Pros and Cons of Raising your Child in Korea
James and Jennifer Klipper returned to Korea with their daughter Zoe when she was 8 months old and have lived here ever since. Zoe turned six in March, “though she insists she’s seven. That age thing is still confusing,” said Jennifer.
The Canadian family calls Daejeon, Chungcheongnam-do, home.
Zoe has spent most of her life in Korea, so day-today issues are rare, say her parents. “She is fully bilingual, loves the food, uses chopsticks, puts the ‘V’ fingers in every photo and draws pictures of poo. We use rock-scissors-paper for most major family decisions. Thankfully, we have learned that she always starts with scissors.”
For the Klippers - like most international families in Korea - the biggest challenge is the education system.
They believe the efficacy of the schools and the teachers is improving, but the over-burdening of students is as bad as ever.
“It’s the demands that the school places on kids that often has us up in arms,” Jennifer said. Many of the problems they face connect back to education such as hagwon, costs, learning expectations, competition and empty playgrounds.
“Zoe does go to a public school, as we cannot afford the international schools and we don’t want to segregate her any more than she may be already,” said her parents.
For Zoe, the biggest challenge is looking different. She feels Korean, but gets a constant stream of “Wagook sarem! Wagook sarem!” according to her parents, who, “understand that Korea is very homogenous, and a different look can be very challenging.”
They say that Zoe has come home from school requesting to dye her hair black so she will look like her friends. “No matter how long we live here, Zoe will never be Korean, and for her that is very heart breaking,” said Jennifer. They believe, though, that Zoe’s ability to communicate in Korean, coupled with the fact that she is a social dynamo, helps her overcome these obstacles.
James also has two sons from a previous marriage. The younger son, Shae, came to live in Korea for several months in 2009 when he was 15 years old. While Zoe, years younger and raised in Korea, feels at home on the peninsula, Shae found things a little more difficult.
“From our experience, life is probably better for teens back home,” say the Klippers. “If you can afford the international schools, this would help with many of the teen challenges.”
Shae was home schooled while living in Daejeon. James and Jennifer describe the lack of time had by high school students as being one of Shae’s biggest difficulties. “There was literally no one for him to hang out with. He enjoyed living with us, but was desperate for company his own age.”
They would have loved for him to stay, but understood his need to return to Canada.
The Klipper’s find there are lots of benefits to raising a child in Korea. The biggest being the amount of time they get to spend together as a family. Other benefits include the number and quality of playgrounds, family friendly festivals and activities, affordable restaurants and ease of both domestic and international travel. Even the negatives can be flipped to positives, with the education system providing hagwon for any interest, and a huge amount of positive attention for the beautiful blue eyed Zoe.
James, Jennifer and Zoe have developed a close relationship with a Korean family who provide an emotional connection, which has helped them feel like they belong.
“Your family dynamic automatically changes the moment you arrive … when you come here, it is natural to become somewhat insular. For us, and Zoe especially, this family is our family.