Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Academy seeks local role models to help young Koreans

Joon Yi explains how young Koreans in New Zealand find it hard to find a decent role model, especially when a number are growing without fathers here. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Joon Yi explains how young Koreans in New Zealand find it hard to find a decent role model, especially when a number are growing without fathers here. Photo / Brett Phibbs

In the absence of local Korean heroes, one community leader is determined to help young Koreans find good role models from within their community here.

Joon Yi, 28, whose day job is as a police prosecutor, has set up a hakwon - or a Korean academy - where students of Korean ethnicity can come, listen to and meet other Koreans who have made a success of themselves in New Zealand.

Korean migration to New Zealand started only in the 1990s, meaning the community has the smallest New Zealand-born population of all ethnicities.

The Korean population in Auckland differs greatly to other migrant populations, with a significantly higher number of people aged between 10 and 20, and women significantly outnumbering men in the over-35 age group.

Many Koreans move to New Zealand for schooling in an English-speaking environment.

However, many parents often struggle to find employment here, resulting in one of them, usually the father, returning to Korea to work - a phenomenon known as "astronaut parenting" - leaving the mothers behind to care for the children.

"Within the framework of New Zealand Korean society, it can be quite hard for young Koreans to find a decent role model, especially when quite a high number are growing up even without their fathers here," Mr Yi said. "The hakwon provides tuition in high school core subjects, but what we try to do is to provide mentoring after each class."

Mentoring is by teachers and volunteers who came to New Zealand as students and grew up here. Topics include traditional Korean values like respect and filial piety.

"The whole idea of this hakwon is also to help high school kids know themselves better and learn about what's going to come their way in the next 10 years," he said.

Mr Yi came to Auckland with his parents when he was 8 years old, and says he regards himself as "totally Korean and also totally Kiwi".

"We tell these students they have to strive to be 100 per cent Kiwi as well as 100 per cent Korean, so that when we talk about the All Blacks they know about the history and when we talk about Treaty issues, they know about that too," Mr Yi said.

"But they can bring their Korean-ness to the table, so that they're not just yellow on the outside and white on the inside. You don't want to be 50-50, but fully Kiwi and fully Korean."

- NZ Herald

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