YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Bridging the Generation Gap : Counselor tries to help Korean immigrant parents and their Americanized children understand each other.

August 15, 1993|HELEN HONG | The Korean Youth & Community Center helps recent immigrants adjust to their new home. As a counselor, Helen Hong seeks to improve the dialogue between Korean parents and adolescents. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and is working on a master's degree in child development at Cal State Los Angeles. Hong was interviewed by Donna Mungen

My main responsibility is to develop resources in the community. I do parenting workshops for all parents, especially recent immigrants, and provide support services to juvenile delinquents and their parents. I teach them how to interact.

Young immigrants from South Korea have high anxiety: the fear of the unknown. It's a new environment and they see Korean kids here but they're different than in Korea. They want to fit in with the other kids, in terms of dressing and talking like them. However, there are family expectations. They are confused. They don't know whether to comply with the family's values or the social values.

In Korea, students are structured and restricted. But here they're given freedom. They know they have that freedom but they don't always know how to use it.

I remember one kid--she was 17 and the father had just had it because she had been running away since the seventh grade. The father was very established. He was a health-care professional, very righteous, and he was pressuring her. She had two younger siblings and they were constantly being compared, so it was hard for her to meet his expectations.

She was very Americanized and she had low self-esteem. I met with them for a year. It was the longest session I have had. Sometimes it was the three of us; other times it was individual counseling with the kid. Her attitude was really bad at one point. I tried to explain to the father where she was at. I informed the father about the American culture and why she was skipping school, running away from home and shoplifting.

And I tried to explain to her that her parents, although they wanted her to be more independent and go to a nice college, just wanted her to go to high school and graduate. She's doing quite all right now.


I arrived here in 1978 when I was 11. We were going to go to Australia, but somehow my parents changed their minds and we came here because they wanted a better education for my brother and myself.

Before we left, I was excited. It was a little kid's dream. We were immediately merged into the Korean community and at first there wasn't any pressure to speak English. I attended public school near our neighborhood on Wilton Place and there I met my first friend, who translated the class assignments for me.

Because I couldn't speak English and I came in late in the school year, I was put in the third grade, and the first thing I learned was how to write my name. I was shy and did not speak up a lot in class, but I picked up reading and writing skills quickly and by the time I started the fourth grade, I began to read and write in English. But I didn't gain a mastery of English until the sixth grade.

I had friends of every race but I never invited them home because I was shy. By the time I entered John Burroughs Junior High School, I was becoming more Americanized. I started to care about how I dressed and whether I was wearing brand-name clothes. But I was also getting a lot of exposure to my Korean culture during this time. A lot of my American friends would go to camp during the summer, but . . . since my father worked for Korean Air, I went to South Korea two or three times a year.

At first I hated being back in Korea. I missed the United States, especially because of the way they treat you, and the traffic, and the fact that there were so many people on the street.

But by high school time, I'd become ambivalent.

Through a busing program, I went to Taft High in Woodland Hills and I fit in well. It introduced me to the American culture more. It was 75% Jewish so I think I assimilated more. I really loved my high school years because of the teachers and the learning. Also, I became an American citizen and was happy and proud.

Still, whenever I went to my birth country, they knew I was from the U.S. because of my clothes and the way I talked. I could speak Korean fluently, but I wasn't comfortable and I had an accent. I looked different from the other Korean girls. Over there, the women keep their hair short, but I had my hair very long, bleached and spiked up. The native Korean girls naturally just looked at me as being strange.

By the time I went to college, I was really beginning to reclaim my Korean culture. A lot of my classmates wanted to go to the East Coast or Berkeley, but I wanted to stay in Los Angeles, so I picked UCLA. But during those years, I never made any other ethnic friends. I wanted to be more Korean, which meant watching more Korean TV, speaking more Korean and hanging out with a Korean crowd.

Today, I still hold my Korean values, but I'm more open. I'm more interested in doing American things.

Los Angeles Times Articles