Lived Experiences and Visual Expressions from Immigrant Adolescents
* in Korea during their Early Adjustment **
다문화 중도입국 청소년의 눈을 통해 본이주 후 초기 적응 경험
- Publish: Journal of the Korean society of child welfare Volume , Issue45, p103~130, March 2014
Korea, historically a mono-ethnic country, has recently experienced a surging immigration. Due to the lack of policies as well as awareness toward immigrants, and especially immigrant children, they suffer challenges in settling down in the new country. This study aims to explore the lived experiences of adolescent immigrants in Korea in words and visual images using Photovoice. Six sessions were conducted over two months in 2011 with six participants in Korea. The participants chose the following six themes to talk and take photos about: Friends, my daily life, culture, love, myself, and stress and energy sources. Select narratives and photo images are presented and discussed. Adolescent immigrants might be ostracized and pushed aside to the periphery in school. Lack of school policies and cultural shock resulting from fierce competition and intense curriculum in the Korean school systems seem to worsen their adjustment in school. Adolescent immigrants seem to be resilient despite all the challenges. Such strengths need to be considered in developing programs for them. Language training for this population and diversity training for teachers and administrators as well as students are urgently needed. Programs to prepare adolescent immigrants for their new host culture would be also essential.
한국은 최근 이주민의 급격한 증가를 경험하고 있다. 이주민은 오랜 기간 단일 민족 국가였던 한국에 낯선 경험이며 이주 아동은 더욱 낯설다. 한국의 다문화 중도입국 청소년은 최근 새롭게 증가하고 있는 이주 청소년의 한 유형으로 이들에 대해 알려진 것도 거의 없고 초기 적응을 위한 지원 정책도 아직은 개발단계이다. 본 연구는 포토보이스라는 방법을 통해 새롭게 등장한 한국의 다문화 중도 입국 청소년들의 생생한 경험을 이들의 목소리와 이들이 만들어내는 시각적 이미지를 통해 탐색해 보았다. 두 달 동안 경기도 외국인 밀집지역에서 여섯 명의 참여 청소년들과 총 육회기의 포토보이스를 실행했고 참여자들은 총 6개의 주제에 대해 사진을 찍고 내러티브를 만들었다. 참여자 스스로 정한 6개의 주제는 친구, 나의 하루, 문화, 사랑, 나, 그리고 나를 힘들게 하는 것과 힘나게 하는 것이 었다. 본 논문에는 참여 청소년들의 내러티브와 사진들을 제시하고 이에 대한 함의를 논하였다. 중도입국 청소년들은 학교에서 주변화 되기도 하고, 경쟁적이고 학업 위주의 한국 학교 시스템에서 학교 적응에 상당한 어려움을 겪기도 했다. 청소년들은 여러 어려움에도 불구하고 상당히 레질리언트한 모습을 보여줬는데 이들이 그리는 초기 적응의 모습을 바탕으로 초기 지원 프로그램 개발과 정책 개발을 위한 시사점을 논의하였다.
photovoice , adolescent , immigrant
Migration, especially migration across borders, is one of the most distinct and defining characteristics of our time. Most of the affluent countries recently witnessed a rapid increase of immigrant population. Immigrants now account for a significant portion of the general population in many countries, and (South) Korea is no exception. As of July 2013, about 1.5 million foreigners reside in Korea, which accounts for 2.8 per cent of the Korean population (Ministry of Public Administration & Security, 2013), and 2.6 per cent increase from the prior year. Korea is rapidly becoming a multicultural society.
The recent large-scale flux of foreigners, however, is a novel and sometimes perplexing experiences to many Koreans. Korea has long been a mono-ethnic country, contributing to Koreans’ national identity and pride in an important way. Historical changes in the Korean ethnic map began back in the early 1990s. A significant shortage of marriageable women subsequently led to an emerging market of the matchmaking business between Korean men and women from relatively impoverished countries in East and Southeastern Asian regions. As a result, about a half (43.7 per cent) of the currently-registered foreign nationals came to Korea for employment. Much of the remaining half consists of women who came to marry Korean men, as well as the children born from the international marriage.
A particular Korean immigration policy led to distinct experiences of immigrants in Korea: Professionals are allowed to be accompanied by their family members, but low-wage unskilled workers may not immigrate with their families. Therefore, most of the immigrant adolescents settling down in Korea have a unique profile. First, the proportions of immigrant families and youths are small, compared to other host countries worldwide. Second, many immigrant youths in Korea experienced unique pathways to Korea. The most common cases are the youths who had been left behind in their original countries for several years (typically two to five years) while both parents worked in Korea until they finally rejoined their families in Korea. In the cases of divorced families, which is a more typical picture, after several years of separation, one of the parents (typically mothers) working in Korea remarry with a Korean man. And then the children are invited to Korea or adopted by their stepparents and finally settle down in Korea (Jang & Song, 2011).
For policy making and service delivery purposes, immigrant youths who were born and spent most of their times in foreign countries and newly immigrated to Korea as well as adolescents born of Korean men and foreign brides are all categorized as “Multicultural Youths” in Korea. However, in Korea, children and adolescents from families formed through foreign spouse matchmaking who were born and raised in Korea are the stereotypical image of the children of immigration in general. Voices of the youths who were not born in but immigrated to Korea are marginalized in the already-marginalized story of the immigrants in Korean society. Especially during their early immigration and adjustment period, they might have multiple challenges coming from family reunification, language and cultural shocks, and other immigration stressors. Such complex phenomenon has not been studied from the perspectives of their lived experiences.
The present study aims to explore the lived experiences of adolescent immigrants in Korea using Photovoice, an innovative qualitative methodology, which is described in detail in the Methods section. Photovoice was used to capture the experiences of this understudied population in words and visual images, which is expected to bring the new angles of understanding to this understudied population that might be missed by conventional research methods.
Photovoice is a method of participatory research developed by Caroline Wang and Mary Anne Burris in which participants of the research study take photographs that illustrate various aspects of their lives (Novak, 2010). Photovoice is largely inspired by the work of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator who influenced critical pedagogy. Freire endorsed a type of education in which both the learner and the teacher were viewed as co-creators of knowledge (Carlson, Engebretson, & Chamberlain, 2006). In this vein, Photovoice seeks to break down the barriers that commonly exist between researchers and participants by working in a collaborative manner. Rather than simply being the focus of a study, participants are viewed as co-researchers who are ultimately the experts of their own lives (Duffy, 2011). Through the use of photography, participants are able to share their world with viewers, as well as provide a visual testimony of the everyday realities they face. These photographs often then become the subject for interviews or focus groups where the participant has the opportunity to further describe or explain the photographs meaning (Wilson et al., 2007).
Photovoice has the ability to empower marginalized populations by making their voices heard, often for the first time. The narratives that arise from the photographs are able to tell a story that words alone cannot express, while enabling participants a level of control over the research process and outcomes. Photovoice decreases the risk of researcher bias or influence because the participants have ultimate control over the photographic process (Jurkowski & Paul-Ward, 2007). Also, what the participants discuss is not determined by the researcher, but by the participants themselves through a group consensus process. Furthermore, the use of images allows for greater participation among those who may otherwise be left out, such as individuals who cannot read or write as well as people with physical or cognitive impairments which make communication difficult. Similarly, images are able to convey a feeling or idea across cultures and language barriers (Dumbrill, 2009). For these reasons, the interest in Photovoice is growing among researchers who seek to empower participants to bring greater awareness to important issues or create social change.
Photovoice has been successfully used with a wide variety of populations including: cancer survivors (Yi & Zebrack, 2010), former child soldiers in Sierra Leone (Denov, Doucet & Kamara, 2012), single mothers (Duffy, 2011), people living with dementia (Genoe, & Dupuis, 2011), homeless people (Halifax, Yurichuk, Meeks, & Khandor, 2008), Hispanic immigrants (Schwartz, Sable, Dannerbeck, & Campbell, 2007), people living with a mental illness (Thompson et al., 2008), and mentally disabled people (Jurkowski, 2008). Photovoice has also been used in school settings to investigate adolescent issues. One study investigated the opinions of high school aged students’ about the well being of their school environment (Wyra, Lawson, & Askell-Williams, 2011). The project was able to highlight the ways in which schoolyard interactions influenced classroom behaviors. Another school used a Photovoice project to give English Language Learning students the opportunity to express the struggles and cultural experiences in the classroom (Kusak, 2009). Additional issues investigated include the learning experiences of at-risk middle school students (Neslon & Christensen, 2009), alcohol and drug education (Wilson, Minkler, Dasho, Wallerstein, &Martin, 2008) and the impacts of immigration on the school experience (Streng et al., 2004)
We employed the innovative qualitative methodology for this study to hear the unheard voices from the Korean adolescent immigrants in as unoppressive a manner as we could conceive. Although different ways of adopting and applying Photovoice have been used for practical reasons in other studies, we followed the original Photovoice procedure according to Caroline Wang, the developer of the methodology.
This study is a collaborative effort between a research team in a university setting and a community youth center in one of the largest ethnic enclaves of immigrants in Korea. The enclave is entrenched in a medium-sized city where many immigrants settled down. As of 2011, 41 per cent of the registered in this town are foreign-born, but an estimated 70 per cent when unregistered foreigners are counted, (Personal communication with a local public official 09/20/2011). The Photovoice project was conducted in a community youth center serving the immigrant youths in the region where the authors have built a relationship.
From the inception of our study, service providers shared research ideas and their insights about the study design and recruitment. These service providers included community center staff members, teachers, school social workers, public officials in the region as well as the immigrant adolescents and their families engaged in the study. A total of six immigrant adolescents who spent most of their lifetime in a foreign country and had recently immigrated to Korea participated in the study. They had ethnic heritage from China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, and Russia. Detailed characteristics of the participants are summarized in Table 1. Authors tried to recruit as diverse participants as possible in terms of their country of origin, gender, type of school (i.e., regular public school, alternative school), and type of family (i.e., stepfamily, two- or one-parent family).
The Photovoice project was conducted over a period of two months, from June through July, 2011. Immigrant adolescents who were born in a foreign country, lived at least 70% of their life in a foreign country and who are between 13 and 17 years old were recruited. A total of six sessions and one orientation session were completed. The project team consisted of two investigators who have expertise in immigration and adolescence issues and qualitative and Photovoice methodologies; three graduate students who were trained in qualitative methodologies; and a Chinese native speaker who was also a graduate student in social work. We started the project with an orientation session where we distributed digital cameras to participants and gave brief instructions for usage. Also, we briefly discussed concepts of Photovoice with the participants. For practice, they took pictures of themselves or other participants in and around the center. At the end of the orientation the facilitator informed the participants of the theme for the next week, “friend,” and gave them an assignment to take pictures in keeping with the theme. From the second week, however, the participants discussed as a group and decided the theme for the week so that the themes would reflect their experiences as immigrants.
The participating adolescents met on every Thursday at 7 pm. Each session lasted for about 2 hours, consisting of a brief pre-interview and a main session. Research staff welcomed the participants as they came to the center, and conducted brief, individual pre-interviews for about ten minutes to download the photographs to the computers and ask the participant to choose one or two pictures key to the theme of the week that they want to share in the main session. The participants were also asked to put a title to the chosen photos. Researchers asked questions about relevance of the picture with the theme of the week (e.g.,“what are you seeing in this picture?”; “What is happening in this picture?”;“How do you feel about his situation?”and;“why does this happen?” etc.) (Wallerstein, 1987). After the individual interviews, participants gathered in an hour-long facilitated group discussion where they shared the chosen photos and discussed the themes in them. Although the participants had no problem in communicating in Korean, a Chinese interpreter was present in case of communication difficulties. At the end of the hour, each group reached consensus on a theme for the next photo-documentation period. After the last session we celebrated the completion of the project and reflected on what we did together. All interviews and group discussions were audio-taped and professionally transcribed verbatim.
The audiotapes of all individual interviews and group discussions were transcribed in their original language, Korean. In total, eithgt hours of individual interviews and six hours of group discussions were included for analysis. The photos were used as visual representations of the participants’ narratives, not as data in and of themselves.
We used the themes generated by participants as an organizing framework or template for data derived from the individual interviews and group sessions. Because the participants were supposed to take photographs and have discussions about the group theme on each day, we analyzed the transcripts from each day separately. For example, all the transcripts from a specific day were analyzed to find the subthemes of that day. In detail, the five authors of this study conducted open coding (Glaser & Strauss, 1967)to condense the data into analyzable units by assigning shorter phrases or codes to segments of the transcripts, ranging from a single phrase to several paragraphs and then we used the constant comparative method (Strauss & Corbin, 1990)to cluster the codes into new categories. Through this process, subthemes emerged under the template theme of the day. This procedure for finding subthemes under each template theme was repeated for each day. Only several photographs out of the 58 key photos chosen by the participants are included in this paper as illustrations.
A demographic description of the sample is described in Table 1. All the names of the participants in this paper are pseudonyms.
] Demographic Information on the Participants
Themes from the six weekly sessions, in order, are organized as follows. Sub-themes under each theme were analyzed by the authors. (Table 2)
] Themes and Subthemes of the Photovoice Study
The immigrant adolescents defined good friends as those who are ‘kind and considerate,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘helpful’ to them. Most of the ‘best friends’ the participants took pictures of were other immigrant kids from similar backgrounds. One participant, who missed the orientation, joined the first session and told, ‘if I have taken picture about friends, I would have taken a picture of my only one friend in school. She came from China and understands me well because we share the common backgrounds with me.’ Another talked about her weekend outing to go shopping with her immigrant friends. It was ‘so much fun’ to have variation from her daily routines (see Figure 1). All the participants seemed to find friendship with other immigrants from the same countries. Friendship with my own kind. Most of the immigrant adolescents shared the experiences of having been ostracized by peers, particularly at school. They thought they were ‘looked down,’ because they ‘come from a different country and cannot speak the right language.’ One related the following example: ‘If I read aloud the text book in class, then they pick on me for the whole day because of my accent… I was even told to go back to my own country… I don’t like Korean kids.’ The participant described the school as ‘a place for learning, not for friendship.’ Many seemed to give up on expecting warm friendship from peers at school. Such feeling is illustrated by a participant, ‘I don’t speak at school… but it is okay… I go to school not because I want to make friends with Korean kids, but to study for myself.’ They seemed to fail to enjoy the social aspects of school attendance (see Figure 3). Making friends at school.
Many believed that their classmates kept teasing them because their Korean is not good enough to report it to the teacher; and even if they did, they believed that the teacher would not actively intervene. One to three years was the range of their waiting time before entering the school system in Korea, resulting in age differences from their classmates. This made it so that even those who got along relatively well with their classmates felt it was difficult to make friends because they were a few years older than their classmates. One participant said, ‘I am two years older than my classmates. They say I behave like an adult and weird. I think they are so young and childish.’ The loneliness experienced at school is illustrated by the photo in Figure 2. The immigrant adolescents responded differently to such hostile attitudes from peers. Some were trying to avoid them and pretend not to understand or listen to them, while others were responding actively, for example, by swearing in their own language, which occasionally led to some fights.
Most of their daily life is spent in school, but their school life seems not engaging to them, as one said, ‘I spend the whole day in school, just studying, with no friends, just sleeping in class (see Figure 4).’ They were generally struggling both with social relationships and academic work at school. Some expressed not liking the fact that they had to fall behind in their education schedule by saying, ‘I don’t like to go to school. I am supposed to be at the third grade in high school, but I am at the first grade.’ Although most said that school is important for their future and that they should study hard to get a good job in the future, they reported that the classes were ‘too boring.’ All of them seemed to have difficulty keeping up with the school work because of the combination of reasons such as; a lack of language, different education styles from their original countries, and heavier workloads than their original countries. They found rare joyful moments at school by making phone calls and texting with their friends who are outside of school during the class breaks. Inside school. Most of the participants’ social relationships were formed outside school. They mentioned private after-school learning centers, churches, and community youth centers as an important place for their daily lives and social activities. Some spent much time in commuting to the places where they can interact with other immigrants with similar backgrounds (see Figure 5). They hang out with these friends in karaoke or pocket billiards clubs. Online social network clubs were important channels for them to meet other immigrants. Outside school. Two participants were outside of the regular school system and instead attended a preparation program provided by a civil organization for immigrant youths. One reported spending much time hanging out with his friends and playing computer games. Oftentimes, the participant has responsibility for taking care of a two-year-old half-brother born of the mother’s second marriage while the mother and stepfather were at work (see Figure 6). Out of the regular school system. Food was a main topic of their cultural experiences. Most participants talked about how different food and eating cultures are between their home country and Korea. All of them remembered their first experiences of tasting Korean foods. One said, ‘I couldn’t eat because of the unique Korean tastes, hot and spicy (in the school cafeteria).’ While they adjusted to the tastes and crave for the tastes now, they still do not like some Korean foods such as ‘smelly’ fish. Many expressed a strong sense of nostalgia towards some foods that are unique in their original countries. Showing the photos of their traditional foods, they shared that they missed their foods and stories behind them (see Figure 7). Another showed the photograph of a special type of ice cream. The participant wished to take her own photos of it, but had to download one from the Internet, because it can be found only in her native Mongolia. Food. All the girls mentioned that they were surprised at the different fashion styles and demeanors of Korean boys from boys in their original countries. To their eyes, the Korean boys are ‘too feminine’ and are ‘like girls.’ One said, ‘Korean boys wear skinny jeans, make-up, and long nails, which never happen in my home country.’ They also said that Korean boys behaved “like girls,” and were sometimes rude to them, which was ‘not gentleman-like’ and different from boys in their original countries. Dating cultures among teenagers also differed: In their original countries boys pay for the expenses, whereas in Korea boys prefer ‘dutch-pay’ in dating. The participating boys were quiet and shy of talking about dating. The girls kept saying that they did not like many things about Korean boys as described in Figure 8. But, they seemed to be interested in them because the boys were one of their central topics. Boys. The immigrant adolescents also talked about their cultural shock at the differences in school life. Cultural differences were observed in many accounts. All of them did not like the school culture in Korea, such as strict dress codes, school uniforms, and intense daily schedule. Also, they reported being stressed because of the long classes and competitive atmosphere in Korea. In their original countries, they were able to hang out with friends, but in Korea, they are required to take additional after-school learning programs. They also felt more exposed to violence at school in Korea than in their home countries, encountering frequent violent fights among students and corporal punishment at school and at home. One told, ‘I have never been hit at home, but at the middle school that I go to, I was hit by a teacher because of my homework. I cried.’ School culture. Most of the immigrant adolescents talked about the unconditional love from their families. For example, one participant defined it as ‘loving someone without any expectations for return.’ As illustrated in Figure 9, many appreciated being together with family after having the experience of family separation. Some expressed mixed feelings of love and hate towards their infant siblings for whom they had responsibility while their parents went to work. One said, ‘I took this picture of my baby brother because I hate him. To love someone is also to hate him. You can’t live without him. If that person is gone, you will miss him, that’s love.’ Many participants often talked about caring for younger siblings. They had mothers who worked long hours, so they were given the care-taker’s role. Particularly in the step families, there were large age differences between the participants and their younger step siblings. Family. Many said that they were missing their relatives and friends they had left behind in their original countries (see Figure 10). They were ‘sad’ to think of them. One said, ‘My grandma and grandpa cry whenever I call. I feel helpless and sad, but I cannot drop everything here and just go to meet them.’ Another expressed her desperate feeling of missing her loved ones by saying, ‘I have not seen them for four years. I feel like I am going crazy.’ Most used the Internet phones to communicate with the people in the original countries (see Figure 11). The Internet was an important channel that they were able to connect with their loved one far away. Missing those far away. The participants wanted to talk about their future and dreams. Most wished to work in skill-oriented professions such as a make-up artist, a hair stylist, or a fashion designer (see Figure 12). One said that she wanted to become a make- up artist because it is a ‘feminine job.’ Others echoed such remarks, so it seemed that many had gender-specific concepts about occupations. Some said that their future dreams had changed after immigration. A participant used to be a good student in the original country and dreamed of becoming a medical doctor, but no longer thinks it is possible in Korea because it is impossible to get good grades now. Another talked about the previous dream of becoming a chef, but now wants to become a make-up artist, just because the person developed different interests in Korea. The change of the immigrant adolescents’ status in many aspects of life in the new country and their exposure to different values in society seemed to have changed their future dreams. As illustrated in Figure 13, however, their career wants seemed not to be explored and further developed partly because their dreams are different from their parents’ expectations, or they simply do not receive adequate attention to help develop their dreams. Dreams. Most participants said that they were ‘proud’ of themselves, ‘quite good,’ ‘capable,’ and ‘lovable.’ Although they recognized that they were struggling to adjust to their life in Korea, they emphasized that they maintained a sense of self worth. By repeating that they still liked themselves, they might have tried to keep the continuity of their identities amongst the radical changes in their lives. I like myself. Classes being ‘not understandable and not interesting’ were a major stressor for the immigrant adolescents. They wanted to work hard, but particularly math and social science subjects were challenges for them. As illustrated in Figure 14, having exams stressed them extremely. They wished to have a translator who could communicate what the teacher said in their original language so that they could understand them easily. Strict disciplines at school and teasing from classmates were also mentioned as main stressors. Some said that they were told, ‘Why did you come to Korea? You should have stayed in your own country.’ and ‘What’s wrong with your skin color?’ Some expressed a sense of loss because they previously loved studying and playing with friends and teachers in their original countries and they missed loving people around them. One said, ‘I used to be excellent at school in Russia and mom expects me to do as well here in Korea. Now I am not good any longer and mom thinks that I am not studying hard enough.’ Stress sources. All of the participants had their favorite teachers who were ‘cool,’ ‘fun,’ ‘handsome,’ and ‘used interesting and accessible teaching methods.’ These teachers and interactions with friends gave them a source of happiness at school. As illustrated in Figure 15, most of them would run to the school backyard during the breaks to ‘make phone calls,’ ‘hide in [their] safe zones,’ and ‘smoke.’ Computers were important tools not only for playing games, but also for listening music and, in particular, for networking with their old friends in their original countries and making new friends with similar backgrounds. As illustrated in Figure 16, the Center for Immigrants was mentioned as another energy source; there is a library with books in their own languages and they can meet other immigrants there. One said that she went to the Center three to four times a week. Community Children & Youth Center was also reported as a place to meet and talk with their friends. To cope with their stress they would sing, take a shower, do make-up, play pocket billiards, listen to music, drink, smoke, and eat sweets. Energy sources.
The adolescent immigrants discussed their immigration experiences under the themes of
friends, my daily life, culture, love, myself, stress and energy sources. There are several points noteworthy in the study findings. First, adolescent immigrants might be ostracized and pushed aside to the periphery in the school settings. Many are, in fact, out of the regular school system. According to a policy report (Korean Women’s Development Institute, 2011), only 5.2 per cent of the adolescent immigrants are in the regular school system. Even those who are in the regular school system feel marginalized, as illustrated in many photos from this study. Using the photo (see Figure 15) of the wired fence between school and the outside world, the adolescent told that she went to that place whenever possible to enjoy her time alone. The wired fence reminds the authors of a wired fence in prison and we cannot help guessing that it might represent the adolescent’s feeling of being in prison. The activities that should be the core of the school life, such as studying and socializing, were the stresses for these adolescents. Instead they escape the classroom whenever possible and try to connect with people outside of the school. What makes them linger at the margins of school without mingling with their Korean peers and becoming immersed in education? The other findings from this study imply possible answers to this question, but there should be further research.
Second, many factors were forming the setting that naturally pushes adolescent immigrants aside to the margins in school. Korean immigration services and policies have focused on foreign brides and their children, so school systems are not ready for adolescent immigrants. Educational policies supporting the adolescents’ school adjustments are lacking. The Korean school system and atmosphere have unique features, such as high expectations and emphasis on academics, intense daily schedule, long hours spent in school, high standards for school regulations. Immigrant adolescents enter the schools without being prepared for the potential cultural shocks from the different systems. The major challenge for the ill-prepared students seems to be language problems. This was mentioned as one of the main sources for getting teased and misunderstood by their classmates. They are torn between the options of being quiet and victimized, or protesting the pride-hurting experiences. It is impossible to comprehend the school curriculum and learn much without fluent communication skills. It is no wonder that those who used to be good students in their original countries fall behind at school in the new countries. To such challenges resulting from cultural and language problems, schools respond by trying not to accept immigrant adolescents as evidenced by the very low percentage (5.2 per cent) of immigrants in regular schools, because they would‘make trouble.’ Instead of rejecting the students, proactive efforts to integrate the students in regular school system are in order. Integrative programs that teach Korean language and history to the immigrant adolescents in the regular schools are the necessary first step to enhance their adjustments to school and immigrant country.
Third, the adolescents were resilient despite all the challenges. Many problematic issues among immigrant children have been found in the existing studies, such as their lack of adjustment, etc (Lee & Song, 2011). In the current study, resilience of the adolescent immigrants was illustrated in many of their photographs and narratives. Although facing challenges at school, they thought that education was the way to become successful in the future, which motivated them to be good students. They knew that they were good at some things, giving them a source of personal pride. Instead of focusing on the loss of the dreams that they once had in the original countries, they were developing new personal dreams. They were aware of both their stressors and energy sources, which seemed to help them utilize resources to cope with their realistic issues. They seemed to appreciate that they were now able to live together with their families. The Community Center for Immigrants seemed to play a role of resilience enhancer for the immigrant adolescents Meeting friends who go through similar immigration experience and exchange information and emotional support with them seem to provide significant help for their early adjustment. The Center’s libraries seem to be hubs of news and information about their home countries. Resilience factors should be considered when developing programs in such community centers. We believe that using Photovoice enabled them to express their positive feelings about themselves. In another study using Photovoice (Yi & Zebrack, 2010), immigrant young adult cancer survivors also chose to talk about positive self images and their energy sources. Future research needs to include not only problem-oriented but also strength-oriented approaches in understanding and helping this population. It is encouraging that the adolescents remained strong despite the difficult changes, but we do not know how long they can keep resilient without external help in such a dismal situation.
Fourth, cultural issues were important aspects to understand among adolescent immigrants. Culture is often neglected in research on this population when traditional survey methods are used. With cameras in their own hands and control over the discussion topics, culture emerged as one of the major themes. They missed what they had left behind in their home countries: people, foods, and familiar cultures. Their main support systems in the new country were still those from the same countries or those in similar situations-other immigrants. Nevertheless, they seemed to be in cultural transition, as illustrated by their changing food preferences. Some authentic Korean foods had turned from something unbearable at first to something they crave. They know that they have to change, and they seemed to want to change and make friends with new people. Although the girls listed many reasons that they ‘don’t like’ Korean boys in comparison to boys from their own cultures, they still seemed to be interested in them. How they develop perspectives about their peers and the opposite sex is important for their current and future social relationships including romantic ones.
Fifth, family present a complex set of issues for adolescent immigrant children. Family was the source of energy for them, but other problems may stem from the structural issues in the family. Adolescent immigrants living in Korea are unique in many ways. Families are known to be a very important resilience-enhancing factor in the adjustment among immigrant youths. Adolescent immigrants living in Korea have already experienced a turbulent family history as a part of their coming to Korea. Typically, they have experienced parental divorce and several years of separation from one or both of parents. Upon settling down in Korea, they face additional challenges adjusting to a stepfamily. Family support and cohesion may be relatively weaker than their counterparts in other countries who immigrated with their family. The families often settle down in neighborhoods where a large number of people are poor or new immigrants. Even when teachers and social workers provide support services for these youths, resources are sparse. Their unique issues merge into the issues of poverty in the end. In summary, adolescent immigrants often face the life-changing process of immigration with little support from society and schools, and weak family coherence.
Based on the study findings, we suggest that adolescent immigrants in the regular school system should have resources and attention to keep them from being marginalized. Language training for this population is urgent. Diversity training for teachers and administrators as well as students would be helpful for those who have never been exposed to people from different cultures to help them better understand the immigrants. On the other hand, programs to prepare adolescent immigrants for their new host culture would be also needed. Adolescent immigrants behave according to the cultural expectations of their home countries, which might differ from Korean cultural expectations. The behavioral problems eclipse the adolescents’ positive potential and strengths. If the society expects and demands the same kinds of behaviors and achievements from immigrant adolescents as from non-immigrants, they will continue to be considered to be inferior, which aggravates their self esteem and existential self identity. This creates a vicious cycle of poor adjustment in school and conflicts in families, which leads to parenting challenges and parental neglect. All these difficulties among adolescent immigrants are added to the inherent turbulence of their normal adolescent development. Their culturally awkward and undesirable ehaviors can stigmatize them, leading them to cope with the adjustment stress through unhealthy channels.
Probably the most important change should occur in the mindset of immigration policy makers. Adolescent immigrants have been disregarded in policy making, but they are becoming a significant part of the citizenship. Their physical health and mental wellbeing will affect the national health. It is important to understand their issues and provide necessary preventive services for them before their challenges become overwhelming and to help them smoothly adjusted and embraced into the society
A few limitations of this study should be considered in interpreting the results. First, the participants might not be representative of the general population of adolescent immigrants in Korea or other countries as only six participants from one location participated in this study. The participants had ethnic heritage from China, Mongolia, and Russia, which cannot lead to the representation of the experiences of immigrant adolescents from other cultures. However, the focus of this study lied not on representing the population, but picturing the rich lived experiences of several immigrant adolescents, which would be meaningful information for future study. Second, we purposely selected a sample with diversity in the country of origin, gender, and ages, so association of these demographic characteristics with their reported experiences could not be examined. However, understanding the common themes that emerge through the participants’ group process is the main purpose of a Photovoice study. Third, causal relationships could not be established because pre-immigration data and/or comparison groups were not available. This means that their experiences might come from their original personality traits, not from immigration. Although generalizability is limited by small sample size, prolonged engagement and triangulation contributed to credibility and utility of the research. The project lasted for seven sessions conducted over a two month period, establishing a prolonged engagement and thereby ameliorating some of the effects of reactivity and respondent bias (Padgett, 1998). The participants’ lack of Korean language proficiency was a challenge in our Photovoice study, but for the same reason, Photovoice might have been a good choice of method, giving insight into their lived experiences of immigration through nonverbal images.
[<Table 1>] Demographic Information on the Participants
[<Table 2>] Themes and Subthemes of the Photovoice Study
[<Figure 1>] ‘My boyfriend’ ？ ‘My boyfried is a 19-year-old college student who came from Russia just like me. On weekend we went to Dongdaemun market in Seoul for shopping with other immigrant friends. I love going to Seoul with them.’
[<Figure 2>] Untitled ？ ‘Everyday, I spend my break time here. I am just sitting here chatting with Alicia (another immigrant friend in school)… At first when I came to Korea, the kids in school gave me much attention out of curiosity, asking where I came from. But as time went by, it disappeared rapidly. They forgot about me, did not talk to me.’
[<Figure 3>] Untitled ？ ‘I have more friends here [at the center] than in school. I have no friends at school. I’m not close to them nor speak to them. I don’t know… I just don’t feel like to. But I’m not lonely at school, because I don’t go to school to make friends, but to learn for myself’
[<Figure 4>] ‘School’ ？ ‘I took a picture of the school of mine. I spend most of my day in school just studying or sleeping, with no friends.’
[<Figure 5>] ‘The Way to after-school learning center’ ？ ‘Every Monday, I go to a private learning center by a subway. The center is for youths from Mongolia. When I first came to Korea I went there everyday to learn Korean. It’s far from my home. I spent a lot of time in the subway？ I can’t miss going to the center, because I can meet Mongolian friends there.’
[<Figure 6>] ‘My younger brother’ ？ ‘My brother is a part of my day？ He’s two？ I have not been going to school since the 7th grade. I am participating in one of school-preparation programs for immigrant youths？ I don’t want to go to school. I want to be a hair dresser someday.’
[<Figure 7>] ‘Rose’ ？ ‘This is a Russian dumpling. On Sunday, my mom was making it at home, so I helped her？ When mom makes it, it reminds me of my home town.’
[<Figure 8>] ‘Boys in the break time’ - ‘I don’t like Korean boys.’
[<Figure 9>] ‘Family’ ？ ‘I took this picture, because I love my family, my dad, mom, and younger brother. My mom is 34 years old and my dad is 36 years old. My dad came first and lived here alone for 3 years. My mom and I stayed in Russia. Family reunited last year.’
[<Figure 10>] ‘My love’ ？ ‘These are my cousins. They live in Russia. My aunt sent this picture to me. I haven’t seen the youngest one yet. I have not seen them for a year or two.’
[<Figure 11>] ‘Notebook’ ？ ‘Sometimes I carry this and sometimes I leave it at home. I cannot live without a computer. I don’t play computer games, but through SNS like Cyworld, Facebook, and HiFive I visit my friends’ homepages as well as meet new friends living in Mongolia (my homeland) and elsewhere.’
[<Figure 12>] ‘Cosmetics’ ？ ‘I want to be a make-up artist. Make-up and computer are the two things that I can do very well.. I am proud of myself when I make up’
[<Figure 13>] ‘Fashion design’ ？ ‘I feel good about myself when I draw. I’ve never learned a fashion design drawing, but it’s fun？ No one knows I draw well. My parents think I should study hard to go to college. This is just my hobby.’
[<Figure 14>] ‘A hard Month passing by and another coming in’ ？ ‘Last September was a tough month for me. I had to study hard to prepare for exams. There will be another exam next month. I am already worried about it.’
[<Figure 15>] ‘My favorite thing’ ？ ‘This is a school backyard. We make phonecalls, text, and ？ it’s secret. We sometimes climb up the fence, run away from the school and then come back.’
[<Figure 16>] ‘Community Center for Immigrants’ ？ ‘I took this picture, because this place is my biggest energy source. Library and computer lab are in the Center. I can also meet many new friends…In the library are there Russian, Chinese, and Mongolian books, cartoon books, and films that rarely can I see elsewhere. This is the place where I can meet many interesting friends, Indian, Mongolian, and Chinese kids. I communicate with them in Korean. They help me study and teach me what I don’t know.’