach to problem solving, group journal entries, and reflection sessions. Below are examples of these strategies in action.
Staying Safe and Healthy
There were several health and safety issues that arose during the trip. I dealt with the physical ailments and the developing homesickness by being alert and addressing the issues as they arose. In addition, students themselves began to take responsibility for one another.
Coping with a Developing Couple
A male and a female student became a couple during the trip. In the beginning I noticed that they started spending a lot of time together. They officially became a couple early in the second week of the program, and I acknowledged this fact to each person. This new relationship was a little bit of a challenge for the group as these two students tended to spend time together away from the group. For example, the male student asked one day if they could be excused from the next day’s activity. He said that they wanted to visit another place instead. I said that it was okay with me, but I asked them to join the group after they were done because I did not want them to be gone all day. After they thought about my request, they asked if they could come with us but leave early. Because we were planning free time after the group lunch anyway, I permitted this request.
Helping Students Apply What They Learned
I became aware of this issue when I took the Global Learning Seminar. To help students apply what they learned in the online learning section and in Korea to the Korean immigrant population, I asked students to include this subject in their final presentation. I designed this exercise to prompt them to think about the connections. I also gave a wrap-up lecture on the last day about how Korean culture is related to immigrants’ health promotion behaviors.
In their final presentations, students addressed attitudes toward mental illness and health behaviors in Korea such as drinking, smoking, and obesity. They observed similarities and differences between these behaviors in the U.S.-Korean immigrant population and the heritage culture. Students looked at how peer pressure, the generation gap, and cultural attitudes influenced health behaviors in Korea and the U.S. Over all, students showed an increased awareness of health issues in Korea and how some Korean immigrants are affected by practices and attitudes that originated in Korea. I believe students’ final presentations indicated that their newly gained understanding of Korean culture has provided them with insight into Korean immigrant culture.
Recommendations for Future Programs
Kim, Eunjung (2008), "Korean Culture, Immigration, and Health" [online] Available: http://depts.washington.edu/ctcenter/kim.html.