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Planting pride for bicultural children

Korean-Chinese establishes Saturday schools for children of immigrant women


Ahn Shun-hua, a 46-year-old ethnic Korean from Harbin, China, is married to a Korean man.

After her marriage, the couple was branded a “multicultural family,” and when they had kids they were “multicultural children,” ― but she prohibits her children from using the term.

“My children are not multicultural kids, they are bicultural kids, and they should be proud, and not ashamed of it.”

She has been married for eight years, but those years did not go smoothly.

“When my child was born, I was surprised at that fact that my in-laws practically precluded my children from speaking Chinese, and I was stunned at the fact that even my own husband banned me from speaking Chinese at home,” she told The Korea Herald.

According to Ahn, public schools established separate extracurricular “classes for multicultural kids,” but she told her children to not attend. “I told my children not to attend those classes, as I didn’t want my children to be differentiated from other kids, that could eventually lead to discrimination.

“They are Koreans, not foreigners, that’s what I tell my children.”

It was especially hard for Ahn to adapt to Korea, when she got married, She told that she shunned Korean culture and language, while she grew up surrounded by Chinese friends. 
Ahn Shun-hua, founder of Thinking Tree BB Center, poses next to a picture of its Saturday bilingual class at her office in Seoul Women Resource Development Center. (Park Hae-mook / The Korea Herald)
Ahn Shun-hua, founder of Thinking Tree BB Center, poses next to a picture of its Saturday bilingual class at her office in Seoul Women Resource Development Center. (Park Hae-mook / The Korea Herald)

“I regret that I refused to speak Korean and refrained from picking up any Korean culture,” she said. Growing up, she had denied her ethnic culture in order to “fit in” in with her Chinese friends. “When I was young, I felt that I was discriminated against as an ethnic Korean, so I tried to abandon it,” she said.

“I am sorry for my follies as a young girl though.”

Now the mother of two bicultural kids rolled up her sleeves to teach her children to be proud of both cultures ― for the most, she wanted to help her children avoid making the same mistake she had made by ignoring one side of their culture.

Ahn quit her job as a counselor at the migrant women emergency support center and established a center for foreign spouses and their children to keep alive their language and culture.

“I set up the center to make our children take pride in their bilingual and bicultural background,” she said.

The members of the center come from China, Uzbekistan, Thailand and others. Though they started off small, with just Chinese sessions, they have sought to expand the Saturday sessions to different cultures as well.

“The fact that our children are bilingual and bicultural will be a precious asset for them, and I want them to gain self-esteem through the efforts we are making, through this ‘Saturday’ school. I want to plant them the pride of being bicultural.”

The official name of the center is “Thinking Tree BB Center.”

“The Thinking Tree stands for our hopes for the children to ‘think’ boundlessly and to keep growing and thinking that the sky is the limit,” said Ahn.

“Husbands should admit that they have excellent private teachers at homes ― Moms! And they should appreciate us more.”

Both children and their mothers benefit from the Saturday schools. While children are off to learn Chinese lessons, their mothers attend Korean language program in the classrooms across their children’s.

“To raise excellent bilingual children, mothers should be perfect bilinguals themselves. I heard a story about my friend who was called ‘stupid’ by her own child, for not being able to speak Korean properly. That should not happen.”

The center does not have session fees either, as there are volunteering Korean teachers, and the mothers themselves teach at the centers. Recently, The Beautiful Foundation had donated to help the needy members at the center.

It has been a year since the center opened, and now has expanded its Saturday schools to churches in Yangcheon-gu, Gandong-gu and Jungryang-gu.

However, in the midst of trying to “melt-in” to the society, she still feels discrimination.

She says that the word “multicultural” itself is an “awkward” expression ― as it does not refer to any specific person, and Koreans should refrain from using such term imprudently.

“We courteously refuse ‘excessive concerns’ over the children of migrant women, as the concerns sometimes rather hurt us.”

By expanding the BB center, she expects to see an overall improvement in image and treatment of migrant women and their bicultural children, as they gain “pride” in being bilingual and bicultural.

Since the establishment of the Saturday schools, Ahn says the attendees’ family environment and relationships has improved, as well as overall school performance. She said an increasing number of husbands support bilingual education at homes.

“When we want to change something, we should not sit back and watch others change it. It is important for the people who seek change to behave proactively.

“The new image of what they call ‘multicultural family’ should break the stereotype of being ‘beneficiaries,’ but they should rather be seen as ‘beneficents’ that could accelerate diversity in Korea.”

By Hwang Jurie  (jurie777@heraldcorp.com)
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