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Tipping the balance between catalyst and obstacles for Korean immigrants' integration into the Australian society: a dependence theory perspective
Gil-Soo Han | 승인 2017.08.10 16:24
Introduction
 
Koreans first began arriving in Australia in the 1970s and have since established themselves as a significant minority community, which in part reflects the trajectory of South Korea’s unprecedented economic development. In recent years, however, social integration has again become a contentious topic within ethnic studies, both in Australia and elsewhere. While diversity is encouraged as an essential characteristic of multicultural societies such as Australia, how diverse ethnic groups are to claim “Australian-ness” as a national identity of their own is proving to be a question of critical importance. In order to understand how Korean immigrants have addressed this question, this paper revisits their social and economic integration in the context of a multicultural Australia. The socio-economic and cultural assets of Korean immigrants, often deriving from the wealth of the Korean economy, have distinctly influenced their settlement and broad integration into the Australian society. 
 
Korean Integration into Australia: Insights from Dependency Theory & World-Systems Theory
 
Originally known as the Prebisch-Singer thesis, dependency theory (So & Chiu 1995) noted the inherently dependent and imbalanced trade relations between the developed and the underdeveloped countries. A certain amount of raw materials from the latter were increasingly less worth in exchange for the amount of manufactured goods from the former. Thus, this imbalanced trade relation will continue to exacerbate and make the underdeveloped countries difficult to compete against the developed countries and consequently the former chronically dependent on the latter.
 
Further developing this bi-modal system, Immanuel Wallerstein introduced a tri-modal system of periphery, semi-periphery and core countries in terms of their imbalanced trade relations, the flow of resources and how they rely on each other for their economic and cultural development opportunities. This World-Systems Theory (Wallerstein 2004) provides much insight into our understanding of how Korean immigrants in some OECD nations relate to their host countries and their past homeland – South Korea, for their economic and cultural opportunities. That is, there are parallel relationships between the Korean community in Australia, Australian and South Korea as the periphery, semi-periphery and the core country, respectively. Instead of integrating into and contributing to, economically and culturally, the Australian society, the members of the Korean community see Australia as the platform to link to South Korea and best exploit their economic and cultural opportunities out of Australia and South Korea.
 
In the context of the World-Systems theory, Australia is hardly understood to be a periphery or semi-periphery country. However, there is a parallel relation between Australia as a semi-periphery/periphery and South Korea as a core country in terms of what they import to and export from each other.  Yet, the applicability of the theory here is not necessarily the exchange of either raw material or finished product, but the extent to which Korean-Australians rely either on the broader Australia or South Korea in terms of their economic activities or culturally-derived benefits, which consequently affect their level of integration into Australia.
 
Korean immigrants prior to Seoul Olympics in 1988 did not necessarily see their past homeland as a core country by any means. Part of the reasons they left Korea was in search of better life chances in a core country. Similarly, most immigrants in Australia since the abolishment of the White Australia Policy in 1973, have observed the economy of their past homelands either deteriorate or remain relatively stagnant, e.g., the UK and many South Asian countries. In these cases, their past homelands offered those immigrants little economic values or opportunities. Some of the immigrants from South Asia, such as Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, brought English language ability, a particularly important asset which has proven to support their integration into the Australian society.
 
Unlike some countries of origin of the immigrants in Australia, South Korea continued to increase its economic, political and cultural influence or values in the international community and this has grown to be highly valuable for Korean immigrants especially in the countries with a relatively short history of Korean emigration such as Australia and New Zealand. Firstly, for example, the business activities that have exponentially grown since the 1990s in the Korean-Australian community, include inbound tourism, travel agency, restaurants, boarding Korean students, immigration agency, and weekly magazines for young people. Secondly, the significance of media industry which was strategically supported by the Korean government as a way to create employment in the advanced economy with decreasing economic opportunity, has led to the production of high quality entertainment industries including TV dramas and other media contents – leading to the so called Hallyu. Thirdly, the continuing growth of Korean churches in Australia remained buttressing the strengths of Korean churches especially based on prosperity theology and fundamentalist theology. Fourthly, the recent development of information and communication technologies especially social media has taken a significant role in further strengthening as well as making the community exclusive of others. These are the factors of obstacles rather than the catalyst in their integration into the broader Australian society. The rest of the paper is to explore these dimensions in more detail.
 
1) South Korea as a central source to provide economic needs.
2) South Korea as the source of providing cultural exchange and also cultural asset providing the stimulus for 1) – people wanting to taste Korean food and want to have Korean hair style and popular Samsung smartphone.
3) Providing cultural capital & social capital through the provision of Korea-trained priests, Korean churches sustaining Korean nationalism. 
4) And social media (KakaoTalk) within the Korean churches and the Korean community creating tight and exclusive networks for Koreans globally.
 
Korean immigrants’ maintaining tight networks per se should not be a problem by any means. However, it is if it promotes exclusivity of the Korean community and prevents them from cultivating their social, cultural or any opportunistic relationships with the rest of the Australian population.
 
References
 
So AY, Chiu SWK 1995. East Asia and the World Economy. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Wallerstein IM 2004. World-systems Analysis: An Introduction. Duke University Press, Durham.
 
Gil-Soo Han, Monash University

Gil-Soo Han  info@hanhodaily.com

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