The experiences of Korean immigrants settling in New Zealand: a process of regaining control

Kim, Hagyun
Hocking, Clare
McKenzie-Green, Barbara
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The success of all immigrants is significant to the harmony of New Zealand society since the government’s goal is to build an inclusive society. For many Korean immigrants, however, settling in an unfamiliar environment potentially disrupts familiar routines, with deleterious effects on almost all aspects of their well-being. Despite Koreans being the fourth largest group of Asian immigrants, their experiences of settling in this country have been unheard. The purpose of this study is to listen to the voices of Korean immigrants and provide information to the receiving society that will assist with developing ways to make a Korean presence part of the cultural diversity in society.

This qualitative, grounded theory study included semi-structured interviews with 25 adult Korean immigrants living in the North Island of New Zealand. Theoretical sampling was used to collect data, which were analysed using methods of constant comparative analysis, conditional matrix and memoing. Through three stages of coding, data were fractured, conceptualised, and integrated to form a substantive grounded theory which has been named; A Process of Regaining Control: A Journey of Valuing Self.

Upon arrival, participants confronted circumstances that made realising the anticipated benefits of immigration difficult. They experienced a loss of control in performing previously valued activities. Language barriers and limited social networks, compounded by prejudiced social reception, were associated with their decreased involvement outside the home, leading to fewer options for acquiring knowledge necessary to function autonomously in their new environment.

In response, participants worked on Regaining Control by exercising choices over what they do through opting for enacting ‘Korean Ways’ or ‘New Zealand Ways’. They initially sought a culturally familiar environment in which they engaged in activities that involved drawing on previous knowledge and skills. Continuing with accustomed activities utilising ethnic resources provided a pathway to learning about their new surroundings and thus increasing their feeling of mastery in a new country. This experience strengthened participants’ readiness to engage in activities reflective of New Zealand society.

The significance of this study is that it discovers that Valuing Self is what the participants wish to accomplish, beyond the scope of mastery in a new environment. Participants continually search for a place whereby they can be accepted and valued as members of society. However, this study reveals that prejudice and discrimination towards immigrants set constraints on engagement in occupations of meaning and choices. Immigrants face socio-environmental restriction when they continue with necessary or meaningful activities, even when they have the ability to execute a particular activity. This finding makes it clear that occupation is inseparable from the societal factors in which it occurs.

Further research is necessary to explore societal contexts to enrich knowledge of human occupation and how immigrants’ full participation in civic society can be promoted. Specifically, it is recommended that researchers examine what makes Korean immigrants feel valued as members of society, from the participants’ point of view, in order to assist with the development of the settlement support policy and services that best facilitates their journeys of Valuing Self in New Zealand.

Korean , Immigration , Grounded theory , Occupational science
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