It's hard to be a Kowi - but fun too

By Lincoln Tan

South Korean Sarah Kim adjusted so well to New Zealand after she moved here as a 10-year-old in 1995 that she "almost forgot" she is Korean.

This became a problem in her early adult life, when the Korean community couldn't accept her as being one of them and mainstream New Zealanders did not consider her to be a Kiwi.

Now, Miss Kim, a lawyer who has noticed that many young Korean New Zealanders are facing this same "identity crisis", plans a conference next month to talk about and celebrate being "Kowi" - a Korean Kiwi.

"Facing expectations of parents wanting us to retain our culture and the pressures of society to integrate leaves many of us in a confused state to our identities," she said.

"I, for example, feel far more Kiwi than Korean, and find more fun drinking at a pub and watching rugby than singing karaoke or eating at fancy Asian restaurants, but the fact is, many Kiwis will still see me as 'that Asian girl'."

Miss Kim said the conference - called "Kimchi and Marmite: Finding Kowi" - aims to help Korean New Zealanders understand "who and what we are" and that "they are not alone".

"There is a real need for us to have an opportunity to address these issues, and understand how our two cultures interrelate to create a new combined Kowi culture," she said.

South Korean parents are most anxious to ensure their children are well-schooled, spending around $6 billion a year to send them to study abroad in countries like New Zealand - but they still disapprove when their offspring adopt Western ways.


Miss Kim hopes the conference will help Kiwis to "get an insight and understanding" into some of the problems and challenges faced by Koreans in New Zealand.

Social worker Gus Lim, who came to Auckland in 2001, said South Koreans had a "major problem" with integration because they came from a monocultural society and were "often not used to living with people of other cultures".

"The country was also historically influenced by Confucianism and holds a military set of ideologies, which may not be applicable in a Western society like New Zealand," said Mr Lim, a former Catholic priest.

For example, Chinese philosopher Confucius teaches that men are superior to women, and until the late eighties women in South Korea had very few rights, he said.

"In a divorce, a Korean woman does not have equal property rights even if her husband had wronged her in the marriage.

"So it can be shocking when Korean men find out how many rights and [how much] power the women have in New Zealand."

The two-day Kowi Conference will be held at the University of Auckland Business School from July 18.

- NZ Herald

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