The Acculturation Experiences of Children of Korean 'Migrant Workers' in Germany and 'Foreign Migrant Workers' in Korea: A Qualitative Investigation

The phenomenon of work-related migration constitutes an essential element of modern societies. 'Migrant workers,’ or ‘Gastarbeiter,’ move from ‘less’ developed to ‘further’ or ‘highly’ developed societies, where they typically take on so-called ‘3D jobs’ (dirty, difficult, and dangerous) which cannot be filled—any longer—on the domestic market. This change in the labor market, experienced in Germany, among other countries, gave rise to the situation in the 1960s and 1970s where roughly 20,000 workers (miners and nurses) were brought in from Korea. Many of these so-called Gastarbeiter stayed on, so that their children and grandchildren now live in Germany. Do these groups in fact represent ‘The Poster Children for Integration’ [Die MusterschülerInnen der Integration], as claimed in an April 2008 conference statement? If so: a) What does it mean; and b) Where is this development leading?

Similarly, in Korea, where this shift occurred some 20 years later than in Germany, children of ‘migrant workers’ continue to live in their parents’ adopted land. Given that both Germany as well as Korea responded very hesitantly to the influx of workers from abroad, the following questions are raised: How is the integration or respectively, adaptation, of ‘migrant workers’ arranged, and what kinds of forms of cohabitation have been established in Korea?

This study relies on expert interviews as well as narrative interviews; the reporting of results follows the standards of qualitative social research. The results from both countries shall be compared and considered from a social work perspective.

The goal of this study is to examine how the children of ‘migrant workers’ integrate into their social and cultural environments and how in doing so they shape their identities. Out of respect for the cultural plurality of migrants, options for support in the framework of social welfare practice will be sought at the same time, in order to enable the acceptance and recognition of migrants while avoiding the risk of their being denied citizenship.

The following aspects therefore take on special significance:

  1. The experiences of and with ‘Gastarbeitern’ in West Germany shall be examined from a cultural comparative perspective. This shall take place bearing in mind the initial consideration of the structural similarities between Korea and Germany in this regard: Both nations developed a policy of accepting workers from abroad in order to support their domestic labor markets; namely, for (3D) jobs not taken on by the domestic workforce.
  2. The heart of the investigation concerns the processes of identity formation experienced by children of immigrants and (presumably) the conflict of values involved. The development of identity is inked to the acquisition of membership or respectively citizenship of a society. How this identity is constituted in interplay between the ‘old’ culture (that is primarily but not only represented by the parents) and the new culture (which is powerful because of its spatiotemporal location) shall be examined with respect to aspects of intercultural contestation. In this connection, questions can be raised regarding the role of the social welfare services.
  3. The adolescent experiences of immigrant children shall be collected and evaluated using qualitative methods. Fritz Schütz’s narrative interview, narrative-structured evaluation methods, and the objective hermeneutics of Ulrich Oevermann will be applied to this end. Furthermore, Prof. Garz and Prof. Lee have directed the workshop course ‘Interpretation and Understanding’ at the Inter-University Center in Dubrovnik for many years.

Immigrant children aged 14 to 18 in both Korea and Germany will be interviewed according to the principle of minimal and maximal contrasts. In Germany, the children will be third generation; in Korea, with its shorter immigration history, it will be predominantly children of the first generation. Consequently, the focus of the study is on adolescents and not on the succession of generations. In Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, as an industrial area and an (originally) higher percentage of Korean ‘Gastarbeiter,’ will be studied while in Korea Gyeonggi Province has been chosen, as a similarly industrial region with a comparably high percentage of ‘migrant workers.’ In both regions, discussions and/or interviews with experts will be carried out with the leaders of the (as a general rule, Christian) community.

Term of Project: July 2008-Ongoing

Project Members:
Prof. Detlef Garz (General Education)
Prof. Hyo-Seon Lee (Sociology, Kangnam University, Yongin, South Korea)
Working Group:
Dr. Sylke Bartmann, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz
Dr. Axel Fehlhaber, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz
Sandra Kirsch, Certificate in Pedagogy, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz
Dr. Wiebke Lohfeld, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz
Seokki Kim, Kangnam University, South Korea
Hyejin Park, Kangnam University, South Korea

Cooperation Partners:
Prof. Mikyong Kim-Goh, California State University, Fullerton