Planca Jessa from the Philippines entered a rural community in the Sejong City area seven years ago after marrying a Korean farmer.
She managed to adapt to the new life, learning the language, culture and skills at a government-run support center for multicultural families near her home.
The facility helped her not only settle but also pursue her childhood dream of becoming a teacher.
“We learn various skills of life here such as how to use the computer and how to cook Korean food. The center also helped me get a decent job.” said Jeffa, now a 28-year-old mother of two sons.
|Marriage immigrants study Korean in a program run by Gangnam District Office in Seoul. (Gangnam District Office)|
She teaches English at schools in the town, works as counselor on multiculturalism and gives extracurricular lectures on her motherland at various educational institutions.
The government currently runs a total of 208 multicultural family centers across the country, a 10-fold increase from 21 in 2006. Six more centers are scheduled to be set up this year.
Around 65,000 people received help from the centers in 2012, up 23 percent from a year earlier, according to a government report.
The centers largely serve spouses and children from multicultural families, offering education and assistance in language, family life, employment, community and legal issues.
Those marriage immigrants who have difficulty in communicating in Korean can receive interpretation services in up to 12 languages, though varying by region, including Tagalog, Vietnamese and Cambodian.
Children with developmental language disorder are offered language impairment programs with around 300 specialists deployed at the centers.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is in charge of overall multicultural policies and the allocation of the related budget. The ministry’s annual spending for multicultural families has more than doubled from 29 billion won ($26.5 million) in 2009 to 70 billion won in 2013.
Local governments are responsible for supervising family support centers. The ward and county offices usually commission private organizations, school institutions and welfare service providers to run programs with subsidies from the central government.
While the centers initially focused on assistance for adaption to everyday life, local governments recently started to organize programs designed to help these families build their own community, mingle with native neighbors and participate in various social and volunteer activities.
The Seoul City government launched a program from 2012 through which multicultural and Korean parents can share information on their children’s education at home and school.
The city government has set aside 100 million won this year to run 70 groups accommodating 460 parents. Seoul is home to 48,597 marriage immigrants, or 22 percent of the national total.
“The city will prepare more opportunities for those parents to interact together,” said Cho Hyeon-ok, an assistant mayor of women and family affairs.
There have been self-support groups for socialization and information among multicultural families. The government initiative will help create a more systemic and extensive operation of integration programs, according to the city office.
Since last year, Gimcheon Multicultural Family Support Center in North Gyeongsang Province has organized a group of volunteers consisting of around 40 marriage immigrants and their families in the region.
They visit underprivileged people in their community, improve their residential environments and help their neighbors who need a hand in farming.
The officials said those projects really helped ease biases and promote better understanding and integration among multicultural and native residents.
According to a 2012 Ministry of Gender Equality and Family report, loneliness is the third-most difficult problem among marriage immigrants, following financial and language difficulties.
According to ministry data, 41.3 percent of immigrants felt discriminated at least once while living in Korea, up from 36 percent in 2009. Around 55 percent of South Asian immigrants went through social discrimination just because they are foreigners while around 30 percent of Americans and Japanese immigrants were discriminated for the same reason.
“The government policies for multicultural families should be focused on helping multicultural families establish a close rapport with their ethnic Korean neighbors rather than on pouring most of the budget in building centers and increasing the workforce, which often lead to failure to meet the actual needs for the service recipients,” said Kim Yi-seon, a research fellow at Korean Women’s Development Institute, an institute for women’s and gender policy.
This year, 43.6 billion won is set aside for running the state-funded family centers and opening new ones. This amounts to 62.4 percent of the entire budget for multicultural policies.
“More programs that help multicultural families and ethnic Koreans interact and better understand each other are needed.”
Experts also advised that local governments should be given greater autonomy in organizing programs reflecting local characteristics.
Local governments often become too dependent on the central government’s subsidy for running the centers, failing to come up with their own measures customized for marriage immigrants in their region, they said.
By Kim Young-won (email@example.com
Source: Korea Herald (2013.05.08) (http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20130508000791)